On paper going into the 1988 presidential election, Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts was a perfect presidential candidate to go against Vice President George Bush. He was a popular successful governor of a major state, a heavily Democratic state. Unlike Walter Mondale he had no ties to the Carter Administration. He was an outsider a governor. Someone with considerable executive experience running a major state. He was an outsider running against the ultimate insider who since 1967 when George Bush took his seat in the House, was working in Washington and the Federal Government in some capacity. Except from 1977-81 when he was running for president and later vice president.
The Democratic Party had just won back the Senate in 1986 and added to their majority in the House. Iran Contra was still fresh in people’s minds politically speaking. Governor Dukakis was similar to Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas. Mike Dukakis was of course a Northeastern or Massachusetts Liberal as he was labeled by Vice President Bush and others. But not some Far-Left Socialist which is how Reverend Jackson was labeled, but a Classical Liberal Democrat. Someone who believed in individual liberty and limited government. He supported things as Governor of Massachusetts that became law by the Federal Government 5-10 years later. Like Welfare to Work, Three Strikes Law that was in the 1994 Crime bill, gun control same bill, deficit reduction. Mike Dukakis’s politics were pretty similar to Jack Kennedy, another Northeastern Massachusetts Liberal Democrat.
Mike Dukakis was even likable, reserve and cool sure which hurt him with connecting with voters in the general election. But he was up 17 points over George Bush when the Democratic Convention was over. So the Bush Campaign made a similar calculation that they did when they were trailing Bob Dole back in January and February 1988. That they aren’t going to beat Dukakis by showing America how great a guy George Bush was. That the way to beat Dukakis was to make him look like a bad guy, as someone who was Un-American, unpatriotic, soft on crime, etc. Someone who was a Far-Left democrat that’s unacceptable to be President of the United States.
That’s why we saw the controversial Willy Horton ad, and the commercial of Mike Dukakis in a tank. All thanks to Lee Atwater George Bush’s chief political strategist. And with the Dukakis Campaign playing dead on these ads thinking that Americans won’t believe them and take them seriously. This is where we heard the term an attack that’s not responded to, must be the truth. And these ads killed Mike Dukakis’s chances of winning that campaign. Mike Dukakis brought a twig to a Gun Fight and got his head handed to him.
Mike Dukakis represents to me how not to run a presidential campaign. That its good to share your personal story and your family history and how you worked your way up in America. And what you want to do as President, but that you also have to understand that presidential elections are also wars. That if you don’t fight back it’s just as good as surrendering and you’ll get beat. And this is a lesson the Bill Clinton learned in 1992, with his War Room with Jim Carville and others. And while they were so able to respond to any attacks that were thrown at them in 1992.