5 Historic Presidential Campaign Collapses


The Dean Scream

Howard Dean was the Internet's first presidential darling. The unpolished, straight-talking former governor of Vermont used a strong online presence to recruit hordes of young "Deaniacs" who were expected to propel the Democratic candidate to the top of the ticket in 2004. Young, liberal voters were drawn to Dean by his off-the-cuff, unscripted attacks on both the Republican President George W. Bush and centrist members of Dean's own party [source: Kuhn].

In the end, it was Dean's most admired qualities -- his boldness, bluntness and distaste for scripted stump speeches -- that led to his undoing. Despite weighty endorsements by former presidential candidate Al Gore and Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, Dean placed a disappointing third in the Iowa Caucuses, an early gauge of primary campaign strength. When Dean took the stage in Iowa to rally his sunken supporters, his emotions got the better of him. The result is one of the most-played political fails on YouTube: the Dean scream.

From on-the-scene reports, we know that the room was whipped into a frenzy when Dean took the stage. The large, flag-waving crowd was raucous and very loud, but none of that comes through in the audio on the video clip [source: Salzman]. All we hear is what comes out of Dean's closely held microphone. As Dean reaches the climax of his speech, he starts rattling off the names of the other primary states where his campaign will do victorious battle, leading all the way to reclaiming the White House.

Again, reporters on the scene tell us that people in the crowd were yelling out names of primary states, which explains why the video clip shows Dean pointing menacingly at different spots in the crowd as he lists the state names [source: Salzman]. What can never be fully explained is the exclamatory noise Dean makes at the very end. It's somewhere between a cowboy's "yee-hah!" an evil genius' "bww-ahhh" and a mongoose being run over by a vacuum cleaner. Whatever it was, the crowd seemed to love it, as did the 24-hour cable news cycle and every late night host from Dave Letterman to whoever is the Dave Letterman of Albania.

The scream made Dean look unhinged, and the campaign lacked the appropriate damage control mechanisms to make a full recovery [source: Salzman]. Dean finished second in New Hampshire, but never gained back the momentum that fed his early popularity. He bowed out of the race in February.

Author's Note: 5 Historic Presidential Campaign Collapses

As I read about the famous flops of presidential candidates, I can't help but wonder how I would fair under the microscopic scrutiny of the massively mass media. My guess? Poorly to very poorly. And what about our political heroes of the past: the Lincolns and Kennedys and Reagans? How would they handle the soundbite culture drowned out by the noise of endless commentary from the blogosphere and pundit-verse? Don't you think Lincoln made a few odd remarks during those Lincoln-Douglas debates that didn't make it into print? And don't even get me started on Kennedy's personal indiscretions. The scrutiny of modern presidential candidates is brutal, but I would also argue, necessary. We deserve a president who is cool and, preferably, smart under pressure; someone who can stand up to tyrants and serve the people's best interests; and maybe even someone who can resist picking his or her nose on live TV.

Related Articles


  • Blake, Aaron. The Washington Post. "Rick Perry and the 10 biggest presidential campaign flops." January 19, 2012 (July 2, 2012) http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/post/rick-perry-and-the-10-biggest-presidential-campaign-flameouts/2012/01/19/gIQA6xYcBQ_blog.html
  • Broder, David. Washington Monthly. "The story that still nags at me — Edward S. Muskie." February, 1987 (July 2, 2012) http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1316/is_v19/ai_4696993/
  • Dionne, E.J., Jr. The New York Times. "Courting Danger: The Fall of Gary Hart." May 9, 1987 (July 2, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/1987/05/09/us/courting-danger-the-fall-of-gary-hart.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
  • Fikac, Peggy. The Houston Chronicle. "Debate meltdown does not help Rick Perry." November 9, 2011 (July 2, 2012) http://blog.chron.com/rickperry/2011/11/debate-meltdown-does-not-help-rick-perry/
  • Hanlon, Michael. The Montreal Gazette. "'Camelot in cowboy boots' excites U.S. voters." March 10, 1984 (July 2, 2012) http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1946&dat=19840310&id=_4U0AAAAIBAJ&sjid=jKUFAAAAIBAJ&pg=5521,4010065
  • Jones, Tim. Chicago Tribune. "Dewey defeats Truman" (July 2, 2012) http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/politics/chi-chicagodays-deweydefeats-story,0,6484067.story
  • Kuhn, David Paul. CBS News. "The Rise and Fall of Howard Dean." February 11, 2009 (July 2, 2012) http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-250_162-601046.html
  • Miller Center. "Harry S. Truman: Campaigns and Elections" (July 2, 2012) http://millercenter.org/president/truman/essays/biography/3
  • Parker, Ashley. The New York Times. "Promising Better Direction, Perry Enters Race." August 13, 2011 (July 2, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/14/us/politics/14perry.html?pagewanted=all
  • PBS NewsHour. "Remembering Ed Muskie." March 26, 1996 (July 2, 2012) http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/remember/muskie_3-26.html
  • Rachman, Gideon. Financial Times. "The rise and fall of Rick Perry." October 27, 2011 (July 2, 2012) http://blogs.ft.com/the-world/2011/10/the-rise-and-fall-of-rick-perry/#axzz1yYL5pRMS
  • Salzman, Eric. CBS News. "Dean's Scream: Not What It Seemed." February 11, 2009 (July 2, 2012) http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-250_162-596021.html


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