Huffpost Politics
Sam Stein Headshot

Dean Basks In Election Results, Offers Hints Of The Future

Posted: Updated:

Fresh off an election cycle that saw massive Democratic gains in both houses of Congress and the reclamation of the White House, party chairman Howard Dean took a moment on Tuesday to bask in the achievements.

"Look, the record has obviously been unbelievable," he said in an interview with the Huffington Post at the DNC's headquarters. "It wasn't all me obviously. We had a lot of help from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. I had a big assist from George Bush and a huge assist from Barack Obama... But it is hard to improve on this."

These are, indeed, heady times for Dean. Days removed from his 60th birthday and months away from the end of his tenure at the DNC, the former Vermont Governor could not come up with a single regret from his four-year tenure as party chair.

"I'm sure there are some things," he said, before turning to his staff for help. "I don't carry a list of those in my head."

And yet, there are various questions that remain unresolved. Foremost is what Dean himself will do next. The rumor mill has him ending up somewhere in the upcoming Obama administration, perhaps as the head of Health and Human Services. "I'm not going to discuss anything related to the transition," he says of the chatter.

But after several efforts at rephrasing the question, he offers the slightest indication of what might be -- or at least what he wants to be -- around the corner.

"I'm interested in doing something policy oriented," he says, downplaying another political post. "But please do not put me down as a candidate for one agency or another. Because it is all gossip and it doesn't help at all... That stuff is very harmful to anyone who is looking to get into the administration... The best way you don't get a job is to campaign for it. It's just the way it works. It is a very complicated, subtle way of doing it, which is why I don't talk about it... So don't make more of me saying I'm interested in doing policy because it is going to hurt my chances."

As evidence, he cites a Politico article that said he was out of the running for HHS -- a piece that Dean said, laughingly, "was pulled out of thin air" and/or had to be planted by enemies.

But questions persist beyond a hypothetical role in the Obama administration. For starters, who will be the next chair of the DNC?

Noting that the choice was ultimately Obama's to make, Dean had several recommendations: (1) the incoming administration should be one chair, not a dual ticket, which he said didn't perform well in the Clinton years; (2) the person should be a "substantial political figure who can help raise money"; and (3) whoever takes over the post should -- indeed, will -- continue the strategies he put in place four years ago.

"There is no question in my mind that Obama will continue the fifty-state-strategy," he says. "First of all, that is how they won the primary. They had organizations in every single state. And second of all, that is how they won the general."

Combining this facet of the Democratic politic id with an inclusive approach that Obama takes to governance (see: Lieberman, Joe), Dean predicted that his party would enjoy a durable majority and avoid the same pitfalls that engulfed the GOP these past four years.

"You have to bring everyone you can into the fold or the coalition," he explains. "You know, it is easy in politics to use anger, as Karl Rove and Lee Atwater and Newt Gingrich did -- to manufacture anger and aim it at a particular ethnic group, or gay people or immigrants. They always used to do that stuff. But it leads to a failure of government in a diverse country like this."

Ironically, as Dean prepares to leave office, some of the individuals holding leverage over the future direction of the Democratic Party are those with whom he has previously clashed.

The first is Rahm Emanuel -- a once-forceful critic of the fifty-state-strategy who Dean says is the ideal fit for the post of Barack Obama's chief a staff.

A White House with Rahm at the helm, said Dean, will be "very tough, very focused, very much the trains run on time. I know the blogosphere is not that enthusiastic about this, but the truth is, when you are actually governing you have got to get stuff done, and Rahm gets stuff done."

The second, somewhat surprisingly, is John McCain -- the man who Dean spent nearly every day of the past six months trying to chop down.

"I think McCain is most likely to be very helpful going forward on the stuff he cares about. When you run for president and you don't win, all the sudden you don't have to posture anymore. And my prediction is you will see the McCain of 2000 come back and he will work with Democrats when he should on stuff that he cares about," said Dean. "I have always respected McCain, especially the 2000 McCain. And I still respect McCain cause he wouldn't let them put the Jeremiah Wright ads on, which was an easy whack at us. So, you know, McCain is free now to be McCain again. He is free to do what he thinks is right and some of that will help the Democrats."

Register To Vote