I don’t see that happening.
Kerry has taken to the State Department really well and even some of his longtime detractors have complimented his work as Secretary of State, but I can’t imagine him parlaying his Cabinet spot into another bid for the White House.
First of all, John Kerry was a terrible Presidential candidate. It’s not that he was unqualified or incapable of handling the actual job of President; it’s that he is literally a bad candidate — he doesn’t campaign well, he doesn’t inspire passion (or even a passing interest) in the rank-and-file members of his party that need to get out the vote in order for a Democrat to win a national election, and whether they respect him or not, Democrats don’t necessarily like him. That’s a recipe for a stillborn campaign.
There’s also the fact that electorates don’t respond well anymore to former nominees who already lost a national election. The days of a Thomas Dewey or Adlai Stevenson losing a Presidential election and running it back four years later are long gone. Candidates who lost a previous bid for their party’s nomination can still make a run in the top spot, but there’s not enough room, time, or money to give a proven national loser another chance at losing.
Even if Kerry did get another shot at the Democratic nomination (which he won’t), it would not be in 2016. Obviously, the Democratic nomination is Hillary Clinton’s in 2016 if she wants it. If not, it’s Vice President Biden’s Should Hillary and Biden both miraculously pass on the nomination in 2016, there are several Democratic Governors waiting in the wings who are just a handful of TV appearances away from being the country’s newest political rock stars (Governor O’Malley of Maryland and Governor Hickenlooper of Colorado, in particular).
Okay, you might say. What about 2020? Not going to happen. John Kerry is 70 years old now. He has no shot in 2016 and even less of a shot in 2020 when he’ll be 77 years old — right around the age President Reagan was AFTER eight years in the White House. Kerry’s window for the Presidency was 2004 and, despite being an awful candidate and making up one-half of one of the worst Presidential tickets in U.S. history, he actually almost won. But that is the closest he will ever be.
I don’t know if “difficult to understand” would be the right term because most re-elections of incumbents can be explained pretty easily.
Let’s just look at your three examples — Nixon, Clinton, and Bush 43. As you mentioned, all three had it pretty easy when it came to their opponents. I have a ton of respect for George McGovern and Bob Dole, but they were no match for Nixon in 1972 and Clinton in 1996, respectively. And, of course, John Kerry was just a terrible candidate for President, so Bush got really lucky in 2004.
It’s important to note, however, that the scandals that tainted Nixon and Clinton didn’t start causing them major problems until after they were re-elected. The Watergate break-in happened during the ‘72 campaign, but the extent of Nixon’s in-depth involvement wasn’t revealed until after Nixon laid an ungodly Electoral College beatdown on McGovern that year — 520-17 was the score, 49 states for Nixon while McGovern took home just Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.
The Monica Lewinsky story didn’t break until January 1998, well after Clinton had coasted to re-election against Bob Dole in November 1996. And, even if Clinton had faced re-election at the same time he was being impeached by the House of Representatives, would it have mattered? Remember, Clinton’s approval ratings went UP while he was being impeached and put on trial by the U.S. Senate!
So, I guess we settle on George W. Bush by default. In retrospect, the 2004 election is definitely one that raises eyebrows. Bush was tremendously unpopular and the only reason he was re-elected was basically due to the fact that in John Kerry and John Edwards the Democrats nominated their worst Presidential ticket since the nightmarish duo of John W. Davis and Charles W. Bryan in 1924.
That 1924 Democrats ticket required 103 ballots before the Democratic Convention finally settled on a candidate. At that Convention, the Democrats nominated SIXTY different candidates for the Presidency! And if they had spent just a quarter of that time on coming up with alternate candidates 80 years later in 2004, George W. Bush probably would have lost that election.
The nation did not want to re-elect Bush in 2004, but the Democrats blew it by nominating John Kerry. You can’t really blame Kerry — you have to take that opportunity when you get it. It’s other leading Democrats who could have and should have stepped forward in 2004 who deserve the blame. Most of them recognize that they made a huge mistake by not running in 2004 because (a.) they could have won, and (b.) they may have lost their window for being President. Hillary Clinton is fortunate to be a resilient enough political figure that her window is still open. If Hillary had run in 2004, she would have beat Bush and would have been seeking re-election to the White House in 2008 instead of losing the Democratic nomination to the junior Senator from Illinois that year.
I really don’t know if I’ve answered your question. I guess my point is that none of those re-election victories are difficult to understand, but it is certainly frustrating that an incumbent as vulnerable as George W. Bush in 2004 was able to win another term. I guess the difficult thing to understand is how the Democratic Party, with its vehement opposition to Bush and increasing anti-Iraq War sentiment in 2004, nominated such an underwhelming ticket in such an eminently winnable campaign. I don’t know if I will ever fully understand that.
