The Corner

Dem Fallout

The key political question today is not which Democratic candidate is helped or hurt by Saddam’s capture. The important point is that all the Democrats are hurt. This is less because the president has gotten a boost than because the Democrats will now be torn apart by their differences. America’s divide over this war runs right down the middle of the Democratic party. Most of the Democratic candidates have managed to suppress that divide through their own prevarications. Dean and Clark made progress by playing to the anti-war types. Lieberman was stranded in right field. Now we’re in a new dynamic. Although they’ve been weakened, the anti-war types won’t relent. Lieberman is energized (and desperate), while Kerry and Gephart are primed to move right. But here’s the problem. Because the Democrats’ differences over the war are so deeply felt, neither side can win, no matter who gets nominated. If Dean or Clark grab the nomination, the new dynamic in Iraq will have weakened them fatally. They will be isolated from majority sentiment, and will go down to defeat. But if Kerry, Gephart, or Lieberman win by attacking Dean and Clark on the war issue, the anti-war Democrats will stay home out of resentment. So our improved situation in Iraq has sharpened the divide among the Democrats to the point where neither side can win without fatally alienating the other. And if Democratic divisions really do lead one side or the other to stay home on election day, it could give a critical boost to the Republican majority in Congress. This is why the problem for the Democrats is profound.

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