Tag Archives: Michael Dukakis

Trump’s got to change? How?

Chris Christie is a seasoned political hand who purports to know what it takes to win a presidential election.

The former Republican New Jersey governor, though, came up empty in 2016 when he sought the GOP nomination for president, losing that battle to a guy who now is fighting for his political survival. Christie offered some words of advice to Donald Trump:

Change what you’re doing or else you’re going to lose. Period. End of story.

I did chuckle a bit when Christie referred to “President Michael Dukakis” who was leading Vice President George H.W. Bush by 18 percentage points about this time during the 1988 campaign. Bush went on to defeat Dukakis handily.

What did the underdog, Bush, do to reverse the tide? He went on the attack. Full bore. Frontal assault. He savaged Dukakis over the flag, the Pledge of Allegiance and his furloughing of a murderer who then committed a heinous crime while he was away from prison.

Dukakis never fought back. He let Bush’s team beat him bloody.

That’s how Bush turned the tide.

Does Donald Trump have that kind of weaponry in his arsenal? Hardly. Trump already has established his brand. He won election by waging one of the nastiest campaigns in history. He is going to do the same thing again against Joseph Biden. He is incapable of changing course, changing his methods, doctoring his message.

I also would add that any attempt by Donald Trump to change his approach will look like what it is: a makeover that only makes a candidate look good, but doesn’t change whatever churns inside the candidate’s gut.

Americans now have taken a full measure of what Donald Trump offers to them as president. My hope is that enough Americans have had their fill of what they have seen and will demand change at the top of our governmental chain of command.

Et tu, Fox News Channel?

You can quibble till the paint dries about the quality of Fox News Channel’s political coverage. I do on occasion. The network that calls itself “fair and balance” is neither of those things.

However, news hands at FNC are capable of doing good work. They conduct public opinion polling on occasion that raises an eyebrow or two, such as a recent poll showing how Donald Trump matches up against his Democratic opponents.

The most recent Fox poll shows the president, for instance, trailing former Vice President Joe Biden by a margin well outside the margin of error.

The president’s response? He went after the “friendly” network, suggesting it has gone to the dark side by casting him in a negative light. The poll has him “losing big to Sleepy Joe,” Trump said on Twitter.

Good grief, dude. Take a rest from the Twitter machine. I mean, you’ve got important work to do. You are seeking to make America great again, isn’t that right, Mr. President? These constant Twitter tirades make America laughable.

As for what the polls are saying more than a year away from the next election, I’ll answer with two words: President Dukakis.

In 1988, polling had the Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis about 17 points ahead of Vice President George H.W. Bush heading into that year’s election campaign season. The election, um, didn’t turn out that way … you know?

Don’t misunderstand me. I do not want Trump to turn those polls around. If anything, I hope whoever he faces next fall widens the gap and trounces the incumbent badly. He needs to back to … wherever.

So, the president needs to chill out. Get to work. Quit busying yourself with idiotic tweets and assorted blathering about polls with which you disagree.

Putting politics aside, let’s honor a great life

It won’t surprise those who read this blog carefully to realize that I didn’t vote either time — in 1988 or 1992 — for the late George H.W. Bush when he ran for president of the United States.

However, despite my own partisan leanings and admitted bias, I want to devote the next bit of time to honor this man’s life.

Long before he died last night at the age of 94, I grew to appreciate the profound public service that President Bush gave to the nation he served with such nobility, grace and grit. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate that service back when he was an active politician seeking election and re-election as president. Time, though, enables all of us to view people and instances through a different prism than we do in the moment.

Bush 41’s campaign for the presidency in 1988 was not his shining moment. He brutalized his opponent, Michael Dukakis, with a campaign that called Dukakis soft on crime and soft on love of country. Four years later, the economy was faltering and I felt we needed a change in direction.

OK, that all said, I believe it is important to honor the arc of this man’s life. Good heavens, President Bush led the fullest life one could possibly imagine.

He was born into privilege. He enlisted in the Navy right after Pearl Harbor, became the youngest aviator in the Navy during World War II; he was shot down and plucked from the ocean by a submarine crew. He came home, married Barbara Pierce, the love of his life. He finished college and went into business in West Texas. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, lost two races for the Senate. Bush was appointed head of the CIA, special envoy to China, ambassador to the United Nations, he chaired the Republican National Committee, was elected vice president and finally as president.

He helped shepherd the end of communism in Europe. He watched the Berlin Wall come down in 1989. Then came the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. He led an international coalition against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait.

Even after he left office, he remained active and on call when the need arose. He teamed with his old adversary, Bill Clinton, to lead an effort to raise money in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Indonesia in 2004, killing hundreds of thousands of people. The two men then became the best of friends.

This man’s life is worthy of honor by every American. President Bush devoted so much of his adult life to public service. That’s how I choose to remember this great — and good — man.

The other stuff that troubles us in the moment, the hideousness surrounding the current president? That can wait.

