John Kerry has endorsed Joe Biden. I’m sure it makes perfect sense to him. But I’m equally sure that we shouldn’t follow John Kerry to catastrophe a second time.
Let’s look at this in detail. Back in 2004, Democrats nominated John Kerry as their presidential candidate. He picked John Edwards as his vice-presidential running mate. And they lost — by over 3 million votes — more than Trump lost by in 2016. Based on what we know about political science, this was not surprising.
Political Science 2004
In 2009, political scientist Lynn Vavreck published a book that looked at presidential elections, The Message Matters. In it, she argued that the country’s economic trend largely controlled the outcomes in presidential races. If the economy is improving, the political party in the White House wins; if the economy is going into recession, the party loses. This is standard political science.
What Vavreck added was that there were elections when this didn’t hold. She argued that a candidate could win the presidency against a strong economy if they could make the election about something other than the economy.
The classic example of this is Jimmy Carter in 1976. He should have lost. But he made the election about corruption and that allowed him to eke out a win by less than 2 million votes.
The Democrats had a great opportunity in 2004. People had turned against the Iraq War. If the Democrats had made the election about the war, they could have won. But they nominated two men who had voted for the war. And Kerry was especially bad when it came to justifying that vote.
The right choice was Howard Dean. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t like Howard Dean. He’s the kind of Democrat I’ve always had problems with. He’s one of the Democrats who rose in the wake of Watergate. He’s very much in favor of “good government” over ideology, which means that economically, he’s pretty conservative.
But his 2004 campaign was all about the Iraq War. And regardless of what he may have thought at the time, he wasn’t on record as being for it. Had the Democrats nominated him, it would have been Bush looking uncomfortable at the lectern, not Kerry. And Dean might have won. He certainly would have done better than Kerry did.
Political Science 2020
So here we are on the cusp of 2020 and Kerry has announced that he is supporting Joe Biden for the nomination. It’s not surprising. The two of them worked together at the top of the Obama White House. What’s more, I think the decline of Warren in the polls has caused a lot of establishment types to decide that Biden is their only choice.
But I think Biden is as electable today as Kerry was in 2004. I know: everyone claims he is the most electable candidate. But Trump is going to hammer him on his Iraq War vote, just like he did Clinton in 2016. And if you don’t think Hunter Biden is going to be the “But her emails!” of 2020, you haven’t been paying attention.
If Kerry is wrong this time too, don’t worry: the Democrats will listen to him again.
You know the Democratic saying: fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on you; fool me three times, wow, you really aren’t a very nice person, you’d better not fool me a fourth time!