Joe Kennedy (Left) and Ed Markey (Right). (Official Portraits)

The Real Reason for Joe Kennedy’s Historic Senate Primary Defeat

Anthony Galli
Sep 4, 2020 · 5 min read

The three main reasons I’ve heard in the media for Joe Kennedy III’s defeat: not a clear enough campaign message, didn’t go negative soon enough, didn’t go far enough left.

But those three reasons are weak because Kennedy started with a 10-point lead in the polls so the onus was on Markey to differentiate himself whereas Kennedy used the same message that his relatives John F. Kennedy and Ted Kennedy successfully used to win their senate seats, i.e. he would do “more for Massachusetts.” And then as to the other reasons, Joe Kennedy’s negativity most likely hurt him with progressives, which I’ll get into in a second, and then finally there was little ideological difference between Joe Kennedy and Edward Markey as they were both campaigning for “racial justice,” Medicare-for-All, and the Green New Deal.

The real reason for Joe Kennedy III’s defeat can best be encapsulated by a moment. 43 minutes into the last Massachusetts U.S. Senate Democratic Debate:

Senator Markey: All I want him to do is tell his father to stop spending money on negative commercials in Massachuettes in the era of Trump. We should all be positive with a big vision for where this country is going. Instead the Congressman is running a relentlessly negative campaign which I do not think is good for Massachuettes and he should tell his brother and his father to stop it.

Congressman Kennedy: Senator, if we’re going to… {pauses to collect thoughts}… Your campaign supporters have put out tweets, and bullied my supporters, and have put out tweets saying, ‘Lee Harvey got the wrong Kennedy.’ That, ‘Where is Lee Harvey Oswald?’ And not a word coming from you. Not a word! So cut the complaining about negative attacks!

Of course, Senator Markey quickly denounced those tweets and proceeded to point out the inconvenient fact that whoever said those mean things isn’t affiliated with his campaign, i.e. a staffer/volunteer/family.

Congressman Kennedy never named the user who sent those tweets so we can only conclude it was somebody with a stock icon and a username like JaneDoe53 or IAmNotARussianBot2342. But by invoking his great uncle’s assassination to try and score political points, it showed just how far Congressman Kennedy was willing to go to win.

Congressman Kennedy’s attack line was an unfair complaint because how could he reasonably expect Senator Markey to apologize every time one of 262 million Twitter users says something mean about him or his family? It’s also a poor excuse to say that so long as people say mean things on Twitter then Senator Markey can’t complain about his father and brother spending millions of dollars on negative attack ads via a Super PAC.

It’s difficult to imagine Congressman Kennedy genuinely being angry at Senator Markey for something presumably IAmTotallyAMasschuettesDemocraticVoter300 said, and if he was distraught over it then perhaps he could have brought that up in a private conversation first. For this reason, it seems far more likely that he and his staffers thought the attack line was something that would play well with the mainstream media and the “emotional masses.”

It was calculating over sincere, but it wasn’t even a good calculation because the very people Joe Kennedy was trying to win over in the campaign, i.e. progressives, had been upset by that same line of logic being used against Bernie Sanders during the Democratic presidential primary to somehow blame Senator Sanders for every mean thing someone who supposedly supports him had said on the internet.

Ultimately, despite Joe Kennedy III starting the campaign with more media-support, money, name-recognition, and a 10-point lead in the polls, he lost to Senator Markey 55%/44%. This massive swing in support doesn’t occur because your political messaging is fuzzy or you aren’t sufficiently left enough when both candidates were running as progressives. This swing in support can best be explained by Joe Kennedy III’s insincerity on the campaign trail and in the debates.

And to support my claim I’ll take a page out of Joe Kennedy’s book and quote random people on the internet.

These were some of the top YouTube comments of their debate, which YouTube swings toward a younger demographic who Kennedy was expected to do well with.

About three hours after the polls closed, Congressman Kennedy conceded. Concession speeches are usually an opportunity for a candidate to bow out gracefully and earn some respect and sympathy from even their sharpest critics. I did a quick YouTube search of various concession speeches: Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Mitt Romney, Elizabeth Warren. Every concession speech I saw had more likes than dislikes, except one — Joe Kennedy III’s.

He ends his “cliche political concession speech” by saying, “Always spend your life in the ring. It’s worth the fight.” He then tweeted a paragraph from his speech…

This tweet is a not-so-subtle signal that he will run again, after all, he has only ever worked in government and he has an inherited estimated $43 million dollars so when money is not a concern and legacy is on your mind why not “do it again”? After all, the people need him, or perhaps, he needs the people.

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