Do you know what is most frustrating about the 2004 election? Despite the terrible Democratic ticket, despite John Kerry, despite John Edwards, despite the lack of passion from Democratic voters nationwide, and despite everything that happened from the DNC in Boston until Kerry’s concession speech at Boston’s Faneuil Hall, one thing will always haunt Democrats: Kerry still almost won! The Electoral College count: Bush 286, Kerry 252. If more people had voted for Kerry than Bush in just one state — Ohio — on November 2, 2004, Bush would have been a one-term President.
Like I said, it’s not that I find anything I mentioned to be difficult to understand; it’s just a bitter pill to swallow — still, nearly a decade later.
Tidbits from Peter Baker’s "Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House", available on Tuesday from Doubleday:
On the electoral front, John Kerry had locked up the Democratic nomination, and the Bush team was feeling on the defensive. Bush tried to settle down his jittery staff during a meeting in the White House residence.
"Listen, I’ve been involved in a lot of campaigns," he started, implicitly reminding his team that he had already seen five Presidential campaigns up close. "The accidental genius of the process in its length is it strips you bare. You’re totally revealed to the American people. You can’t hide who you are. It’s one of the reasons why people made fun of me with my pillow in 2000 and I wanted to get home. But you need your sleep. It’s exhausting." The bottom line this year, he added pointedly, was this: "We’re going to win because John Kerry is an asshole."
Yes, I do find them similar, but let me note — despite some of the things that I’ve said about Kerry and despite my vote for Obama over Romney — I do think that both Kerry and Romney are capable and neither would have been a terrible President. Are they kind of vanilla and do they have reputations for flip-flopping? Sure. But both have been successful in the offices that they have held and I wouldn’t have been terrified to see either of them living in the White House because I know that they could have done the job.
What would happen if we had Kerry vs. Romney? Well, it depends on what they were campaigning for. If they ran against each other for a U.S. Senate seat from Massachusetts, I think Kerry wins. Romney DID run for the Senate in Massachusetts, but it was against Ted Kennedy, not John Kerry.
But if it were a race for the Presidency and you put Romney vs. Kerry to the nation’s voters, I think Romney wins that race. Romney was a much better campaigner than Kerry was, and I think it would be close in the Electoral College — like 2004 (Bush 286, Kerry 251) — but I definitely think Romney would pull it out.
I just looked back on my Smart-Ass Commentary from the final night of the 2012 Democratic Convention and I can understand why some might think I don’t like John Kerry, considering I started with this:
And proceeded to add comments such as:
•”Hey, fellow Democrats, remember when we nominated John Kerry to be President? Man, that sucked.”
•”This reminds me of 2004 when everything was really shitty and I looked at my ballot and said, ‘Well, I can’t vote for Bush, so…I guess it’s Kerry.’”
•”I have absolutely no interest in anything that John Kerry is saying and, as his speech goes on, my body is beginning to shut down in order to protect itself.”
•”Is John Kerry criticizing somebody for being a flip-flopper? Isn’t that like the pot calling the kettle ‘John Kerry’?”
•”Jesus, I can’t believe I voted for this man to be President of the United States.”
•”John Kerry just spoke for twelve-and-a-half minutes without saying a goddamn thing. That might be #2 on my list of ‘Biggest Wastes of My Life’. #1 is the entire year of 2004. Congratulations, Senator Kerry, you finally won something!”
I also called him a “fucking rock-headed bore.”
So, I guess I’m saying that I can understand the confusion about how I feel about John Kerry.
I don’t really dislike Senator Kerry. I never thought of him as an appealing Presidential candidate in 2004. I supported him because the alternative was four more years of George W. Bush, but I thought the Democrats pretty much handed a second term to W. by nominating Kerry. Kerry just wasn’t very inspirational. I mean, in 2004, I was in a real political mindset and wanted to be involved like I was for California Governor Gray Davis in 1998 and Obama in 2007-2008. But Kerry as the Democratic nominee in 2004 completely took me out of wanting to be active in the campaign that year.
But I appreciate his service to the country and think he got completely railroaded by the Swift Boaters during the campaign. And I think he’s been a great Senator and will be a solid Secretary of State.
I think Senator Kerry is an excellent choice. He has a wealth of experience in foreign relations due to his lengthy service on that committee in the Senate, is well-known around the world, and has built personal relationships with many international leaders that will serve him and the President well once he takes over at State. I think that Susan Rice got a raw deal over the Benghazi attacks and was unfairly made out to be the scapegoat, but I also think Kerry is a much more solid pick for Secretary of State than Rice would have been.
It’s the big night and I am back to bring you my Smart-Ass Commentary for the final night of the 2012 Democratic National Convention as President Obama and Vice President Biden prepare to accept their party’s nomination for a second term and this seemingly endless campaign cycle officially kicks in to gear with the stretch run to Election Day.
