In an apparent effort to demonstrate that the Democratic Party has no room for moderate politicians, nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh falsely claimed that Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-CT) "was the first guy thrown out" of the 2004 Democratic presidential primaries because "[h]e was the only Democrat talking positively about the war in Iraq." In fact, Lieberman was the second candidate to drop out of the 2004 primaries and the fourth to drop out the race for the Democratic presidential nomination overall. Then-House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) -- who was sharply critical of President Bush's handling of the war -- dropped out after the Iowa caucuses and before Lieberman ended his campaign. Two other candidates -- then-Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) and former ambassador Carol Moseley Braun -- opposed the war and dropped out of the race before Iowa.
On the October 13 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh insisted that Lieberman "paid the price" for "talking positively about the war in Iraq, the war on terror, and how important it was. ... He was the first out of the primaries." But Lieberman ended his presidential bid after a fifth-place finish in the February 3, 2004, New Hampshire primary.
Though Gephardt voted to authorize the Iraq war, he was critical of Bush's handling of it. In an October 9, 2003, Democratic presidential debate, for instance, he called it "an abysmal failure of a foreign policy":
GEPHARDT: The president is failing in his responsibility to get us the help that we need. It is four months since he landed on the aircraft carrier in his flight suit and said the war was over. We've almost lost 800 soldiers to injuries since then. We've almost lost 100 who have been killed.
GEPHARDT: Judy [Woodruff, moderator], you've got to get the help of our friends. He keeps saying we've got 30 countries helping us. Yeah, Togo sent one soldier. That isn't what we need. We need France, Germany, Russia. There's only three countries in the world that can give us both the financial and the military help that we need.
He needs to go to those countries; he needs to go to the U.N. [United Nations]; he needs to build a consensus; he needs to collaborate; he needs to communicate. He doesn't do any of those things. It's an abysmal failure of a foreign policy, both there and across the world.
Despite Gephardt's critical assessment of Bush's war effort, he withdrew from the race on January 20, one day after finishing a distant fourth in the Iowa caucuses. Lieberman remained in the race for another two weeks.
Further, Lieberman's candidacy ended nearly four months after Graham pulled out of the race. As The Miami Herald noted on October 7, 2003, "Graham, who tried to mold his opposition to President Bush's handling of terrorism and the Iraq war into a viable bid for the White House, abandoned the campaign late Monday [October 6] after months of struggling to gain traction in a crowded Democratic primary field." An October 7, 2003, Washington Post article further outlined Graham's opposition to the Iraq war and noted that unlike Lieberman, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), and then-Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), Graham had voted against the resolution that authorized force in Iraq:
Unlike the other three senators seeking the nomination, Graham voted against the 2002 resolution authorizing President Bush to use force against Iraq. Graham maintained that Saddam Hussein did not pose an urgent threat to the United States and warned that a military campaign would distract from the more important war against al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
In a September 9, 2003, debate with the other Democratic candidates, Graham said, "My friends, those who voted for that [the Iraq war resolution] gave the president a blank trust, a blank check. We cannot trust this president with a blank check."
Braun, who dropped out of the race on January 15, 2004, was also an opponent of the war. Though she argued, when announcing her presidential run, that the United States should "see this misadventure [in Iraq] through to a noble conclusion," she also referred to "the folly of preemptive war" and criticized the Bush administration of "sour[ing] our friendships and alliances around the world." In the October 9 debate, Braun said, "We shouldn't have been there [Iraq] in the first place. This administration failed the American people, misled the American people, by sending our troops there to begin with. But now that we're there, we've got to come out with some honor."
From the October 13 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:
CALLER: Yeah, I mean we had a candidate like that. He was religious, had moral underpinnings, pro-family. He was called the conscience of the Senate. He was committed to national defense. His name was Joe Lieberman.
CALLER: But, you know, he couldn't get past the primaries. Only 10 percent of the Democrats vote. Generally the more liberals member vote.
LIMBAUGH: But [Washington Post op-ed columnist David] Broder says that perhaps with the moderate influence of moderate Democrats, this base can be neutralized a bit. Wishful thinking. And then he goes on to describe the ideal Democrat candidate. They need a hawk on the war. They need somebody who is religious. Only been married one time and can talk in understanding, sympathetic ways to people who are pro-life and whatever. Anti-gay marriage, whatever. And if you read the description of what David Broder says the Democrats need, you quickly conclude that they need a Republican. He has described a Republican as the Democrats' best chance for winning the White House.
Now what [caller] here is saying, "Well, there is a Democrat like that out there, and that's Joe Lieberman." And that's true, and [caller's] also right. Joe Lieberman was the first guy thrown out of the 2000 presidential primaries. It happened either in New Hampshire or some smaller state, and he barely got 10 percent of the vote, and he was the only Democrat who was talking positively. Maybe it was -- it wasn't 2000. Was it 2004? 2004, right? 2004. He was the only Democrat talking positively about the war in Iraq, the war on terror, and how important it was, and he paid the price for that. He was the first out of the primaries.