President Obama is a crook

Howard Dean on the US election campaign - «We have a 'crook' as president, whom nobody trusts»

Howard Dean, the former chairman of the Democrats and a former presidential candidate, talks about the state of the election campaign, intra-party trench warfare, and whether the Democrats need another Barack Obama.

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The Democrat was governor of Vermont from 1991 to 2002. In 2004 he applied unsuccessfully for the presidential candidacy of the Democratic Party. Damaged Dean has an emotional appearance in the election campaign with controversial statements.

SRF: How do you assess the election campaign of the democratic candidates?

Howard Dean: It'll be a long time. We currently have four favorites. Biden, Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg. But it will be another 75 days before the primaries begin, so a lot can happen.

Is everything still possible?

Yes, it can also be that someone else takes off that we have not yet figured out.

New candidates are still entering the election campaign. Last week Deval Patrick, the former Massachusetts Governor. And billionaire Michael Bloomberg also seems to be considering a candidacy. Do the Democrats really need more candidates? There are 18 left in the race.

I think we have enough. But I'm not worried about that either. In the end, the voters decide. And getting in at this point is difficult. Many candidates have been on the road for a year, and the first elections in the state of Iowa are about to start. There you need at least $ 25 million to register and have a chance. Bloomberg has the money, but I don't think you can organize it.

Still: people from the party establishment and important donors seem to be nervous.

They are always nervous, but you should rely on the voters and the selection process. They usually choose good candidates.

Howard Dean himself was once a very promising candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. At this point in 2003, he was clearly in the lead, but then lost in the primaries to John Kerry, who prevailed as a candidate. Dean knows what it means to be a favorite.

How did you keep up with the pressure?

It is very hard. And the media doesn't help. They build you up first, and then they can't wait to destroy you. But for the toughest job in the world, you have to go through it. If you cannot hold your own against your competitors and against the media, you will have a hard time standing up to Putin.

When did you realize you weren't going to make it?

I felt everything slowly slip out of my hands three weeks before the primaries. The crowd at the election events was still large, but less and less enthusiastic. Always the same people. It was like a concert by the rock band Grateful Dead. You can be very sharp and shrill as a leftist, but at some point people have to be able to see you as President of the USA. I wanted to be more presidential, but it was very difficult.

What would you do differently today?

Quite a few things, I wasn't well organized and too little disciplined. I would gather people around me to help me organize myself better. And I was inexperienced. I was previously governor of Vermont, a state of 600,000 people, and I wanted to be president of a country that had 250 million people at the time. You do a lot wrong there.

Howard Dean was also Chairman of the US Democrats from 2005 to 2009, contributing to the historic election of Barack Obama. Today he works as a political advisor in Washington and is still very well connected in the party. He is in regular contact with Elizabeth Warren. He knows Bernie Sanders very well and has worked closely with the Clintons for a long time.

In the current election campaign of the Democrats there is a lot of discussion about whether Sanders and Warren are not too left to hold their own against Trump.

For me that is overrated. The most important question is: does the candidate take care of me? If the answer is yes, you have a chance. If it is no, you have no chance, no matter what your positions are. I am not concerned about whether someone is too left or right. I'll see if they can really reach the voters. This is the only way to make it through the primaries.

But ex-President Barack Obama recently warned that certain candidates are too far left within the party. Obama rarely speaks out. That was a calculated statement that caused quite a stir.

Maybe yes. But I'm not his spokesman and I'm not speculating what he means. He may be concerned, I am not.

Do you think the Ukraine affair and Donald Trump's attacks harm Joe Biden?

No not at all. Many people know that Trump is often not telling the truth and they don't believe him. Certainly not that Joe Biden was involved in any weird business. Biden is incredibly popular with the Democrats.

The four favorites in your party are between the ages of 70 and 80 or young and inexperienced. Is that really all the Democrats have to offer?

Yes I think so. Look, our party is changing a lot, even if the favorites don't really reflect that yet. Our electoral base is getting younger and younger. Of those under 35, 70 percent vote for the Democrats. The average age of our congressmen has fallen by ten years since the last election. Anyone who wins local elections is young, female or belongs to a minority. This change has not yet reached the presidential election campaign. The question is not whether it will come, but how quickly.

That may be, but the electorate you describe did not adequately support Hillary Clinton in 2016. This even though everyone knew what to expect from Trump.

That's true. Trump attracted voters who wanted to abolish political order. They wanted to get rid of everything that, in their view, wasn't working. Many are now realizing that we have a “crook” as President who no one trusts. And that our position in the world has deteriorated. I think many now want a change again. The question is which one.

Don't the Democrats need someone to mobilize like Obama?

Obama is the most popular politician in the country. But you should never nominate someone just because they are similar to someone else. Everyone has to build their own brand. This is what the election campaign is about. I'm pretty optimistic about our candidates and I see a lot of enthusiasm, definitely for the favorites.

Interview conducted by Peter Düggeli.