Campaign Crawlers

He’s Really Done It This Time

Until next time, that is, but what in the world made Kerry think he could evade nomination at his party�s convention?

By 5.27.04

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Exactly how inept is the Kerry campaign? And exactly how many times am I going to have to ask that question? The moment I think that it can't sink to a lower level of incompetence, the Kerry campaign proves that there may be no bottom.

I'm tempted to suggest that postponing the nomination until after the Democratic convention for the sake of delaying the $75 million in public funds is easily the dumbest thing John Kerry -- by the way, he actually served in Vietnam -- could do, but I went there last week, and so I am chastened. But, despite numerous missteps, it seems that the Kerry campaign couldn't learn a lesson if it crashed into its national office in a swift boat.

True, many campaigns make mistakes, misjudging the mood of the public and/or the media. Such blunders are even more likely when a campaign has to make a decision under the gun. However, this was not the sort of decision that had to be made under serious time constraints. Indeed, the idea seems so bad that one has to wonder how, exactly, such schemes get any traction in the Kerry campaign.

Nominating conventions have become little more than free advertising for the candidates and the parties, designed largely to give the candidate a post-convention bounce in the polls. Kerry would have foregone much of that if he had gone ahead with the postponement. Because conventions are now stage-managed and devoid of any serious politicking, the parties have a difficult time maintaining media interest in these events. The build-up to the nomination speech is one of their few remaining selling points. How much interest would the networks and cable channels (not to mention viewers) have had in covering a non-acceptance speech? Not much, if Tom Brokaw is any indication. "My personal belief is that if he announces he will not accept the nomination, that there's no good reason for NBC the network to be in Boston covering the convention," Brokaw said on Larry King Live the other day.

Then there is the image problem, a no-win situation. Had Kerry followed through, it would have reinforced his reputation as a bit of an operator. According to John Samples of the Cato Institute, "Kerry already has an image as a finagler, and this comes off as heavy duty political manipulation." Even though Kerry has now decided to accept the nomination in Boston, the damage to his image is done. It will only add to his fame as a waffler. I can hear the late-night jokes now: "Kerry recently said that he first declined the nomination before he accepted the nomination." It seems that the Kerry campaign didn't consider that the delaying of the $75 million in public funds might not be worth it if it reinforced Kerry's negatives.

And while Kerry was making his decision, the idea generated lots of negative press. The Rocky Mountain News has run the headline "Dems' Convention Could Be a Farce." In a story titled "Kerry's Convention Change Angers Boston," the Chicago Sun-Times reports on city officials and business owners who are upset at the idea of a non-nominating convention. It is a safe bet that the Kerry campaign would rather have not seen the story-line that a presidential candidate angers his hometown folks.

Perhaps the best way to understand this dunderheaded idea is to see it as the product Kerry's tendency to think that he is better than most. That Kerry believes he can run roughshod over the normal convention process for the sake of money, and believes he can callously disregard the feelings of the convention hosts, is consistent with his "the rules do not apply to me" demeanor. It now appears that Kerry's imperious attitude has set the tone for his campaign. If so, it's a good bet I'll be asking the ineptness question many more times before November.

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David Hogberg is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.  Follow David Hogberg on Twitter.