The Democratic presidential field may have some missing elements, but the part of Old Life-Long Pol has already been cast — at least twice. If Democrats need to rescue themselves from one or both of them, however, is John Kerry the Old Life-Long Pol the party needs? According to NBC News yesterday, Kerry didn’t mind discussing the possibilities on a cell-phone call in a Des Moines hotel lobby:
Former Secretary of State John Kerry — one of Joe Biden’s highest-profile endorsers — was overheard Sunday on the phone at a Des Moines hotel explaining what he would have to do to enter the presidential race amid “the possibility of Bernie Sanders taking down the Democratic Party — down whole.”
Sitting in the lobby restaurant of the Renaissance Savery hotel, Kerry was overheard by an NBC News analyst saying “maybe I’m f—ing deluding myself here” and explaining that in order to run, he’d have to step down from the board of Bank of America and give up his ability to make paid speeches. Kerry said donors like venture capitalist Doug Hickey would have to “raise a couple of million,” adding that such donors “now have the reality of Bernie.”
Kerry happens to be in Iowa to campaign for his pal Joe Biden, the other Old Life-Long Pol in the top tier of the 2020 field. This doesn’t exactly sound like a vote of confidence in Sheriff Joe, NBC’s Jonathan Allen and Allan Smith write:
It’s not clear how serious Kerry was on the call about jumping into the race. But that he would even discuss the possibility suggests that prominent members of the Democratic Party remain deeply unsettled by the current field, Sanders’ strength in the polls, and the ability of any candidate to defeat President Donald Trump.
It also suggests that Kerry, who has campaigned with Biden in Iowa and New Hampshire, may be nervous about the former vice president’s chances ahead of Monday’s first-in-the-nation primary caucuses. At a North Liberty, Iowa, campaign event on Saturday, Kerry spoke both after and for longer than Biden did.
Kerry didn’t waste much time after the report emerged to issue a profanity-laden denial on Twitter. After a few minutes, Kerry deleted the first tweet and offered another in its place:
As I told the reporter, I am absolutely not running for President. Any report otherwise is categorically false. I’ve been proud to campaign with my good friend Joe Biden, who is going to win the nomination, beat Trump, and make an outstanding president.
— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) February 2, 2020
That’s not quite a denial. Yes, he’s not running for president, but Allen didn’t report that he was. What Allen claimed he overheard was Kerry discussing the potential need for the Democrats to find a late entry into the race and the possibility that he could fill that role. Kerry’s denial — and likely even the profanity — is calculated to distract from the damaging impact of the nature of that discussion, a discussion Kerry never denies having.
On top of that, Kerry’s actually correct on two points here. First, nominating a 78-year-old socialist crank to the top (or bottom) of the ticket would be an utter disaster for the Democratic Party. You don’t need today’s NBC/WSJ poll to understand just how unpopular Bernie Sanders’ “let’s put government in charge of everything” approach will be outside of the urban cores and Academia. It would be an outright electoral disaster for Democrats. The reverberations of that outcome might echo for several cycles, perhaps even more so after Donald Trump leaves the political stage for good.
Second, Kerry is very clearly “f*****g deluding myself here” if he thinks he’s the candidate to rescue the party. Kerry couldn’t beat an unpopular George W. Bush in 2004 despite having lots of time to ramp up and organize a campaign, and he only got through the primary because Howard Dean imploded. He’s precisely the kind of Beltway barnacle that voters love to despise these days; he’s much more establishment than Sanders, and a late entry will be seen as a desperation establishment move as well. Besides, few politicians are as demonstrably in love with their own voice as Kerry is, and with less justification.
Finally, if you don’t want to generate that desperation narrative and attach it to your good buddy on the campaign trail, then maybe follow this advice from the Des Moines Register’s top political reporter:
I don't know who needs to hear this, but the lobby of the Renaissance Savery in Des Moines the day before the Iowa caucuses is *not* the place to have private conversations. This has been a public service announcement. https://t.co/E0Y7dqSFS0
— Brianne Pfannenstiel (@brianneDMR) February 2, 2020
Maybe Joe Biden should jump into the race to rescue Democrats from Kerry.