At the art of running a campaign for the Republican or Democratic presidential nomination, everyone is an amateur. Previous political achievements count for little in the snow in Des Moines and Manchester. But the record does show that since 1972 nobody is anywhere near as good at this arduous nomination business as Jimmy Carter's political strategist, Hamilton Jordan, whose strategy, in 1976, defeated the Democratic field and, in 1980, trounced the formerly invincibly inevitable Sen. Edward Kennedy.
Now Jordan, in his own book, "Crisis," joins his old boss in pinning considerable blame for the 1980 Ronald Reagan landslide over Carter on Kennedy. As former Oklahoma senator Fred Harris used to say about flawed explanations: "That dog won't hunt." In 1928, New York Gov. Al Smith, the first Catholic ever nominated for president, carried the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina. In 1980, Carter, a native son of Dixie, failed to carry even one of those states. No one has seriously argued that Kennedy's active campaigning for Carter would have taken the Sun Belt away from Ronald Reagan.
And there is too much of the ingenue in Jordan's report on his meeting with Kennedy's brother-in-law, Stephen Smith, at which they were to work out details of the Kennedy endorsement of Carter. He criticizes Smith-Kennedy for exacting as their price for enthusiastic support of Carter some help with Kennedy's primary debt. That is not, as Jordan calls it, "blackmail." That is what every vanquished Democratic opponent whose support the victor covets has asked in every such negotiation since Thomas Jefferson went north to meet with the sachems of Tammany Hall.
It is always easier to blame someone else for a defeat. Former senator Eugene McCarthy is still cursed by many for the defeat of Hubert Humphrey in 1968 by Richard Nixon. McCarthy may have a lot to answer for about his inability to distinguish between the virtues of the two candidates that election year, but he did not cost Humphrey the election. The vote for president is the most personal and subjective that any voter casts. Intervening individual or institutional endorsements of a candidate mean little or nothing. When was the last time you heard anyone say "I'm supporting Jerry Brown for president because my county coroner endorsed him"?
Kennedy undoubtedly stayed in the convention in 1980 because he knew that conventions are the one time that challengers to a sitting president receive equal television coverage. He took advantage of that fact with his speech, only to make himself and Carter both look foolish the next night on the platform as he evaded the president's stalkings. For Carter to blame Kennedy or for Kennedy to blame Carter for what happened in 1980 is more than a little bit like my blaming the guy next to me at the bar when the pretty girl leaves with Robert Redford instead of me. In 1980, Ronald Reagan was Robert Redford and Jimmy Carter wasn't.