John Kerry's dream of becoming America's next top diplomat (i.e. secretary of state) has become something of a reality show saga in recent weeks as a rotating cast of characters challenge his rise to the top. It's no secret that Kerry, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wants the position badly, but it's not just going to fall into his lap.
In our first season of America's Next Top Diplomat, everything went Kerry's way. He got some experience as unofficial administration envoy to troubled areas in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, delivered a national security speech at the Democratic National Convention, and cut his teeth on the legislative effort to forge agreement on the Law of the Seas Treaty: Nice items on your CV even if they weren't particularly productive. Then, things got even better: His chief rival for Secretary of State, Susan Rice, became embroiled in the controversy surrounding the Obama administration's bungled briefings on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. (The intelligence Rice cited in the days following the Sept. 11 attacks turned out to be wrong.) While some Republicans called for her resignation, Kerry came off looking magnanimous, gently defending Rice's actions. Suffice it to say: Season one was a roaring success, but season two, set in Massachusetts, is not going so well.
First off, let's be real, Kerry's hopes of becoming Secretary of State ultimately rest on the whims of President Obama, who, in the anticipated scenario, would appoint Kerry for the position as Hillary Clinton steps down. (So long as the president wins re-election of course.) Enter the Massachusetts plot. Obama tapped Kerry to be his debate coach given Kerry's familiarity with Mitt Romney when he was governor of the Bay State. Who knows whether Obama took Kerry's advice or not, but Thursday was not a good day to be an "Obama debate coach" since Romney crushed the president in the stand-off. "Blame Obama’s Lousy Debate on John Kerry!" wrote The Daily Beast. That's no way to impress your future boss!
But that wasn't Kerry's only Massachusetts-born problem. An unforeseen threat is the political success of Democrat Elizabeth Warren in her Senate race against Scott Brown. It's sort of unexpected, but if Warren wins her race it may actually make Kerry a less attractive candidate for Secretary of State in the eyes of the president. Boston magazine's Jason Schwartz explains:
That would mean Massachusetts would need a new senator, of course, so just like when Ted Kennedy passed away, Governor Deval Patrick would appoint a temporary one immediately, then hold a special election in 145 to 160 days. It’s not hard to imagine Brown running for Kerry’s seat. It is hard to imagine who’d run against him on the Democratic ticket, especially since the Dems will soon need a gubernatorial candidate as well.
“Where are the Democrats going to find a credible candidate for governor and a credible candidate for Senate if Kerry is successful?” wonders Philip Johnston, a former Massachusetts Democratic Party chairman.
In essence, Democrats would have no competitive candidate to run against Scott Brown for Kerry's seat, so tapping Kerry for Secretary of State could give Republicans control of the Senate and jeopardize the entire Democratic agenda. Obama may like Kerry, but not at the expense of his second term legislative agenda.
We hate to leave you in the lurch, but you'll have to tune in next time to find out what happens next on America's Top Diplomat. See local listings.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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