Weeks before the debates between President Bush and John Kerry, some in the mainstream media worked overtime to boost Mr. Kerry’s faltering campaign. After a number of pollsters leaned toward Mr. Kerry for all or part of the debates, at least on style, those same “unbiased” journalists and media outlets are falling over each other to reinforce Mr. Kerry’s “reputation” as the “Comeback Kid.”
Someone I once worked with in lobbying said, “We can spin the clients, but let’s not spin ourselves.” On Mr. Kerry and his alleged strength as a “closer,” many among the Democrats and the media are now spinning themselves like tops.
The two examples they cite as evidence Mr. Kerry eventually will defeat President Bush, are his “comeback” victory in this year’s Democrat primaries against Gov. Howard Dean, and his “comeback” victory against Gov. Bill Weld of Massachusetts in the 1996 Senate election. Neither was a “comeback.”
In his primaries “comeback” against Howard Dean, the media played as much or more of a roll in that, as did Mr. Dean’s “I have a Scream” concession speech in Iowa. Kerry supporters and some in the media have conveniently forgotten that just before his Iowa victory over Mr. Dean, Mr. Kerry tracked in New Hampshire only in the high single, or low double digits. New Hampshire voters had long since decided they did not much care for the junior senator from the snobby state to the south.
Mr. Kerry won in Iowa, not because of his platform or superior strategy, but because the second the media detected a 1 percent drop in the incredibly high Iowa poll numbers for Mr. Dean they started running constant “movement by Kerry,” and “has Dean peaked” stories. Mr. Dean’s drop was accelerated by NBC News’ release of an “unearthed” interview years earlier of Mr. Dean on Canadian television questioning the Iowa primary’s value. Each story about the Dean drop then created a self-fulfilling prophecy. To finish off Mr. Dean, whom many in the media thought unelectable, they ran his “I have a scream” remarks some 600 times in state or national media markets in the week before the New Hampshire primary. State Democrats voted for Mr. Kerry because he was the last one standing.
As for Mr. Kerry’s much vaunted comeback against Bill Weld in Massachusetts, Mr. Kerry was blessed by two things. The first being an ineffective Weld campaign that forgot the people of Massachusetts (my home state) prefer to keep the entire congressional delegation liberal and Democrat, and elect a Republican governor as a safety net. The second and more powerful reason for Mr. Kerry’s “comeback” against Mr. Weld, was that it was a presidential election year and Bill Clinton created huge coattails by defeating Bob Dole in that state by the whopping margin of 62 percent to 28 percent.
To be sure, the debates have energized Mr. Kerry, his campaign, and his unofficial surrogates in the mainstream media. That said, they are forgetting three important points.
The first is that the vaunted Kerry comeback ability is a myth. The second is that this election will still come down to who can best protect our nation from terrorism. And on that front, President Bush is clearly viewed as that person by a majority of Americans. And last, there is John Kerry himself.
After 30 years in public service, other than trying to conform to the latest focus group, he still has no idea who he is or what he stands for. As President Lincoln once said, “you can’t fool all of the people all the time.” Come Election Day, regardless of polls, debates or the occasional media spin, Mr. Bush’s sincerity will trump Mr. Kerry’s new and improved “convictions.”
Douglas MacKinnon was former Sen. Bob Dole’s press secretary. He is also a former White House and Pentagon official and a novelist.