Wednesday, December 10, 2003

The Dean Strategy

Check out this NY Times article about Bush's political advisers starting to focus their attention on Dean. I notice two interesting things in this article. The first is that Bush's advisers can't seem to decide whether Dean should be treated as a joke or not. This is a good thing. The longer they are unsure about how serious a threat Dean is the better chance Dean can slip under their radar (like he did against the rest of the Dem field) and catch them off-guard.

The second thing to notice is the emergence of the Dean campaign's approach to dealing with Republican attacks. I first noticed it with the ad the campaign put on the air in response to the Club For Growth attack. At the end of the responding commercial Dean appears on the screen and says, "I'm Howard Dean and I approve this commercial because they aren't attacking me. They're attacking you."

I noticed it again in the above story where there is a quote from Joe Trippi:

"They're not afraid of Howard Dean, they're afraid of the hundreds of thousands of Americans that are building Howard Dean's campaign up," Mr. Trippi said. "Howard Dean is the only Democrat who's been able to rally all those Americans in common cause to beat Bush, and it's nice that they're noticing."

Here's the strategy: Turn any attack on Howard Dean into an attack on the American people who might consider supporting Howard Dean.

It's almost breath-taking in its simplicity. The negative attacks are meant to make people uncomfortable with Dean. But, by re-directing those attacks into attacks on supporters and potential supporters, Dean can benefit from the natural defensive reaction people have when they are attacked. We have seen this already in the pre-primary season. Anytime Dean was attacked, his support went up! Why? Because those attacks were seen as attacks on the people who were supporting him. The only difference is that, with the Republicans, Joe and Howard are making the link more explicit.

"They aren't attacking me. They're attacking you."

"They aren't afraid of me. They're afraid of you."

"They don't want to stop me. They want to stop you."

Works for me.


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