I’m certainly not an expert on the history of presidential elections, but I’m trying to think of nomination battles in which there was something fundamental at stake–something beyond personality and relatively insignificant political positioning. Mondale vs. Hart, for example, had no real ideological content. Kennedy, Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Gore, Dole–none of these nominees won anything resembling a serious ideological battle. Reagan’s nomination fights, of course, had serious ideological stakes and consequences, and the Reagan revolution marked a real shift in the center of gravity of American politics. But most other ideologically tinged nomination battles led to electoral disasters. Goldwater/Rockefeller, McCarthy/Humphrey, McGovern/Humphrey/Wallace. Unless you believe Dean is about to lead a successful leftward revolution on the order of Reagan’s triumph, the odds have got to look bad for the Democrats. Once a party is riven by serious ideological division, it is set for defeat. Nowadays, the Goldwater/Rockefeller battle is bathed in the light of Reagan’s triumph, for which the Goldwater nomination is seen as a noble, if failed, precursor. But let’s remember that the Goldwater candidacy was an utter disaster for the Republicans at the time. Deeply felt ideological battles within a party are generally deadly. Now maybe that’s not what we’re in for. If it’s Dean vs. Clark, then the ideological stakes will not be serious. But if it’s Dean vs. Lieberman, Gephart, or even Kerry, this nomination battle is going to get ugly. And even if there’s not a major battle–because Dean wraps it up quickly–the Democrats still face a McGovern-style debacle when the center deserts them for the president. A Clark victory, on the other hand, just might gather in the Deanites and hold the center well enough to prevent a total Congressional debacle. But Saddam’s capture has hurt Clark too, and I don’t see many sensible Democrats rallying to Clark.