Listen, I have to be very honest. I’m having a much more difficult time coming up with Smart-Ass Commentary this week. I guess part of it is that I am a Democrat and I did work for Barack Obama in 2007/2008, but to be fair, I was able to be a smart-ass during the President’s State of the Union Address earlier this year. I think the bigger problem is that last night I was reminded why the 1990s were so awesome and why Bill Clinton should still be President, and instead of joking about it, I was just really sad. I’m going to try to do a better job tonight, but I must note that my love for Joe Biden is just a little below my love for Bill Clinton, so just know that I know that I might be disappointing in this role tonight.
You know, if only there was something to help bring out the inner cynic within me. If only there was a ghost from campaigns of the past. If only there was some sort of a specter to remind me and my fellow Democrats of how far we’ve come and how low we once were. If only there was a speed bump placed in between the utter awesomeness of Bill Clinton and Joe Biden in order to keep the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte from exploding due to the fact that Clinton and Biden are the coolest fucking Democrats alive. If only we could be interrupted by the political personification of a vacuum…
…YES! Now, THIS is something I can be a Smart-Ass about. Let’s kick the night off with the only man who was less popular than George W. Bush in 2004 — Senator John Forbes Kerry of Massachusetts!
•It’s nice to see that Senator Kerry could take time off from being on the $20 bill to speak to us.
•If he salutes and says he’s “reporting for duty” like he did at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, I’m voting for Mitt Romney.
•Hey, fellow Democrats, remember when we nominated John Kerry to be President? Man, that sucked.
•Let’s be straight here — John Kerry and Mitt Romney are pretty much interchangeable.
•What a weird speech. It’s like Kerry started up from the middle of the speech.
•This reminds me of 2004 when everything was really shitty and I looked at my ballot and said, “Well, I can’t vote for Bush, so…I guess it’s Kerry.”
•Oh…another memory…remember when he picked John Edwards as Vice President? That guy turned out to be a star.
•I have absolutely no interest in anything that John Kerry is saying and, as his speech goes on, my body is beginning to shut down in order to protect itself.
•John Kerry had everything backwards — your human form is not supposed to look like a Mount Rushmore sculpture.
•In case you don’t understand, I’m insinuating that John Kerry is a fucking rock-headed bore.
•I do like the fact that Kerry’s talking about Osama bin Laden’s death. As I’ve mentioned, if I were President Obama, I’d just have a photo of bin Laden’s body on the stage at every campaign stop.
•Kerry says that Romney/Ryan are the most inexperienced foreign policy two-some to run in decades. Or, since that goofy Kerry/Edwards ticket.
•Is John Kerry criticizing somebody for being a flip-flopper? Isn’t that like the pot calling the kettle “John Kerry”?
•Just think, if John Kerry had his way, this speech would be capping off his second term as President and he’d probably be nominating husband-of-the-year John Edwards as POTUS.
•”Let me say something else. Let me say something else.” — YOU HAVE THE MICROPHONE AND THE STAGE, STONEHENGE FACE, GO AHEAD AND TALK.
•Jesus, I can’t believe I voted for this man to be President of the United States.
•John Kerry just spoke for twelve-and-a-half minutes without saying a goddamn thing. •That might be #2 on my list of “Biggest Wastes of My Life”. #1 is the entire year of 2004. Congratulations, Senator Kerry, you finally won something!
I feel like we need to start a new post in order to cleanse ourselves after that reminder of the political abyss that John Kerry and John Edwards dragged us down into in 2004. The good news: Joe Biden is next!
Well, there have only been three Catholic nominees: Al Smith in 1928, JFK in 1960, and John Kerry in 2004. It’s tough to get elected if you can’t get nominated.
Why haven’t more Catholics been nominated? The United States had a strong anti-Catholic attitude in the 18th, 19th, and early-20th Centuries. Many Americans distrusted Catholics because they felt that Catholics were loyal first to the Church and the Pope, and then to their country. Even when JFK was running for President, there was a real fear that the Catholic belief in Papal infallibility would lead Kennedy to take marching orders from the Vatican.
Even with the anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant tendencies of the 19th Century, it is odd that we’ve had so few Catholic nominees and only one Catholic President. Since JFK’s the only Catholic President, that means of the 38 Presidents who have been elected to terms in the White House, just 2.6% have been Catholic despite the fact that 22% of Americans are Catholic.
An even stranger fact: although the first Catholic President wasn’t elected until 1960, the first Catholic Vice President wasn’t elected until 2008 as Joe Biden is the first Catholic elected to the Vice Presidency.
Thanks for the comment and for passing along the photo.
FYI: Other Presidents who were members of Skull & Bones at Yale include William Howard Taft (whose father was one of the founders of the secret society) and George W. Bush. Also, the 2004 Presidential election was contested between two Bonesmen, Bush 43 and John Kerry.