Monday, August 24, 2020

What A Stupid Argument

The New York Times put out their idea of a thoughtful and cautionary article about the similarities between the presidential race in 1988 and 2020.

George H.W. Bush was in trouble. It was July 1988 and Michael Dukakis, the Democratic candidate for president, was on a roll after his party’s convention in Atlanta. A Gallup poll showed Mr. Bush trailing by 17 points.

But he had a road map to victory.

One month earlier, Mr. Bush’s top aides had gathered at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington, deliberately out of sight and away from campaign headquarters, to review a thick binder of polling and focus group data. The campaign’s research showed that Mr. Dukakis’s record was not well known and that some of his liberal positions, in particular supporting prison furloughs and opposing the death penalty, could swamp him in a general election.

Using the plan laid out in that room, the Bush campaign proceeded, as Lee Atwater, the campaign manager, put it, “to strip the bark off the little bastard,” beginning in force with Mr. Bush’s hammer of a speech at the Republican National Convention in August through Election Day.

Mr. Bush not only overcame Mr. Dukakis’s summer polling advantage, but defeated him handily: by 53 percent to 46 percent. He won 40 states.

In many ways, with Mr. Atwater as its dark prince of strategy, the Bush campaign of 1988 marked the birth of the modern-day negative campaign. Most memorably, Republicans plastered Mr. Dukakis, then the governor of Massachusetts, with the case of Willie Horton, an African-American man who raped a white Maryland woman and stabbed her boyfriend while on a Massachusetts prison furlough program.

It’s never wise to be complacent, but come on already. As Dana Houle, a campaign professional responded, “What a stupid article. Yes, 2020 could be just like 1988…if the population of the US went from about 15% foreign born back to 8%, the non-hispanic white population went from 60% back up to 75%, & the electorate—which will probably be under 70% white—went back to 85% white.”

In the first place, George H.W. Bush was basically running for a third Reagan term, and the level of popularity for Mr. Reagan was just a bit higher than it is for Trump. Second, Bush himself was not as divisive or antagonizing as Trump, whose geniality level is roughly that of a honey badger with the crabs. Third, as Houle points out, this isn’t the same country as it was in 1988. Not by a long shot.

I am sure the Times thought this sort of think-piece would show that they’re trying to be objective about the possibility that somehow Trump could pull out a win if he could completely change his campaign tactics.  But they might as well be speculating on the chances of how he could win if Mike Pence would show up at the Gay Pride parade in Key West in full drag.

Sometimes the New York Times is only good for the crossword puzzle.