Kerry Looks Like a Good Candidate for 2016: Too Bad He Isn’t Running
United States Secretary of State John Kerry — who was the Democrat party’s nominee in the 2004 presidential election — has given his official answer to whether he will run for the nation’s top office in 2016: no. In an exclusive interview with CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper,” he stated unequivocally that he was out of politics after his current term in President Barack Obama’s cabinet concludes. “I have no plans whatsoever. This is my last stop,” the secretary of state said. “I’m going to serve the country in the extraordinarily privileged position the President has given me, the great challenges that I have, and move on.”
It seems ironic now that Kerry’s name is being drawn into political discussions of the upcoming 2016 presidential election; the secretary of state has said he has no interest in the oval office, but he is perhaps receiving the most widespread admiration of his political career. While Kerry has said he has no intention to run, the current election cycle is still in the early stages and no one has yet to declare, so the opportunity to discuss which top Democrats could be the most viable candidate is still available.
Kerry — like his predecessor in the Department of State, Hillary Clinton — could be a Democrat party heavy weight. Back in September, while President Barack Obama’s job approval rating was sitting at dismal 45 percent, 60 percent of Americans approved of job Kerry was doing as secretary of state, according to Gallup’s data. That was before he — with help from CBS correspondent Margaret Brennan and Russian President Vladimir Putin — brokered a deal to remove chemical weapons from Syria. Kerry’s tenure in the State Department did not exactly begin strongly; after replacing Hillary Clinton, he jokingly commented that he had “big heels to fill” and his first foreign-policy speech as secretary was a near disaster. He mistakenly referred to “Kyrzakhstan,” an apparent conflation of the countries Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
His years in the State Department were shaped an apparent desire by U.S. leadership to scale back its involvement in global affairs, and the American’s public’s weariness of foreign engagements, especially certainly of military ones. But still, Kerry was able to build a reputation as an able diplomat; aside from his work with Syria, the Secretary of State also oversaw the beginning of new nuclear talks with Iran and the drafting of a new post-withdrawal security agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Kerry’s career is light years ahead of where it was in the 2004 election; he has served in both the Senate and in the president’s cabinet, giving him experience as a master politician, a lawmaker, and a foreign policy negotiator. Political analysts attributed his loss to George W. Bush – by a margin of 48.3 percent to 50 .7 percent — to a lack of vision. “President Bush put forward a powerful and compelling philosophy of what the government should do at home and abroad: Expand liberty,” wrote Slate’s Chris Suellentrop the day after the election. “John Kerry, on the other hand, campaigned as a technocrat, a man who would be better at ‘managing’ the war and the economy. But for voters faced with a mediocre economy rather than a miserable one, and with a difficult war that’s hopefully not a disastrous one, that message — packaged as “change” — wasn’t compelling enough to persuade them to vote for Kerry.”
But now Kerry has been able to show the electorate that he too has a vision for a better world. As David Rohde wrote in a piece for the Atlantic titled, “How John Kerry Could End Up Outdoing Hillary Clinton” — “It’s looking more and more possible that when the history of early 21st century diplomacy gets written, it will be Kerry who is credited with making the State Department relevant again.” Like Rhode noted — and like Kerry’s own announcement that he will seek no further political party reinforced — Kerry in 2014 appears to be much less concerned about further his political career than the Kerry of 2004. Even Yahoo News national political columnist Matt Bai noted that, “Kerry has almost certainly run his last campaign, and the knowledge of this may free him from paralyzing self-doubt in the public arena.”
Ten years ago this week, Kerry was battling through the primaries; on February 17, 2004, Kerry the presidential candidate won a hard fought election over then-North Carolina Senator John Edwards, who would go on to become his running mate. Now, in 2014, his name along with Hillary Clinton is among those being discussed as a possible presidential candidate, even though he has said his political career is over after his tenure as secretary of state. Likely, Hillary Clinton’s possible presidential run is influencing Kerry’s decision not to throw his name into the ring for 2016. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll has even shown registered voters prefer Clinton over other leading potential Democratic candidates by a massive margin. The former Secretary of State won 72 percent of votes while current Vice President Joe Biden took in just 12 percent and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren took 8 percent. With her massive political persona — built from eight years as First Lady, a presidential campaign of her own, and a four-year tenure as Secretary of State — she poses strong competition for any would-be candidates among the Democratic party.
Kerry could also have come to the same conclusion that Bai has put forward. According to the columnist, the secretary of state’s temperament is better suited for diplomacy than it is for being a politician. “As a senator, Kerry was never better than when he and Sen. John McCain were trying to resolve the status of soldiers left behind in Vietnam. Treaties and foreign capitals exhilarate the man, bingo night at the union hall, less so,” he wrote. He also postulated that, “The very things that made Kerry a less-than-compelling presidential candidate turn out to be exactly what the moment demands of a secretary of state.”
Even though Kerry has, in theory, shown himself to be a capable in the realm of foreign policy, his work has been far more pragmatic than visionary, and his lack of a visionary world view has been cited as the reason Bush bested him 2004. Yet, his experience as both a senator and a secretary of state has given him a resume that is unmatched by many possible Democrat candidates, and that is likely why his name keeps returning in discussions of the 2016 election.
At least one politician has said his political career was over only to launch a campaign for president years later. After losing the governorship of California in 1962, Nixon proclaimed the morning after his humiliating defeat that press would “not have Nixon to kick around anymore.” But in 1686, he won the Republican party nomination and the presidency. “Members of right-wing media fell in line, if not in love, hoping to make a go of pragmatic politics,” wrote New York Times columnist Nicole Hemmer in a 2012 piece on Nixon’s “Model Campaign.”
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