John Kerry was a terrible candidate who did everything wrong, a real Michael Dukakis version 2.0. In fact, Kerry ran such a poor campaign that I think we in the GOP should examine the Kerry campaign and try to learn from it, so we don’t make the same mistakes. With that in mind, here are what I believe were the top eleven reasons why John Kerry lost the election…
I’m Talking ‘Bout The Man John Kerry Sees In The Mirror: Put simply, John Kerry is an awful candidate for the Presidency in almost every way imaginable. He’s a dovish Massachusetts liberal who originally made a name for himself as an anti-war protestor, he has a mediocre Senate career, and JFK isn’t especially charismatic or likable. The fact that the Democrats chose this stiff in the first place was bad enough, but when you consider that the general consensus after the Democratic primaries was that Kerry was the most “electable” candidate in the field, you have to go, “Whoa, just what were these people thinking”?
Vietnam Part 1: Could You Shut Up About Vietnam Already? One of the poorest decisions the Kerry campaign made was to try to make John Kerry’s Vietnam experience the centerpiece of their campaign. While Americans certainly admire military service, it’s not enough to carry someone to the presidency. That should have been obvious to everyone given that Bill Clinton beat George Bush Sr. and Bob Dole.
Moreover, how Kerry thought he could go though an entire presidential campaign running as a war hero without the public ever being truly informed about some of the despicable things he did while he was protesting the war is beyond me. It would be like running Mike Tyson for President because he was heavyweight boxing champ of the world and expecting that the time he bit off part of Evander Holyfield’s ear would never come up. It just doesn’t work that way.
Vietnam Part 2: Friendly Fire The Swift Boat Vets for Truth spent all of August savaging John Kerry and they continued to hammer away, albeit not as effectively as they did initially, until the end of the campaign. And the damage they did to Kerry’s likability ratings, particularly among veterans, was significant. In fact, I think it’s entirely possible that had the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth not come along, John Kerry might have been the 44th President of the United States.
The conventional wisdom among Democrats today is that Kerry was too slow to respond to the Swifties, but the real problem is that Kerry was never able to mount an effective response. Kerry didn’t release his military records, spent more than a month dodging press conferences, and to the best of my knowledge never personally tried to refute any of the charges against him.
That’s despite the fact that the campaign had to do major backtracking about Kerry’s mythical trip to Cambodia and how he behaved in the battle in which he received his bronze star. This is an issue that SHOULD HAVE been brought up and explored during the Democratic primaries and the fact that it only became a big issue in August of this year, after it had been talked about incessantly on talk radio and the net, gives you an idea of what lapdogs for Kerry the mainstream media were this year.
A Pretty Smile & A Great Head Of Hair Do Not A VP Make: At the time he was picked, John Edwards seemed like about as good of a choice as anybody Kerry could have selected short of John McCain. But, Edwards turned out to be a dud — a pretty dud with a great head of hair mind you — but a dud nonetheless. Edwards was beneath the media radar practically from the time he was chosen onward, only surfacing to get schooled by Dick Cheney in the VP debate and to produce the most ridiculous quote of the entire campaign,
“If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is President, people like Christopher Reeve will get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.”
While elections don’t generally hinge on the selection of a VP, I’m sure Kerry wishes he would have at least selected someone who could carry his own state.
Convention Of The Damned!: Ok, maybe that title is overdoing it a little, but the Democrats’ fake dog and pony show of a convention was a major failure that barely boosted Kerry in the polls at all.
Part of the problem was that the Democratic Party lacks star power these days. Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, Howard Dean, Max Cleland, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton? This is not a group of people in whose hands you want to place your political life.
On top of that, the convention was bland, wasn’t heavy on the issues, was free of attacks on Bush, centered entirely too much on Vietnam, and featured a stunningly dull, yet long speech by Kerry in which he barely even discussed his 20 years in the Senate.
This was a golden opportunity squandered and Kerry’s campaign never truly recovered from it.
