The mainstream press has decided Dean must go. The New York Times Magazine’s cover story last Sunday essentially said that Dean is death for the Democrats. Today the Times features an old Dean scandal on its front page. Newsweek’s Dean cover story is an attack piece if ever there was one. (Time’s Dean cover story may be an attack piece as well, but I haven’t had a chance to read it.) The Washington Post editorial page took after Dean a couple of weeks ago. The press’s decision to move against Dean is of enormous importance. A week or so ago, many powerful Democrats were swallowing their doubts about Dean, convinced he’d gotten too far to safely stop. The risk of alienating Dean supporters was too great for a full-fledged attempt by party big-wigs to bring him down. Now Dean’s own gaffe’s, along with the obvious prospect of a disastrous defeat, have tilted the balance. The real power within the Democratic party–the mainstream press–has decided on its own to take the risk of displacing Dean. If Dean is nominated now, the press’s current campaign will leave him more vulnerable than he already was. But if Dean is destroyed, his followers may be alienated enough to sit out the election–or move to a third party. The one thing the Democrats have going for them is that it’s still early. A Dean melt-down now would leave time for the public to get exited about an alternative–especially a newcomer like Clark. Having said that, things are looking pretty grim for the Democrats, whether Dean wins or flames out. The other day Ramesh linked to a fellow who thinks the NRO crowd is too pessimistic. I can certainly be pessimistic. Yet I can’t seem to shake the giddy feeling that no matter what the Democrats do, they are doomed. Maybe it’s morning in America after all.
But wait! The Washington Post says Dean is smoothing out his rough edges and trying to turn himself into a consensus candidate. Bill Bradley is set to endorse Dean. Dean was calm under attack at the last debate, emerging unscathed from the test. So is Dean flaming out or consolidating his victory? He’s doing both. It’s almost as though Dean has reached two equal and opposite tipping points at the same moment. He is simultaneously consolidating his victory, and setting off a major press backlash designed to bring him down. Again, however it turns out, the Democrats are in trouble.