It looks increasingly as though the effect of Wesley Clark’s campaign will be to waste the Democratic party’s time. His entry was exciting, and his first name–”General”–pushed him to the top of the polls. But his entry may also have been his peak. The excitement was bound to fade as he became another candidate. And the longer he has campaigned, the more his flaws have become apparent.
If in two months’ time it is obvious that Clark isn’t going anywhere, what will have been the effect of his candidacy? The main effect, it seems to me, will have been to freeze the field. Thanks to Clark, the anti-Dean forces will have lost several months during which they could have consolidated around a single candidate. The anyone-but-Dean campaign will have been delayed, possibly until after New Hampshire–and possibly until after Dean is unstoppable.
Clark was supposed to save the party from Dean. By collapsing, however, he could save Dean from the party establishment.
Or maybe Clark wasn’t supposed to save the party from Dean. There has been a lot of speculation about the Clintons’ role in the Clark candidacy. It has even been suggested that he is a placeholder for Hillary, who on this theory will jump in the race next spring. As long as we’re being paranoid, let me throw another theory into the mix: Maybe the Clintons knew that Clark would crash and burn, to Dean’s benefit, and pushed his candidacy anyway–because they want Dean to win the nomination and Bush to win the election.
If this theory is true, you should expect Clinton 1) to help Dean get publicity and to overshadow his rivals and 2) to remind everyone that the Clintons’ New Democrat politics worked better than Dean’s politics will. Perhaps the ex-president should denounce Dean-ism some time soon.