Stanley: There has indeed been a shift in the media’s attitude toward Howard Dean. He was a refreshing left-wing alternative to the party establishment for much of last year, but now the media is sobering up and he is seen as a serious danger to it. (It’s almost as though the media is concerned for the fortunes of the Democratic party.) Two points about this:
1) If the media were still acting as it did for most of 2003, depicting Dean as the next big thing and Dick Gephardt as a has-been, Gephardt could not look forward to much of a media bounce out of winning Iowa. The CW would be that of course he won in his own backyard. Now a win in Iowa might actually be seen as, well, a win.
2) A pro-Dean backlash is starting. See this Toles cartoon, for instance. A lot of people have ridiculed Dean for whining that the other candidates are beating him up. It is ridiculous on the merits. But it is also a smart move. Dean’s campaign is one in which the candidate has deeply bonded with his supporters. They think that they are much smarter than the president, and Dean thinks that he is, too. It’s the rest of the country that’s gone nuts by supporting this callow, callous, right-wing ignoramus. When the other candidates and the media attack Dean, they increase his voters’ sense of being beleaguered. Remember what Dan Quayle said about the disdain he attracted? “When they attack me, they’re attacking you.” (“You” being the God-fearing heartland.) Just so with Dean. When they attack him, he wants them to come across as attacking his supporters: their latte towns, their grad-school degrees, their worldview, their anger. For the other candidates, the gamble has to be either that Dean’s support cannot get any more intense than it is already, or that any increased intensity is offset by increased support for them from different voters. Because they’re probably not going to peel off many of his.