President Obama, in keeping with his tendency to debate Republican straw men instead of Republicans themselves, chose Sen. John Kerry D-Mass., as the sparring partner who will play Mitt Romney during general election debate prep.
"There is no one that has more experience or understanding of the presidential debate process than John Kerry," David Axelrod, Obama's top campaign strategist, told the Boston Globe. "He’s an expert debater who has a fundamental mastery of a wide range of issues, including Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts. He’s the obvious choice."
The pick has some merit: Kerry has participated in presidential debates, and he may understand Massuchusetts politics over the last decade well enough to imitate Romney's defense when Obama attacks his record as governor, which could be valuable as Obama prepares his secondary attacks.
But Kerry possesses all the political weaknesses that Obama hopes to exploit in Romney, without any of the strengths that make Romney so dangerous as a presidential candidate this year. Kerry is, famously, a flip-flopper. The charge sank Kery's 2004 campaign -- "I actually did vote for the $87 billion [of Iraq War funding] before I voted against it" -- as it wounded Romney's 2008 primary campaign (his 2005 conversion to the pro-life position seemed too convenient for many in the Republican base.)
Kerry, married to the Heinz family fortune, is one of the wealthiest members of the Senate. Romney, as Obama constantly reminds voters, is also a multimillionaire. (The fact that he earned his fortune in the private sector recommends him to many swing voters upset about the perennial weakness of the economy and Obama's unprecedented spending.) And of course, they're both from Massachusetts.
Moreover, Obama's record as president will be on trial this year far more than Romney's. Is Kerry, one of the most liberal members of the Senate, well-suited to attack Obama the way Romney will hit him in the fall? Does he understand the conservative (and independent) protests of Obama's policies that most threaten his reelection?
"I want this debate about healthcare in this election," Kerry said in March. After the Supreme Court heard oral arguments, Kerry said, “I can tell you that we had one of the most rigorous and transparent legislative processes that I have witnessed in almost 3 decades here in the Congress." That was his characterization of the months spent cutting deals with nervous legislators in order to pass Obamacare before the burgeoning grassroots protest swept the Democrats out of their House majority. "We worked with some of the brightest, most thoughtful and experienced constitutional lawyers in order to make sure that the law was constitutional."
If the Supreme Court overturns some or all of Obamacare in the next two weeks, such as the individual mandate, Kerry will apparently be flabbergasted. If it were 2004, Romney (who passed a state-level individual mandate in Massachusetts) might be similarly confused. But it's not 2004. Romney, certainly, will keep the focus on Obama's record over the last four years. And voters might not be very interested in Obama's attempt to recall Romney's past support for a policy at the state level that the Supreme Court has already disallowed at the federal level.
By selecting Kerry as a sparring partner, Obama chose the version of Mitt Romney that he hopes to face this general election -- the one who loses.