Howard Dean Nearly Upended The Democratic Party 12 Years Ago. Then It All Fell Apart.

The former governor looks back at his tumultuous, incredible, ultimately failed presidential bid.
Reuters Photographer / Reuters

More than a decade before anyone felt the Bern, Vermont Gov. Howard Dean created the modern outsider candidate with Internet savvy, grassroots organizing and an unapologetic anti-Washington message. Propelled by his “Deaniacs,” the governor rose from obscurity to front-runner during the 2004 race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

And then, within a three-week span, Dean’s campaign fell apart, punctuated by a rallying cry that quickly became known as the infamous “scream speech" -- whose 12-year anniversary comes next week. All that is remembered now is the high-pitched “Yeeeeaaaahhh!” and the first pump. In that precise moment, the popular perception goes, Dean’s campaign unraveled, the Internet candidate undone by cable news.

In the inaugural episode of "Candidate Confessional," a podcast about those who ran for office and lost, the former governor and DNC chair revisits that incredible, tumultuous run for the White House and that night when he was reduced to a cable news caricature. It turns out, well, that caricature isn’t the whole story.

It's fitting that "Candidate Confessional" begins with Dean. Our podcast is meant to give listeners an intimate and real understanding of life on the campaign trail, as told through the perspective of those who lost. And few campaigns have been as bruising and as misunderstood as Dean's. The attacks were so vicious, the rumor-mongering so destructive, that he briefly contemplated leaving the party.

What doomed Dean was not that night in West Des Moines when he tried to lift up a downtrodden crowd. Rather, as he told "Candidate Confessional," it was his own political limitations as an outsider candidate, and his inability to stop playing to his crowds and start playing to the party’s mainstream.

“I knew I had to make the turn. And I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it.”

- Howard Dean on his 2004 campaign

“I was giving them something they deeply valued, which was hope. And to pull back and become the establishment figure that I knew I had to become to become president was really hard to do because I had to teach them an incredibly unpleasant lesson, which is people like me don’t win presidencies behaving like that,” Dean said. “I knew I had to make the turn. And I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it.”

Listen to the podcast above, or download it on iTunes. And while you're there, please subscribe to, rate and review our show. Make sure to tune in to next week’s episode, when our guest will be former Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) discussing her 2012 campaign for the White House.

This podcast was produced, edited and engineered by Christine Conetta.

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