BY R. EMMETT TYRRELL JR.
Sunday, February 1, 2004 12:01 a.m. EST
So, no sooner does Sen. John Kerry emerge from the New Hampshire
primary as the Democrats' fragile front-runner than word gets out
that Bill Clinton was flying down to Washington to plan the
Democrats' return to the White House, and at this "high level"
meeting Sen. Hillary Clinton would join him. What is this all about?
Are the Democratic presidential contenders not capable of sorting
things out on their own? Two, after all, were coaxed into the race by
the Clintons, Sen. John Edwards and Gen. Wesley Clark.
To understand the 2004 presidential campaign we must bear in mind
that there are actually two campaigns going on. The first appears to
be a campaign among Democrats for the party's presidential
nomination. Actually, as is becoming clearer every day, it is a
campaign for control of the party for years to come; and that the
Clintons are waging it is increasingly apparent. The second campaign
is a historic struggle between the two factions of the 1960s
generation--once known as the young right and the young radicals--to
claim that generation's identity once and for all. That explains the
Democratic contenders' already active vituperation of President Bush,
who never joined with fellow Yalies Howard Dean or Sen. Kerry in the
The most imminent of these campaigns now is the Clintons' campaign to
maintain control of the Democratic Party. Last summer's noisy rise of
Mr. Dean, the outsider, sent alarm through the Clinton camp. The open
field after New Hampshire is more to their liking. It allowed for
Bill's high-profile trip to Washington last week. His influence will
grow, and the arrival of a bruised Democratic front-runner at the
convention this summer will allow Senator Hillary to play a dominant
role. What that role might become will be the topic of many a cable
television talk show in the months ahead.
Today the party of Roosevelt and Truman is the party of Clinton &
Clinton. Bill Clinton remains a mesmerizing figure to those he does
not repel. Hillary's appeal is in some ways broader than his. As a
U.S. senator she has gained stature and positioned herself as
a "Scoopette" Jackson, but one for the progressive bien-pensants. She
can represent the transcendent dreams of the feminists, the gay-
rights activists, the environmental rigorists.
Behind the scenes, Clinton servitors run the Democratic Party,
beginning at the Democratic National Committee with Chairman Terrence
McAuliffe. Though the McCain-Feingold "campaign reform" law has left
Democratic campaign committees with depleted coffers, the Clintons'
neo-Georgian mansion in Northwest Washington has become a money
magnet, with generous lobbyists rolling up in their black Lincolns
nightly to make New York's junior senator a richly endowed political
donor. Hillary also presides over a New Age political machine,
starting with a host of fundraising honeypots with cute names such as
HILLPAC and Hill's Angels. Longtime Clinton loyalists are directing
tens of millions of dollars to organizations under their control,
including a liberal radio talk-show network and a moneyed think tank
just off K Street, the Center for American Progress. Clinton
lieutenant Harold Ickes is directing funds to what is expected to
become a $250 million behemoth political organization called America
Votes, which will rely on shared polling data, research and mailing
lists, including "Demzilla"--the data bank on voters maintained by
the DNC. "It doesn't take much to figure out what the issues are and
the messages you need to be helpful," the clever Mr. Ickes told one
Al Gore, the Democrats' martyred 2000 candidate, should have been in
control of all this, but for whatever reason he could not put it
together. The retired president and his wife did, and when they saw a
political unknown stumping across America, bringing in millions of
new dollars and thousands of new supporters on the Internet, they
felt the ground quake. They urged the New Democrat, Mr. Edwards, into
the race and the smooth--though accident-prone--Mr. Clark. When Mr.
Dean hissed at the Clinton's majordomo, Mr. McAuliffe, they knew they
had to take action.
Looking back on the assault on Mr. Dean before the Iowa caucuses, one
is reminded of the old joke that politics really is a blood sport,
and by caucus day the blood was everywhere and so were the Clintons'
fingerprints. I cannot recall such a concerted assault on a front-
runner in any other primary season. Dick Morris was, perhaps, the
first to claim that Mr. McAuliffe's agents spread negative research
against Mr. Dean. Now we have more evidence. Sources in the Kerry
camp and the Edwards camp told my colleague "The Prowler" at
Spectator.org that much of the opposition research that smeared Mr.
Dean in Iowa came from the Clark campaign. "It wasn't just Clark,
though," a Kerry staffer reported, "We know of at least two different
stories that came from people currently on staff with the DNC, who
fed the material to reporters." Says an Edwards staffer, "These are
folks who worked for Clinton back in '92 and '96 and in the
Of course, the damaging Dean letter to President Clinton in the mid-
1990s calling for unilateral action in Kosovo, which USA Today
published just before the Iowa caucuses, could only have come from
the Clintons. There is another report that Jimmy Carter's anticipated
endorsement of Mr. Dean faded into a photo-op after Mr. Clinton
called Mr. Carter. Obviously the Clintons have been very busy this
campaign season. This explains to some degree Mr. Gore's endorsement
of Mr. Dean and possibly Bill Bradley's too.
There are Democrats who want to loosen the Clintons' grip on their
party. That grip has always been good for the Clintons but bad for
the party. Will front-runner Mr. Kerry be the next victim of the
Clintons' political research teams? Possibly not--he is the
Washington insider that Mr. Dean is not. And it is not clear that he
will be sailing into the summer convention with a great deal of brag
and bounce. He may be limping in after still more primary battles.
Then Hillary will make her grand entrance. With Mr. McAuliffe smiling
from the podium her power will be vast. Possibly she will allow
herself to be nominated to the No. 2 spot to assist her party in its
moment of peril. Either way, Hillary and her husband will remain the
Democratic powerbrokers for 2008. Or possibly just the powers.