Over the last few weeks I've heard several people bring up the following analogy in conversation, and Forbes made a headline out of it after the Florida primary: Mitt Romney is the John Kerry of The GOP. We will continue to hear this analogy throughout the election, which makes sense because 2012 is shaping up to be similar to 2004 in many respects. But how similar are they?

Although imperfect, the comparison works on levels beyond the superficial. The main characteristics they share in common are, in no particular order: great personal wealth that they're willing to blow against an incumbent, the generic "Looks like a president" physical characteristics (tall, white, full head of graying hair), the perception of aloofness stemming from their fortunes, and complete malleability on issues and ideological positions. They are the kind of classic, people-pleaser politicians who follow the general direction of the wind. They both fit stereotypes that their parties try to avoid – the Massachusetts Liberal and the Plutocrat.

They are both also the kind of person you nominate when the party doesn't have any good candidates. They both pass the "You'll Do, I Guess" test with flying colors. As long as the field is full of scrubs – the 2004/2012 analogy works well here – everyone gravitates to the tall rich guy who doesn't sound completely insane or have lots of baggage. Nobody wants to nominate someone like Kerry or Romney, but you have to nominate someone and Boring > Crazy in the hierarchy of default nominees.

That said, there are some key differences. Nobody in the Democratic Party had the kind of hostility toward Kerry that vast segments of the GOP appear to have toward Mittens. Most people found Kerry drab and, if anything, more liberal than the median Democrat. Romney, on the other hand, is treated as an impostor – "not a real conservative." Romney's religion also introduces an element into the campaign that was absent in 2004. Issue-wise, Kerry may have been "flexible" but he looks as dogmatic as the Pope compared to Romney. And despite the fact that they share great wealth, their means of acquiring it was different and, for Kerry, less controversial.

I think the overarching premise is valid, though more because of similarities between the elections than the candidates. We have an incumbent hovering at or slightly below 50% approval and subject to fanatical hatred from opposing partisans. The incumbent is vulnerable, if only the challengers could rustle up a decent candidate. Unfortunately they can't, so they go with the best of a poor field and hope that being Not Bush or Not Obama is good enough to motivate people to support their weak nominee. It isn't, and the relatively unpopular incumbent squeaks out a win in a low turnout election in which no one gets excited about anyone or anything.

Romney = Kerry isn't a bad analogy, but the key difference is Romney's lack of acceptance among key elements of the GOP base. I just didn't see that with Kerry. Democrats were severely ambivalent toward him as a candidate, yes. There was not the sense that he was a Fake Democrat, though, nor wings of the party talking about 3rd Party or independent candidacies to wage ideological war. It was a rare example of the disorganized Democratic Party uniting, and now with Romney, and to a lesser extent McCain, we see the usually lock-step GOP splintering into factions that can't agree about anything except Obama Bad.

25 thoughts on “THE STAND-IN”

  • Good analogy. It's going to be interesting watching the contortions the Goopers will have to go through to find Mittens a suitable running mate. Do they appease the mouth-breather base with a Santorum/Bachmann type, or do they try to appeal to the Hispanic vote with Marco Rubio? (They would be forgetting, of course, that politically Mexicans are not Miami Cubans, not even close, and are not going to vote for Rubio any more than blacks would have gone for Herman Cain.)

    I suspect that even if asked, Rubio would decline, preferring to keep his powder dry till '16 rather than hitch his wagon to an electoal anchor like Romney. Kerry was able to offset his douchey Scrooge McDuck persona both with his military record and his choice of then po'-boy-hero John Edwards as a running mate, one of which Mittens does not have, and the other he's unlikely to find.

    Also, too: wait till the extra-chromosome demo finds out that Mittens speaks Fronch. Quelle horreur!

  • The question is: will there be a third party. Romer (sp?) is talking about running as an independent, but will one of the others run as Tea Bagger? Is Romer able to shear enough votes off of Mitt, and enough to account for disaffected Obama supporters who either vote Romer/Romney or stay home.

