I came across this article on Yahoo! News, syndicated from The New York Times. The premise is that the way George H.W. Bush came back to beat Michael Dukakis in 1988 could be a source of hope for Donald Trump as he trails Joe Biden in the polls. I’m all for making historical connections, but this one feels a little bit off.
For starters, George H.W. Bush was coming off eight years of the Ronald Reagan era, which for the most part was a pretty popular era of American history. He had the coattails of Reagan to ride into the White House. Trump in contrast has been president for four years and doesn’t have any coattails to ride. And even worse, he’s a very unpopular president.
Secondly, Biden is much more well-known than Dukakis was, and he isn’t as big of a mystery. There’s less for Trump to unveil about Biden than Bush had to unveil about Dukakis. Furthermore, Biden seems to be more likable than Dukakis was and seems to have a better grip on how to connect with voters. Dukakis in contrast came off as more cool and distant. Especially in his infamous response to a question about not supporting the death penalty if his wife was the victim of rape and murder.
Finally, a lot more is at stake in the 2020 election than the 1988 election. In the 1988 election, there wasn’t a major concern about Bush being a super dangerous candidate that could derail our democracy. Nobody thought Bush was nuts. Trump in contrast is viewed by many (including those close to him according to reports) as crazy, narcissistic, immature, and dangerous.
When you add it all up, it’s clear that the 1988 U.S. Presidential election isn’t a great comparison to the 2020 election. The stakes are very different, the candidates are very different, and the candidate who is trailing (Trump) is coming off three and a half highly controversial, tumultuous years in office.