I’m Against Gay Marriage — Sort Of: While John Kerry did say he thought marriage was between a man and woman, most people sensed he was at best straddling the fence on the issue. That’s because Kerry didn’t support a Constitutional Amendment to protect marriage, he wasn’t for any of the 11 state bans on gay marriage that were on ballots across the country, and he had little to say to those in his party who insisted that anyone who was against gay marriage was a backwards homophobe.
Well, when you get on the wrong side of 5,000 years of human history, you’re going to turn a lot of people off. Bill Clinton understood that and told Kerry to back the local bans on gay marriage, but Kerry chose not to take Clinton’s advice and paid for it at the polls.
I’ll Take Dick Cheney’s Daughter Is A Lesbian For $1000 Alex!: After John Edwards went off on a tangent about Dick Cheney’s daughter Mary being a lesbian in their debate, it drew a lot of attention. In fact, when Saturday Night Live did a parody of the debate, that’s something even they focused on extensively.
So when John Kerry brought it up AGAIN in his third debate with George Bush, it stood out like a sore thumb. People perceived it, quite correctly I might add, as an attempt by Kerry to use Dick Cheney’s daughter against him — the idea being to appeal to homophobes who Kerry thought might vote for him if they knew Dick Cheney’s daughter was a lesbian. As John Kerry found out to his dismay, going after the other guy’s child is not something the public generally appreciates.
When Kerry made his remark, it didn’t seem like the big quip that everyone would be talking about later, but past debates have often hinged on exactly such small turns of phrase. In this case, it stopped the momentum Kerry had been building by winning all three debates and left him a couple of points behind Bush in the polls, where he essentially stayed for the rest of the election.
Flip-Flop? I got Your Flip-Flop Right Here! Look, all politicians change their minds about certain issues. But Kerry’s positions on the issues seemed to depend almost on who he was talking to, especially when it came to the war. We’re talking about a guy here who said it was the “right decision to disarm Saddam Hussein” but that it was the “wrong war, wrong place, wrong time,” that we’d be “better off without Saddam Hussein” before the war & that we shouldn’t have invaded afterwards, and who claimed Iraq was “critical to” & also a “distraction from” the war on terror.
If you want to be President of the United States, especially during a war, you’ve got to be willing to take a firm stand on the major issues. John Kerry never did.
War, Domestic Issues, & Shrum: This is going to be hard for a lot of liberals to accept, but from day one, John Kerry never had the slightest chance of being competitive with George Bush on security issues. Bush is a hawkish conservative who led the country through 9/11, knocked off Saddam and the Taliban, and wrapped up 2/3rds of Al-Qaeda’s leadership among other things. The idea that a dovish liberal, who wasn’t a cold warrior, who voted against the Gulf War, and who voted not to fund the war in Iraq was going to beat George Bush on security issues was pure fantasy. Yet, the Kerry campaign focused incessantly on national security which ironically helped to convince voters that it was the most important issue of the campaign. Why did the Kerry campaign try to keep picking a fight that they could never win? Someone ask Bob Shrum because I don’t have an explanation.
Why Did Kerry Want To Be President? Who Knows?: Like him or hate him, people had a pretty good idea of why George Bush wanted to be President. He wanted to continue to fight the war on terror, to make his tax cuts permanent, and to amend the Constitution to protect marriage.
Now, why did John Kerry want to be President? No one’s really sure, but I think it had something or another to do with Vietnam. The Kerry campaign didn’t center the campaign around any big issues, instead they simply latched on to whatever the issue of the moment was and that just wasn’t enough for the voters. At some point, John Kerry needed to give people some compelling reasons to vote for him and not just against George Bush, but Kerry wasn’t up to the task.
It’s The Lawyers Stupid!: I firmly believe that in 2002 and 2004, all the talk by Democrats about bringing in hordes of lawyers to “make sure every vote is counted” has ironically cost them a lot of swing votes.
Americans absolutely HATED the contested election of 2000, they loathe the idea of lawyers being involved in the process at all, and they find the concept of a candidate trying to win in the court room after failing at the ballot box to be repulsive. By so publicly “lawyering up,” John Kerry undoubtedly turned off a lot of potential voters and helped to give Bush a little boost right before people went to the polls.