    Hopefully, a GOP protest candidate does run if Romney is the candidate. Romney losing on his own will only fuel the crazy. What we want is a factional implosion in the GOP. That more than anything will weaken the GOP for 2016. Also need to get rid of the crazy from the Houses. What I really want is the GOP to crater so badly that it really has to address its crazy. Imagine Norquist's mug melting like that scene from "Raiders".

  • It doesn't work for me, for two reasons. Kerry had a military record to run on, and to run against, and the 2004 election was anything but low turnout, relative to previous elections. (Now, relative to registered voters? Sure, but that seems to fall outside the scope of the analogy).

    The "Mittens is like Kerry" comparison is someone trying to setup a basic false equivalency that does two things 1) makes Mittens as good as Kerry, which he isn't and 2) makes Obama as bad as Bush, which he isn't. (And that's not to say he's great).

    While I appreciate the effort, you might go a bit further in disproving this than you have.

  • Middle Seaman says:

    My inclination is to support the rationale of the post and applaud Ed's choices of post topics in general. Now lets try some needling:

    The singing duo is wishy washy.

    Their public articulation is below average (for politicians).


    Their positions are more moew than solid.

    Finally, we had Howard Dean running against Kerry; in my opinion he would make Bush's run more difficult and also be a decent president. Kerry could be a good president.

  • Full disclosure: I volunteered (in Ohio) for the Kerry campaign in 2004. So take this with a grain of salt.

    Kerry is remembered as a much weaker candidate than he was. He lost, sure. But there were a lot of factors there, including, in Ohio and elsewhere, the gay marriage constitutional amendment, which was used by the GOP to out-mobilize the Democrats, despite an impressive Democratic mobilization program. (I won't bore you with anecdotes, or data, but compare turnout in Ohio b/w 2000 and 2004.)

    By election day 2004, Kerry was receiving enthusiastic support from rank-and-file Democrats. I went to a massive rally in Warren, Ohio, the weekend before the election–that crowd, largely union, was either faking it or fully engaged with Kerry.

    It will be interesting to see how the GOP rank-and-file accepts Romney.

  • Balancing the disdain much of the GOP has for Romney is the fact that there's a n****r in the White House. There was nothing at all comparable to the pure racism which galvanizes the GOP in the Democratic Party that nominated Kerry. Another factor of great relevance to the outcome of 2012 is the state by state voter i.d. laws, something clearly designed by political scientists under the Koch employ, who have seminared the various radical right yahoos running far too many states at the moment. And then there's the imbalance of right wing talk radio of course. While this would apply to any candidate the GOP nominates, I'd also say that there is a fundamental rejection of the basic principles of democracy at the heart of the GOP–this makes their "game" very different in character, and much more ruthless.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    I basically agree with the analysis.

    But, if you watched the debates, the others were all busy painting Mitt as a moderate/centrist. I think it was with their eye on the general election. Sure, bad for the base – but they knew their own brand of rabid lunacy was tough to sell to the masses. And the power-that-be let them be, as long as the guy THEY had their money on, came out on top.

    It was Newt who went off the reservation, and started pointing out that Mitt was a plutocrat, and a richy-rich "Vulture Capitalist." The guy who fired you, not the guy that hired you. And Perry pickd-up on that, before leaving the arena in embarrassing fashion.

    Notice, they've got Newt back on the reservation?

    I think their message was clear – "Do what you want – you don't stand much of a chance at the nomination because you don't have OUR money behind you. But don't fuck-up our best chance to get that Nigra our of office!"

  • @xynzee

    It is Roemer.

    I have been beating this 3rd party drum here as the road home for our Prez for the last 1.5 years.

    Roemer is not Mitt's Ralph Nader who cost Algore Florida in 2000. Ralph got over 97K votes. Algore only needed to pick up less than 1% of those votes to win. No Nader and we have President Gore.

    If the T party can't get behind MR assuming a nomination and there is no T candidate, I think the greatest ally our President has is the 'El Sofa' Party. Ol' White lardasses like me will in LARGE numbers just ride the pads and watch the tube.

