Old soldiers who run for president, to paraphrase MacArthur, never die, they just fade away. Wesley Clark has just faded.
The latest Marist Poll taken at the end of October shows the former general fading from a tie for first place to fifth in the Democratic primary field, dropping to 8 percent of the Democratic vote nationwide, well behind Howard Dean who led at 16 percent of the likely Democratic primary voters.
Other recent polls confirm the same trend. The ABC/Washington Post poll last week shows Clark fading to fourth place and the Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll records a drop in his favorable/unfavorable ratio from 24-11 at the end of September to 25-19 at the end of October.
Since Clark is not running in Iowa (Jan. 19) and likely not in New Hampshire (Jan. 27) either, he had to keep his national standing intact to have any hope of entering the process on Feb. 3, when five states (Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, Oklahoma and South Carolina) have their primaries.
Clark would need to do very well on that day and in the rest of February, as Tennessee, Virginia and Utah hold their primaries -- because on March 2 it will be all over. That's when New York, California, Texas and Ohio all vote.
This is too steep a hill for Clark to climb with fading popularity, limited financial resources and no early primary victories for momentum.
Clark's slips, reversals, disavowals and denials have begun to catch up with him. The war? He first said that he would have voted for it, then flipped to say he would have voted no.
Political party? He's a Democrat, but he backed Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and didn't fully decide on his party until right before he entered the race. Bosnia? What was he doing posing with a Serbian war criminal swapping hats like old buddies? A face, a rank and a former uniform are not enough to make up a presidential candidate.
In September and October, the ultimate media candidate -- Clark -- competed for national attention with the leading grass-roots (cyber roots) candidate, Dean. Each had his face on the cover of Time and Newsweek.
But media coverage was all that Clark had, while Dean had amassed a solid base of 500,000 online supporters and 285,000 campaign donors (most campaigns are lucky if they get 10,000 contributors this early).
Instead, Clark had the Clintons. Not officially, not formally, but everyone knew that where Bruce Lindsay was and the Clinton campaign operatives were, Bill was not far behind.
It was a battle of the old era facing the new: TV vs. the 'Net. The Internet won. The massive mobilization of gay activists and peaceniks impelled a surge in Dean's candidacy that has continued while Clark's boom faded.
Now there is precious little to stand between Dean and his nomination. All depends on Iowa. If Dean defeats Gephardt in the Missouri congressman's back yard, the momentum will sweep him to victory in New Hampshire. Having won the first two states, with Clark gone from serious contention, there will be nothing to stop him from sweeping the front-loaded nominating process.
The delicious irony is that the primary process is front-loaded precisely to keep the Howard Deans of the world out. The Democratic bosses figured that with the big states voting so early in the nominating process that a candidate could not come from out of nowhere, jump start with a win in Iowa or New Hampshire and then build the momentum to win the big states. He just couldn't get the money together in time. The process was set up to advantage a Gephardt or Kerry or Lieberman.
It didn't work that way. Dean raised the funds he needed online before the first primary happened. Before New Hampshire or Iowa, he won the Internet -- and that made all the difference.
Dick Morris is a Fox News contributor and author. His latest book is "Here Come the Black Helicopters: UN Global Governance and the Loss of Freedom." Visit his website: www.dickmorris.com and follow him on Twitter@DickMorrisTweet. Click here to sign up to get all of Dick's videos emailed to you.