Thursday, April 29, 2004

Often when John Kerry is referred to in the media, it is with the modifier “presumptive” before the word “nominee.” Mr. Kerry has enough delegates to win the Democratic nomination in Boston in July, but will the delegates stay with him if it appears by summer, or even sooner, that he can’t beat President Bush?

Democrats’ hatred of the president is so strong they might be willing to return to the days of the smoke-filled room and stage a coup in order to run a stronger candidate in November.

On April 27, James Ridgeway in his Mondo Washington column for the liberal New York newspaper the Village Voice made a case for just such a scenario. It began, “With the air gushing out of John Kerry’s balloon” and referred to the “Democratic establishment” as “arrogant and out of touch.”

It didn’t get better for Mr. Kerry or the Democrats: “With growing issues over his wealth (which makes fellow plutocrat Bush seem a charity case by comparison), the miasma over his medals and ribbons (or ribbons and medals), his uninspiring record in the Senate (yes war, no war), and wishy-washy efforts to mimic Bill Clinton’s triangulation gimmickry … Kerry sinks day by day. The pros all know that a candidate who starts each morning having to explain himself is a goner.”

Again, this appeared in a liberal newspaper inclined toward Democrats, not a conservative publication like National Review or the Weekly Standard.

Mr. Ridgeway urged “Democrat biggies, whoever they are these days, to sit down with the rich and arrogant presumptive nominee and try to persuade him to take a hike.”

This is remarkable stuff. While Mr. Ridgeway suggested the possibility of resurrecting John Edwards, that won’t happen. The only possible candidate who could replace Kerry — should delegates pledged to him abandon his sinking ship — is (drum roll and ruffles and flourishes, please) Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (presumptuous of New York).

It’s hard not to see the conspiratorial hands of Bill and Hillary behind Mr. Kerry’s decline and the tumble of Howard Dean before him. Hillary Clinton could not afford to have Mr. Dean, who had a solid but not large enough base, win the nomination. Had Mr. Dean won the presidency, Hillary would not have a clear field in 2008 and she might be too old or her time might have passed by 2012.

Bill Clinton’s book “My Life” (it’s always about him) is to be published in June. It is certain to fire up nostalgic Democrats who would like nothing better than to return to those thrilling days when Clinton flummoxed Republicans, even while presiding over the loss of Congress and having to declare himself still “relevant.”

Mr. Kerry’s biggest problem is it’s apparent not too many people are for him. He flunks the “likability test.” The motivation of most of his supporters seems to be their hatred of President Bush, not love for Mr. Kerry. That is probably not enough to win an election, especially when one must attract swing voters who respond more to a positive message than a negative one.

Enter Hillary Clinton. The Democratic Party would swoon if she stepped in and replaced Mr. Kerry. Bill would campaign with her, further energizing Democrats. The media would go into orbit, treating her as a presumptive queen, who deserves the nomination and the presidency because of all Bill put her through. It would be one of the few media stories that could knock Michael Jackson and Kobe Bryant from the headlines.

Even if Hillary lost to President Bush, she would run again unopposed, and grateful Democrats would hand her the nomination four years later.

The Village Voice column concluded: “If things proceed as they are the dim-bulb Dem leaders are going to be very sorry they [kicked] Howard Dean.” Not if they redeem themselves in the eyes of the party faithful by selecting Hillary for president.

(NOTE: Cal Thomas’ column in these pages on Wednesday, April 28, should have said Joseph Califano was nominated as secretary of health, education and welfare in Jimmy Carter’s administration, not Lyndon Johnson’s.)

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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