The bottom line is that I don't believe the story by itself will be as devastating to the Kerry campaign as some have speculated. I doubt that the MSM is going to spend any time on it given the other news of the day. However, if the story gets legs (certainly talk radio and the blogs have been covering it) then there may be some impact.
But apart from Kerry's own strengths and weaknesses as a candidate, there are other factors to consider. Rich Galen made an excellent point recently about the hurdles the challenger faces in defeating an incumbent President:
- However. A challenger has a higher hill to climb than an incumbent. The challenger must not only show that he has the potential to replace the incumbent. He must make a compelling case that the incumbent should be replaced.
- On the other hand, an incumbent President has only to get a positive answer to the question: Shall he be retained?
- Kerry, in my mind, has not met that second test. Nor do I believe he will ever meet that second test.
In our country's history, an incumbent president has only been defeated seven times.
- In 1800, Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams in a four-way race for the presidency. It was so close that Jefferson and Aaron Burr (who were also both Republicans) tied with the same number of electoral votes. The tie was eventually broken by the House of Representatives on the thirty-sixth ballot. This electoral crisis would lead to the passage of the Twelfth Amendment which provides for the separate balloting of the President and Vice-President.
- IN 1888, Benjamin Harrison defeats Grover Cleveland even though Cleveland won more of the popular vote (this had happened 12 years earlier when Rutherford B. Hayes defeated Samuel Tilden after a partisan electoral college battle in Congress). George W. Bush's victory in 2000 would mark only the third time that the winnner of the presidential election would win the Electoral College but lose the overall popular vote.
- In 1912, Woodrow Wilson defeats William Taft. A Republican, Taft narrowly won a bitter primary battle against Theodore Roosevelt who decided to come out of political retirement to run for the presidency again. Following his primary defeat, Roosevelt decided to run as a Progressive and split Taft's Republican base.
- In 1932, Herbert Hoover loses to Franklin D. Roosevelt. The onset of the Great Depression and Hoover's inability to cope with the crisis causes his defeat.
- In 1976, Gerald Ford, who had been made President when Richard Nixon resigned in the wake of Watergate loses to Jimmy Carter.
- In 1980, Jimmy Carter loses to Ronald Reagan. Two major issues: the economy and the failure of the Carter Adminstration to cope with the Iran Hostage Crisis are seen as the causes for his defeat.
- IN 1992, George H. W. Bush loses in a three-way race to Bill Clinton. H. Ross Perot, running as an independent, takes 19 percent of the vote whicle Clinton garners 43 percent and Bush 37 percent. A recession and a broken promise on taxes lead to his defeat.
In summary, an incumbent President runs the risk of losing his bid for re-election when:
- There is a viable third party candidate (1800 and 1992). Ralph Nader is the closest thing to a "viable" third party candidate (a real stretch) and he's more likely to pull support away from Kerry than President Bush.
- A major scandal (1976). Despite Kerry's best efforts to create the image of scandal tainting the President, there has been nothing on the scale of Watergate that would cause the type of voter revolt that not only defeated President Ford but also lead to major victories for the Democrats in the House and Senate.
- A foreign policy failure (1980). President Carter's inability to resolve the Iran hostage crisis (combined with a lousy economy) led to a resounding defeat at the hands of Ronald Reagan. Even the Iranians realized they would be dealing with a much more formidable enemy in Ronald Reagan. They released the hostages on January 20, 1981 - the day Reagan was sworn in as President. Although Kerry would argue that the President's foreign policy has been a failure his accomplishments (the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq, elections successfully held in Afghanistan and Iraq on track to hold elections in January) far outweigh his failures.
- An economic crisis (1932, 1980, 1992). Although Kerry continues to hammer the President on economic issues, none of his claims (lost jobs, increased healthcare costs, etc.) amount to an economic crisis of the magnitude that led to the defeat of Presidents Hoover or Carter. In addition, instead of increasing taxes (like his father) he has remained steadfast in cutting taxes. Other factors such as inflation, unemployment rates and interest rates are also in the President's favor.
If we apply the test outlined above, Senator Kerry fails on both prongs of the test. First, Senator Kerry has failed to prove that he has the potential to replace President Bush. Although he looked presidential during the debates (his brightest moments of the campaign, in my opinion) when you look at his entire pattern of behavior over the course of the campaign it is clear that he is unfit to be our Commander in Chief. Kerry is better described as a prevaricator (a person who has lied or who lies repeatedly)and an opportunist (one who takes advantage of any opportunity to achieve an end, often with no regard for principles or consequences).
Even if you give Senator Kerry the benefit of the doubt on the first prong of the test, he undoubtedly fails the second part of the test. This is the part that is no doubt the most frustrating for his campaign. There is no major reason to vote against President Bush. And that's what a vote for Kerry (or for Nader, for that matter) would amount to: a vote against the President. Granted, there are issues that even the President's staunchest supporters could look at and take issue with the President's actions. But when we view the President's record as a whole, there is nothing that suggests he should not be allowed to serve a second term. In fact, when you examine all the candidates, the only choice to make is to re-elect President Bush.