In yesterday’s New York Times, Adam Nagourney–a name from the past!–sounds a warning to his fellow Democrats. The piece is titled, “A Glimmer of Hope for Trump? How Bush Mounted a Comeback in 1988.” But, of course, if the president’s chances were just a glimmer, Nagourney wouldn’t sound so worried.
Nagourney compares the present election season to 1988, when Michael Dukakis held a 17-point lead over George H.W. Bush in July, and Bush went on to win in a landslide. His story of the 1988 election is the familiar Democrat narrative: it was all about Willie Horton, and Lee Atwater was a villain. Actually, what happened was that the more the American people saw of Dukakis, who was pretty much unknown when he got the Democrats’ nomination, the less they liked him.
This was mostly because they figured out he was a liberal, and his utterly irrational policy of furloughing prisoners sentenced to life without parole, while governor of Massachusetts, was one factor in that realization. Atwater himself has told the story, and the Democrats would do well to learn from it. Then, too, there was the sight of Dukakis riding in a tank that made it hard for many voters to take him seriously.
The Times clings to the idea that the Democrats are going to have a big year in 2020:
Republicans are looking back at the 1988 race as a beacon of hope in a bleak political landscape.
Is the political landscape really bleak for Republicans? I doubt it, but time will tell. The polls are already tightening, as they did in 2016, and I think it probable both that President Trump will be re-elected and that the GOP will hold the Senate. But Nagourney can’t get past his own hatred of the president:
Mr. Biden is far better known than Mr. Dukakis was and he has shown a resilience to caricature that Mr. Dukakis did not have. Mr. Trump is viewed unfavorably by a big swath of voters, in no small part because of the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 175,000 people in the United States and devastated the economy on his watch.
The Times says “on his watch” because there is no sane argument that President Trump had anything to do with the virus, and the economic damage came not from the virus, but from the shutdowns that have been ordered by governors–mostly Democrats–not from anything done by the president.
The weirdest and most loyally Democratic aspect of Nagourney’s analysis is his conviction that it is Republicans who are responsible for negative campaigning, which first occurred in 1988 and is being reborn this year. If you didn’t know better, you would think he slept through the last four years and didn’t know that the Democrats have falsely accused Donald Trump of being a traitor, a white supremacist, and everything else under the Sun, and will continue to do so until November. With, of course, the help of the New York Times.
The entire Times piece has a whistling-through-the-graveyard feel, especially this paragraph, which is the closest Nagourney comes to acknowledging the elephant in the room:
His opponents even raised questions about Mr. Dukakis’s mental fitness, decades before Mr. Biden faced the same.
Whatever his faults as a candidate, Dukakis was not senile. But Nagourney fails to acknowledge the blindingly obvious fact that Joe Biden is in a state of serious mental decline. Call it dementia, senility, or what you will, it is unmistakable to any normal observer, and it explains why the Democratic Party has kept Biden hidden away in his basement for months, and continues to do so.
Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016 largely because the Democrats nominated a terrible candidate in Hillary Clinton. To this day, most Democrats don’t seem to understand that basic fact. But Joe Biden is an order of magnitude worse than Hillary. Never in American history has a major party nominated such an awful candidate. Happily, those who run the Democratic Party don’t seem to understand this reality any more than they understood it in 2016.