    Or around here, it is 'gun season' for deer. That Tuesday might just be another good day in the woods.


    How did that President of ours get 53% in 2008? It isn't possible without some Right of Center White votes. This race card stuff is very old.


  • Rumsfeld said you don't go to war with the Army you'd like to have, you go with the one you have. It seems you don't go to elections with the candidate you'd like to have, you go with the one you got.

  • You left out of your comparison that they're both war heroes – Kerry in the antique GOP sense of being a medal-winner in the War Against The Untermensch, and Romney in the traditional GOP sense of being a money-winner in the War Against The UnterKlassen.

  • Monkey Business says:

    Comparing Romney and Kerry works superficially, but like you pointed out, fails once you look at the enthusiasm gap.

    Dems hated Bush, and Kerry/Edwards was enough to get them motivated enough to go out and fight. It's also worth noting that Bush had a ton of advantages as an incumbent, "war-time" president, and were it not for Ohio he would have been a one termer like his pops.

    The Obama Campaign should not be confused with the Obama Administration. The Obama Administration has not been as successful, mainly due to GOP opposition, as we'd like. The Obama Campaign is going to run commercials that will be Mitt Romney saying "Corporations are people, my friends." and "I'll bet you $10,000." in the Sun Belt, Rust Belt, and every other Belt in the country and is going to get people really fucking mad.

    This will be an interesting election season, that's for sure.

  • There was a time when the GOP could pacify the "base" by saddling an old-money jerk like Bush with a relatably dumb winger like Quayle. That didn't work so well in '08 and they may be reluctant to try it again in an obvious way. Rubio may be the best shot they have – at least to the GOPers who think Obama's victory was exclusively about race – and probably knows it well enough to sit this one out. For all the good it would do him, I'm sure Roemer would get a lot of face time on MSNBC.

    And considering the results of the Teabaggers' attempted coup in 2010, I'm not sure they'll ever get their act together to really change the GOP.
    If I were a Republican, I'd be facepalming hard right now.

  • 2004 wasn't a low turnout election — it broke the record for most votes cast in a presidential election. In fact, both Bush and Kerry received more votes than any previous candidate for president, topping Reagan's 1984 landslide.

  • One thing that upsets the symmetry is the Swift Boat phenom; Dems may quote Romney all they want in the general election, but they won't build a Rove or Ailes machine to malign him with the sophisticated smear campaign that Kerry faced. From where I sat it was determinative.

    But Kerry was almost equal to Willard in his tin ear for campaigning. "John Kerry reporting for duty" at the convention was the beginning of the end, I thought. I spent money I didn't have in his behalf for all the good it did.

    I don't think Kerry wanted the job. Certainly no one could detect the "fire in the belly." Mitt, on the other hand, is a monomaniac, not that he'd know what to do with it if he got it.

  • It's going to fun watching them all have to line up behind the "Massachusetts Moderate" and pretend that he's the bestest most qualified candidate evah after spending all this time tearing him apart.

  • Christ I hope Romney's not Kerry. If he outperforms the structural election outcome models as much as Kerry did we are well and truly fucked.

  • @bb

    "Roemer is not Mitt's Ralph Nader who cost Algore Florida in 2000. Ralph got over 97K votes. Algore only needed to pick up less than 1% of those votes to win. No Nader and we have President Gore."

    Eh, how long are we going to do the N8r b8ing, without at least paying lip service to some mitigating facts:

    1. In Florida, 12 times as many registered Democrats defected for Bush as did for Nader. How is it that that much larger claque of defectors are always absolved from the high crime of voting their consciences?

    2. Gore was such a piss-poor candidate, he couldn't even win his own home state. Even Fritz Mondale won Minnesota against Saint Reagan. Gore wins TN and you also have President Gore.

    Not to lump you with the Democrats, but it seems that the party and its faithful made quite the little cottage industry milking sympathy out of Big Bad Ralph's perfidy, without ever once bothering to ask themselves or each other, "Gee, maybe we'd do better if we didn't keep putting gutless tools up against these pretend-cowboy types." Because their continued refusal to even acknowledge and understand why so many of their own went *for Bush* in 2000 is key to why they keep making the same mistakes.

