Ever since Howard Dean's collapse, his most avid supporters have been out for blood. Deaniacs charge the Kerry campaign with carrying out 'dirty tricks' in order to upset what should have been an easy Dean victory. How else could Dean go from a 30—point lead in New Hampshire to a 2nd place finish in just a few weeks? Though disappointed Deaniacs have trouble articulating exactly what the 'dirty tricks' were, their emotions are running high and they want revenge against Kerry, a candidate who embodies the kind of sell—out, establishment Democrat whom Deaniacs abhor.
Along comes Ralph Nader.
Nader excites the same constituency Dean did — those who believe the Democratic Party betrayed America by failing to confront Republicans on a host of issues, particularly the war in Iraq. Dean was cut down, but the roots of his movement are still there, and may be just as willing to raise money and organize for Nader. The Dean organization will be a key asset for Nader, since he does not have the Green Party behind him this time around. The Green Party could never match the $41 million Dean was able to raise, so ditching the Greens might be an improvement. Besides the remnants of a fallen Dean, there are other peculiarities of this campaign which act in favor of Nader.
The consensus among political analysts is that support for John Kerry is not derived from anything besides a desire to beat Bush. According to a number of polls of primary voters, the main reason people back Kerry is either that he's not Bush or that he is electable. Much farther down the list of reasons for voting for Kerry is that he supports what voters believe in. The reason for this is that few voters change what they believe as fast as Kerry does.
In contrast to Nader and Dean, Kerry shows no reticence about changing his position whenever it is politically expedient to do so. Kerry's widely reported vacillation on the Iraq war is not an isolated case. For example, just recently in Wisconsin Kerry stated that he and Edwards share the same position on trade. Kerry, however, voted for NAFTA and Edwards is loudly against it (Edwards couldn't vote for or against it since he wasn't a senator at the time), so Kerry is now against NAFTA as well.
If Kerry weren't so blas� about changing positions, his remarkably liberal voting record (rated more liberal than icon Ted Kennedy!) would be an asset in the fight for the Deaniac vote. Instead, Kerry looks like more and more of a sellout every time he shifts positions. This is the ultimate betrayal in the eyes of Deaniacs, who are made up largely of angry left—wing true—believers.
There is more trouble ahead for Kerry. The end of the party primary signals the beginning of a move to the center for candidates. Kerry placated the liberal Democratic primary voters by telling them everything they want to hear, and now Kerry has to tip—toe to the right in order to appeal to everyone else. This makes the Nader candidacy all the more damaging for Kerry. As Kerry tries to appeal to swing voters by taking more moderate positions, he will further infuriate Deaniacs. A small but significant percentage of them will be so angered by Kerry's newfound centrist positions that they will turn to Nader in protest. Kerry will then go the route of Al Gore.
The most likely course for Kerry to take addressing the Nader problem will be to keep his positions so fuzzy as to make everyone believe he supports their position. If Kerry is in Wisconsin, he'll be against free trade. If he's in Washington state, he'll be for free trade. However, this causes some problems in the post—9/11 era, because swing voters want someone who will actually stand up for something. If a candidate can't even take a stand on NAFTA, how can he take a stand against Al Qaeda? Moreover, first the internet, and then the old media will have a heyday as the campaign progresses, by illuminating the many shifts in position by Kerry, who in turn will look weaker and weaker. Voters will have ample opportunity to see through Kerry over the course of the next 8 � months, and realize that, though they can accuse of Bush of a lot of things, at least Bush stands up for what he believes in.
Kerry, therefore, is in serious trouble now that he has a firmly left—wing alternative competing against him. Kerry made a pathetic attempt to conciliate with Deaniacs who are eyeing Nader by stating — against all evidence to the contrary — that he 'speaks for those who voted for Nader in 2000.' Kerry will continue to make tone—deaf appeals to Deaniacs who feel disenfranchised by the Kerry candidacy, which will only further infuriate them. As far as Deaniacs are concerned, if Dean can't be president, no Democrat can.
The author graduated from West Point in 2002, and was commissioned as an officer in the Army's Military Intelligence Branch. After being seriously wounded in Baghdad in May of 2003, he was evacuated back to the United States and is currently undergoing physical therapy as part of his recovery. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in Iraq.