Later tonight, a dozen candidates for the presidency will lose the Iowa caucus. None of them, it stands to reason, will deliver a barnburner concession address.
The perils of doing that came into sharp focus 12 years ago, when Howard Dean gave the infamous “I Have A Scream” speech. Dean’s campaign had been falling apart for weeks prior to the voting as a result of internal dysfunction and an inability to appeal to the establishment wing of the Democratic Party.
But Dean's address in West Des Moines on the night of the caucus is still remembered as the final nail in the coffin for his presidential ambitions. A third-place finish in Iowa was hard enough to overcome. The perception that he was some sort of madman running for the highest office in the land was impossible.
In an interview for "Candidate Confessional," Dean discussed that night in detail.
(The relevant portion comes between 30:45 and 34:25.)
Having watched the results come in on cable news, Dean knew well before he showed up at the “victory party” that he was going to finish third. As his top aide Kate O’Connor wrote in her book about the campaign, Do The Impossible, he and three aides piled into the back seat of a car when the time came.
Dean closed the door and announced, “It’s over.” The group then drove in silence for 15 minutes to the Val Air Ballroom.
Describing the moment to The Huffington Post, Dean said he didn’t recall “any time of despair.” He certainly wasn’t surprised. A quick interview with Larry King Live took place -- it had been scheduled before the results had come in -- and Dean and his team, including top adviser Joe Trippi, decamped back stage.
“I remember Joe saying just before I went onstage, ‘Give ‘em a morale builder. Just don’t let this get you down.’ Well, that was a pretty good morale builder,” Dean recalled.
Dean went on the podium, quickly removed his jacket (handing it to Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin) and rolled up his sleeves. He began listing the states where he’d continue to campaign, and then came to the speech's crescendo.
“And then we're going to Washington, D.C. -- to take back the White House --YEEEEEAAARGH!”
The speech itself was remarkably short: 11 minutes in total. And Dean said he had no sense that anything about it was problematic.
“There were about 75 reporters in the room, since they thought I was going to win Iowa. And none of them wrote about it, because they’d seen fiery speeches before," Dean explained. "It was the cable people who sort of diddled with the speech, frankly."
Dean’s microphone, it turned out, had been plugged directly into the television cameras. Inside the room, you could barely hear him over the crowd, but he appeared to be screeching to those watching on TV.
The campaign quickly sensed trouble. O’Connor's cell phone buzzed when the speech was over, with a college roommate of Dean’s on the line.
“What’s wrong with Howard? Is he having a breakdown?” the roommate asked.
Yet Dean wouldn't get his first inclination that “a moment” had taken place until two hours later, as he was getting on the plane heading to New Hampshire.
“Everybody was saying, ‘Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, this is awful,’” he said. “As I have said before, if I looked at myself giving that speech in an empty hall, I would have thought I was crazy.”
As the flight made its way to Portsmouth, the press corps in the back ate soggy turkey sandwiches and grapes. Campaign staff members in the front were handed champagne and shrimp -- all ordered in anticipation of a win.
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