This is President George H.W. Bush’s time.

Let’s flip these national tickets


In 1988, a Texan was running for vice president on the Democratic ticket led by Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.

The Texan was U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen. The buzz in the Lone Star State was that many Texans wanted Bentsen to be the top man. They much preferred him to Dukakis. There was some of that feeling around the country, too, especially given Bentsen’s performance at the VP debate with then Sen. Dan Quayle of Indiana.

“Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy” became one of the signature moments of that campaign as Bentsen skewered Quayle for comparing his Senate experience with what JFK brought to the 1960 presidential campaign.

Well, tonight two more No. 2s are going to square off.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia will joust with Republican Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana. They are their parties’ nominees for vice president.

They’re going to make the top-tier candidates — Donald J. Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton — the issue tonight.

I wouldn’t be surprised in the least that we are going to hear a lot of lamenting when it’s all over from those who wish that Sen. Kaine and Gov. Pence were leading their respective tickets in 2016

Character takes center stage in campaign


Michael Dukakis once declared during the 1988 presidential campaign that the issue that year was about “competence.”

Pure and simple, the Democratic nominee said. The voters would judge whether he or Vice President George H.W. Bush was competent enough to run the country.

Voters went for Bush.

This year, according to a Politico report, the issue is “character.”

It’s also about trustworthiness, which is an element of character.

Republican nominee Donald J. Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton are busy trading barrages over who between them is fit — or unfit — to become commander in chief.


So far it’s clear to me that the GOP nominee’s fitness poses the greater concern.

He fluffs a response to a question about the “nuclear triad.” He says he won’t rule out the use of nuclear weapons. He gives his tacit blessing for other nations to acquire nukes.

Then we have his litany of insults, put-downs and mocking of others. A reporter with a physical disability. His various nicknames and childish rejoinders. His statements about women, a distinguished U.S. senator/war hero. His assertion that a judge cannot adjudicate a case involving Trump University simply because of his ethnic heritage. His ridiculous and gratuitous attack against a Gold Star family.

Character? Does this suggest a candidate with character?

Sure, Hillary Clinton is hardly the paragon of virtue. She has her own character issues with which to deal. Again, though, to my eyes they pale in comparison to the astonishing demonstrations that Trump has put forth.

Character will become the signature issue of this campaign.

As Politico reports: “To be clear: The candidates’ brands of invective are not equivalent. Nothing can quite compare with Trump’s endless—and seemingly spontaneous—flow of crude characterizations of anyone who would cross him. For better or worse, Clinton’s attacks are much subtler, and probably more strategic, since her own high negative poll ratings make it imperative that she portray Trump as so unpredictable, and even unstable, as to be an unacceptable choice for president.”

This campaign is getting uglier by the day.

Polls could drive GOP nomination? Really?

don trump

I’m almost laughing out loud at the notion that Republican National Convention delegates might revolt this summer and nominate someone other than Donald J. Trump if his poll numbers continue to tank.

If history is our guide, it won’t happen based on that criterion.

In 1964, Republicans gathered in San Francisco to nominate Arizona U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater to run against President Lyndon Johnson. He trailed badly at the convention. He continued to trail badly throughout the campaign. The president won election by 23 percentage points.

Eight years later, Democrats faced a similar dilemma. They nominated South Dakota U.S. Sen. George McGovern at their convention in Miami; McGovern was far behind in the polls. The convention was one of the most chaotic ever witnessed. McGovern delivered his “Come home, America” acceptance speech in the wee hours. He went on to lose big in 1972 to President Richard Nixon, also by 23 points.

In 1988, Vice President George H.W. Bush was trailing Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis by 17 percentage points when the GOP convened in New Orleans. The vice president stood before the throng and vowed a “kinder, gentler nation.” He was elected by 8 percentage points.

The polls aren’t going to determine whether Trump is nominated.

My own view is that the presumptive GOP nominee, by virtue of his collecting more votes than any of other candidates and winning the vast majority of state primaries and caucuses has earned the party nomination.

Let the delegates stand by their man. Send him off to campaign against Hillary Clinton.

Take your chances, GOP. Trump is your guy.

‘No’ never really means no for VP hopefuls

Rob Portman Pictures12

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio said “no” when NBC News asked him if he’d consider running as Donald J. Trump’s vice-presidential nominee this year.

Does that mean he would refuse to run with Trump if he asks him to do so? Does it mean the Republican will have none of it … ever?


It means only that he intends — at this moment — to seek re-election to the Senate.

How many times have these politicians  said “no” only to change their minds when the phone rings? A zillion?

I’m going to flash back for a moment to a conversation my colleagues and I had in Beaumont with the late, great U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen.

It was 1988. The Democratic senator was running for re-election. He visited us at the Beaumont Enterprise to talk about that campaign. The presidential primary campaign was winding down. Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis was pondering a VP pick. Bentsen’s name was being kicked around.

