Advice to Wesley Clark
Jude Wanniski
September 20, 2003

 

Memo To: Wesley K. Clark
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Learning on the Job

To be perfectly frank General, a month ago I would have given odds that you would finally decide not to run for President. The simple reason is that there are only so many seasoned campaign operatives to go around in the Democratic Party and a month ago practically every one of them were working for one of the nine contenders already in the race. Raising money would not be a problem for you as you come out of the box, but if people who have $2000 in loose change to contribute to you see that it is a hopeless bet, they will choose to spend it at the race track for better chances of winning. If you were a Senator or a Governor of a big state, they might chip in anyway, to curry favor with you. But if you go down the drain in this shot at No.1, there will be no chance for them to get a payback in the future. You will slink away into obscurity.

It is now evident that you were talked into the race by the Clintons and their pal, Harlem congressman Charlie Rangel, who have assured you their good wishes will be with you all the way. With another $1.50 that will get you a ride on the subway. A month ago, I did believe you would be a good matchup as No. 2 with Howard Dean, and that you could have pretty much locked that up by joining his campaign as a co-chairman. Did he not offer it to you on a silver platter? Well, now that you are in the race, you had better do well, or you will be seen as a dead weight on a Dean ticket or any other.

There are already fusillades being aimed at you... cannons from the left, cannons from the right, etc. When on Day One you were reported in the New York Times to have called your press secretary to ask her what your position was on the war in Iraq, the trial balloon of your campaign let out half its hot air. Now there are conflicting reports on whether or not you were given early retirement from the army because President Clinton was unhappy with your failure to produce a quick win in Serbia. The first spin is that Mr. Clinton was "snookered" by your colleagues in the armed forces. Is that a good spin for you? To have it known that your fellow generals thought you an incompetent and were willing to conspire to prevent you from continuing with your finger on the trigger in the Balkans, or anywhere else doesn't seem good.

Now believe me, General, I know how the Demonization game is played, so I am withholding judgment on you until I see all the evidence come in, as it is now coming in floods. The fact that you were at the top of your class at West Point does impress me, but only to a degree. It has been my experience over 67 years that people who get to the top of their class in school have had that as their OBJECTIVE, while really topnotch leaders in any field of endeavor are only interested in figuring out the way the world works in that field. They get poor grades in subjects that disinterest them in that regard and do not care if it they do not get to deliver the valedictory address. You are probably supersmart, but the American people do not yet know if you have a passion for saving western civilization or merely want to add to your resume by collecting the Oval Office.

Howard Dean impresses me as the only man in the field who shoots for the stars for all of us, not for his own glory. I'm still not quite sure he is the right man with the right trajectory in his star shoot, but I think you should bear that in mind. If you soon find that you have been snookered into getting into the race, which might happen, don't waste time getting out of it. Otherwise you will think you have to continue on a losing campaign because you owe it to the people who contributed to your campaign. President Bush has this problem now with Iraq. He can't get loose of the tar baby.

If you did not see it, here is a piece that appeared the other day in the NYTimes about the problem you will have at the most basic level. You should take it seriously.

September 18, 2003
Gen. Clark's Timing Is Seen as a Handicap
By DAVID E. ROSENBAUM

WASHINGTON, Sept. 17 Gen. Wesley K. Clark will be seriously handicapped in his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination because of his late start, many political strategists in both parties and students of elections said today.

"The problem you have getting in this late is you have no field troops, you have no ground operation," said Bill Dal Col, who ran Steve Forbes's campaign for the Republican nomination in 1996 and 2000. "Without the troops, it doesn't matter how good your logistics and planning are."

Tony Coelho, who was Al Gore's campaign chairman during the 2000 primaries, said, "What people don't understand is that it takes a long time to develop an operation and relationships and a finely tuned staff. It takes months to do that."

Mr. Dal Col said that when Mr. Forbes finally decided to run in September 1995, he quickly learned that people he needed as supporters were already committed to other candidates. "In Iowa, there was no one left for me to go get," Mr. Dal Col said. "In New Hampshire, almost everyone had already picked sides."

The problem is worse now than it used to be because the filing deadlines and primaries and caucuses are earlier than ever before. About one-third of the states will pick their Democratic delegates next January and February, and another third will vote on March 2.

The deadlines and rules for getting on the ballot vary widely by state and mastering the laws can be a daunting task.

Mr. Dal Col said Mr. Forbes had to spend $2 million to gather enough signatures for a place on the New York ballot in 1996 and was left off the ballot in Rhode Island that year because of mistakes by his staff.

William G. Mayer, a political scientist at Northeastern University in Boston who edits a book of essays every four years on the race for the White House, said that 20 or 25 years ago a candidate like Jimmy Carter could raise enough money to campaign successfully in Iowa and New Hampshire and then use those successes to raise enough for the rest of the primary season.

Now, he said, candidates like General Clark must raise almost all they need for the primaries, at least $20 million, before the voting begins.

"Between setting up an organization and raising money and dealing with the legal challenges of getting on all the ballots, it's an enormous challenge for him to take on in a very short time, and he's going to be hard-pressed to accomplish that," Mr. Mayer said.

Rhodes Cook, an independent political analyst with a book, "The Presidential Nominating Process," being published next month, said, "At this point, you need a 50-hour day to have a presence in all the states that are voting early."

Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and an expert on campaigns and elections, said it was possible that General Clark would "catch on fire immediately" and attract the money, talented staff and endorsements needed for a victorious race.

If the general does not become an "instant phenomenon," Mr. Mann said, "it will be a real slog for him."

The one candidate in recent elections who started late and won the nomination was Bill Clinton, who did not commit himself definitely to running in 1992 until the late summer of 1991. But that was "an aberrational election cycle," Mr. Cook said, because the Persian Gulf war and President George Bush's popularity in the aftermath kept many Democrats from getting in the race early.

Other seemingly attractive candidates were left in the dust because of their late starts, including Senator Frank Church of Idaho, who ran for the Democratic nomination in 1976, and Senator Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee, who sought the Republican nomination in 1980.

"By the time Howard Baker got in," Mr. Mayer said, "he found that people who might have gone with him six months before were already committed to someone else."

Mr. Mayer said the eight candidates for the Republican nomination in 1996 made their formal announcements an average of 16 months before their August convention.

Anita Dunn, a Democratic consultant who worked on Bill Bradley's 2000 campaign, said new political tools might mean that the lessons of previous elections would not apply this year. For example, she said, the Internet might enable General Clark to raise money and organize supporters more quickly and efficiently than candidates could in the past.

Except for Gen. Alexander M. Haig Jr., who ran for the Republican nomination in 1988 but withdrew early, General Clark will be the first general to run a full-scale presidential campaign since Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956.


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