Forget the media hype, just because you lose a presidential election doesn’t make you a bad candidate.
Matt Yglesias made a great point over at Vox last week after Taegan Goddard said on Twitter that, “A plugged-in Democrat just told me he’s getting the same sinking feeling he had when John Kerry was the nominee…” Simply put if John Kerry is a good model for Hillary Clinton, and he actually ran a great race, even if he didn’t win.
I know, it sounds crazy, but as Yglesias points out John Kerry’s share of the 2004 vote is actually better that what you’d expect from past elections. Yglesias has a great graph from political scientists John Sides and Lynn Vavreck’s book on the 2012 election The Gamble which shows:
… historically speaking, the relationship between economic growth and incumbent party presidential performance. It also shows a few things you might find intuitive. Democrats underperformed the fundamentals in 1972 when their nominee was perceived as so left-wing that he couldn’t even secure the clear support of the AFL-CIO. But Democrats overperformed the fundamentals in 1964 when the GOP nominated an extremist.
You also see here that in 2004, George W. Bush’s reelection campaign did somewhat worse than you would have expected given the decent economy at the time.
That’s because John Kerry—tall, handsome, experienced, war hero—was a good candidate who ran a good campaign.
Note that Yglesias isn’t claiming that Kerry ran a perfect campaign, or a campaign that won, just that he did an all around good job. To use a metaphor from sports, just because you lose the Superbowl doesn’t mean you’re a bad football team, the fact that you were able to get that far is in fact evidence that you are pretty good!
Simply put it’s quite hard to defeat an incumbent president if the economy is growing during the election year, as it was during 2004. Add in the fact that George W. Bush’s popularity was inflated by 9/11 and the start of the Iraq War, the well documented “rally round the flag” effect, and it’s easy to see how Bush won election. Which means that Kerry didn’t made mistakes, all candidates and campaign do, but at the same time he was hardly a political bungler.
If anything is true in American politics it’s this: the losing candidate is always tagged as running a bad campaign in the media and that characterization tends to stick, whether or not they actually deserve it. Kerry may live in popular memory as the “wrong choice” for the Democrats in 2004, but in the alternative universe where Howard Dean won the nomination and went down in flames in the general election we’d be saying the same thing about him.
Like The Good Men Project On Facebook
Photo by Alastair Grant/AP