POLITICS
01/14/2016 05:02 pm ET Updated Feb 20, 2017

How Howard Dean Became The Grateful Dead Of The '04 Campaign

And why that was a bad thing.

WASHINGTON -- Everyone who followed the rise and fall of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s presidential campaign points to a single moment when it all came apart.

You know what it is.

His infamous 2004 speech on caucus night in Iowa.

Before people even knew what a viral moment was, that speech went viral. And this was at a time when something had to be really special to catch on. You couldn’t just post random misfortune or a run-of-the-mill gaffe and expect fireworks. But this speech, or at least its last 10 seconds, was special -- enough that it would play on an endless loop across the cable news universe. You couldn’t get away from it. So-called Deaniacs heard it in their sleep.

In political lore, the scream speech has become the equivalent of the baseball dribbling between Bill Buckner’s aging legs or the moment the Buffalo Bills lost a Super Bowl on Scott Norwood’s kick going wide right. Dean never recovered from it, and he bowed out of the race by early February.

But this is not the way Dean sees it. The speech... well, it happened. But it didn’t really mean as much as the pundits say it did. As he told "Candidate Confessional," his Iowa defeat was not a shock. "It was about three weeks before the end," Dean said. He was still drawing passionate audiences. But something was different.

The crowds weren’t necessarily made up of Iowa voters. They were made up of Deaniacs who had taken to following the candidate around the state. "It was like being the Grateful Dead," Dean explained. After finishing a speech, he’d take a break and then go to the next, where he'd see all these familiar fans geeking out to his stump speech all over again.

"I’d go to the next rally and there’d be a huge crowd of a thousand people, and they’d be the same people," Dean said. "When I saw that, I realized what was happening was this was not about ordinary Iowans."

Dean was no longer leading a presidential front-running campaign. He had become the leader of a bunch of Deanheads. Because of those crowds, he knew he was doomed.

"I knew what was going to happen before it happened," he said. "I wasn’t surprised."

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