    It's as if Harry Truman had never said, "If it's a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time."

  • Romney is just like Kerry. A deer in the headlights when something misfires. won't get how to correct or even remember how and what not to say.

    Kerry was so ineffectual against Swift Boating. Kerry didn't respond in time and always seemed off kilter.
    with Heroes like Kerry we got Bush. what a win!!

    Romney is able to pull it off if he just says the right words his handlers feed him. but he still forgets and talks the 1% he is. Romney's ability to put his silver foot in his mouth, to credit Ann Richards, is the gift that keeps on giving.

    with all the ALEC laws in play in the "Swing" states, Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Indiana, the Republicans have set the framework for a super win when they get the right candidate.

    Getting a stiff Corporate Tool like Romney just means this time the Republicans will have to sell their "Brand", just like Gore was unable to talk much less respond to the Right wing Machine.

    Just wait till the Republican's Up and Coming Star comes into view. The Machine and Fox will just reap the votes their Governships create today.

    in meantime Getting rid of the Kenyan Muslim Usurper will be their main "focus" since Romney can' win on his Money alone, this time around.

    it will be fun though. Obama can't get mad so the shit they fling on him will be most "Interesting", knowing the consuming FEAR of the Black Able Man by many old White men/people. Fear that has helped destory this country for the Corporations. Anyting to stop the Other.

    you never know, we might get a REAL Republican as President this time. Then Social Security/FICA wouldn't have been slashed so easily. Obama is much worse than or as bad as Bush. for sure. NDAA and FISA, for example.

  • @bb – RE: The race card.

    We antipodeans have our own version of this phenomenon at the moment, with our first female Prime Minister.

    The similarity stems as much from the reaction to the charges ("If we criticise her/him, we're sexist/racist? Nuh-uh!"), as it does anything else.

    No-one is claiming that *everyone* who doesn't like BO is racist. But it seems clear to me (and others) that *some* of these of these people are racist and are using racist argument/sentiment to stir up opposition without being called on it by their apparently non-racist allies. Kind of an enemy-of-my-enemy kinda thing.

    And to @bernard – Nothing will ever be as bad as Bush II. Not BO, not Mittens, not even Palin. The smoking crater that is Iraq, the rise and rise of state-sponsored terrorism, the fucked-ification of the UN, the global financial meltdown (not to mention your domestic economy), and so many other previously unimaginable horrors can be layed at the feet of Lil' Boots and his cohort. They may still prove to be the Worst Thing That Ever Happened.

  • I'm starting to perceive Romney as the sacrificial lamb. The R's stand a good chance of winning the Senate. If any of the super-nutbags like Gingrich or Santorum would have walked away with the nomination, it would hurt down ballot Republican Senate candidates in places like OH, PA, MO, FL, NM, MT, etc.

    Anyone with a grounded sense of reality knows how hard it is to knock off an incumbent president, but they could make his second term a living hell if they secure both chambers. Of course Romney could win, but his prime directive is "Don't fuck this up"

  • I am pretty sure the Kerry = Romney comparison is more cynical than any of you seem to think.
    It is my impression that what they mean by that is basically:
    The moneyed elite will choose for us.
    This year they choose Obama.
    Last time they chose Bush.

    This time the candidate that is "due" the presidential nomination will be the GOP's "Kerry" – i.e. RMoney.
    [The one who is designated to lose.]

    Remember , it was really only Skull n bones running against Skull n bones…Kerry was to concede no matter what and stealing the elections was part of the plan.

    Either way we the people were to be shafted, and saddled with wars of revenge for the Bush crime family et al.
    At least I think that is the version I hear of R=K.

  • What a couple of other commenters said: Kerry is a considerably more impressive person than Romney, despite the problems he had connecting with voters. Kerry went to war, was a hero, then had the balls to protest the war when he came back. Yes, after that he devolved, but those aspects of his biography make him a person of some conscience and some courage, qualities that Romney has never, to my knowledge, displayed at all.

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