So … I asked him: Would you run for vice president if Dukakis asked?

I don’t recall precisely how Sen. Bentsen answered, but I do recall he said “no,” or words to that effect. He said he was focused only on his re-election campaign against Republican nominee U.S. Rep. Beau Boulter of Amarillo.

About a week later, his phone rang. It was Gov. Dukakis. The governor asked Bentsen to run with him on the Democratic ticket. His “no” turned to “yes.”

My memory of that conversation makes it difficult for me to accept a “no” at face value when the subject of running for vice president comes up.

In this election cycle, though, it strikes me as plausible that saying “no” to a presidential nominee as weird and unpredictable as Donald Trump actually might carry more weight.


Here is what Hillary should avoid


Bill Clinton’s first campaign for the presidency fine-tuned the art of rapid response.

His team formed the War Room, comprising staff members adept at answering critics immediately.

When his enemies struck, Team Clinton was ready to strike back. Hard.

How is this relevant to the current political race that now seems just about set? It’s that the former president’s wife, Hillary Clinton, is about to become the Democratic Party’s next presidential nominee and — sure as the dickens — she’s going to face a torrent of attacks from Republicans led by their nominee, Donald J. Trump.

The only advice I’m going to offer Hillary Clinton is this: Do not let Trump’s team set the tone for this campaign. Re-create the War Room and be sure you’ve get every face in order before you launch your counterattack.

Bill Clinton’s quick-strike strategy in 1992 was born out of what occurred four years earlier. The 1988 campaign between Vice President George H.W. Bush and Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis featured a tremendously negative stream of attacks from Bush against Dukakis.

How did Dukakis respond? He didn’t.

The ’88 Democratic nominee thought he should stay “above the fray.” So, he let the Bush team define him, paint him as squishy; that he was on crime; that he was unprepared to be commander in chief.

Sure, Dukakis suffered a couple of critical self-inflicted wounds: He allowed himself to be video recorded riding around in that tank, which made him look ridiculous as he wore that helmet; he also fluffed CNN newsman Bernard Shaw’s question about his views on capital punishment during that televised debate, sounding cold and clinical when asked whether he’d support the death penalty if his wife, Kitty, were raped and murdered.

Dukakis’ big lead after that summer’s conventions evaporated and he ended up losing the election to Bush in an Electoral College landslide.

Trump now says Hillary Clinton hasn’t been properly “vetted.” Oh, please. She is arguably the most vetted presidential candidate of the past 100 years. Clinton was subjected to intense scrutiny during her years as Arkansas’ first lady, as the nation’s first lady, as a U.S. senator and as secretary of state.

It seems apparent that we’re heading toward one of the nastiest presidential campaigns on record. Trump already has dispatched a vast Republican field in large measure through is own use of insult and innuendo against many of his former opponents.

Don’t think for a second he won’t try the same thing against Hillary Clinton.

She’d better be ready.


Negative campaigning: It still works


Political operatives have a name for it.

Opposition research.

Every major political campaign dating back to, oh, most of the previous century has featured it. The organization hires teams of researchers to do one thing: look up negative aspects of an opponent’s record to use against them.

Why embark on this mission? Because it works. Every single time. Voters eat this stuff up, no matter how much they complain how they dislike negative campaigning. They respond to it.

The potential Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump presidential campaign that looms not too far into the future is going to provide “oppo research” teams a veritable trove of negatives.

If I were willing to wager my recreational vehicle, I’d say that Clinton’s team is facing what one could call a “target rich environment.”

Remember the time her husband ran for president in 1992? His campaign famously developed what came to be called The War Room. It developed a quick-hit strategy to answer every negative attack leveled at Gov. Bill Clinton by President Bush’s re-election team. The Bill Clinton team learned the lessons taught by the 1988 campaign of Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis, which allowed the Bush team to “peel the bark” off of Dukakis, as the late campaign strategist Lee Atwater said famously.

I’m willing to presume that Mrs. Clinton’s team has resurrected that notion for her campaign this fall.

More to the point, though, will be the opportunities that the presumed Republican nominee, Trump, will present to the newest Clinton version of The War Room.

Trump has littered his GOP primary campaign with countless public utterances worthy of outright ridicule, not to mention condemnation.

It makes me recall the era not long after the 9/11 attacks. Those of us in daily opinion journalism were handed so many opportunities and topics on which to comment that we faced the editor’s prized dilemma: What can I set aside for tomorrow or another day even later on which to offer an opinion or perspective. Take it from me: It is far more preferable to have too much from which to choose than not enough.

Team Clinton is going to have that kind of “problem” staring it in the face once the GOP nominee’s identity becomes clear.

Yes, I know that Trump’s team will have its chances as well. Which one of the campaigns, though, will have the resources available to them to do the kind of research they’ll need to skewer their opponent? My hunch: the edge goes to Clinton.

Donald Trump already has demonstrated his ability to “go negative” when the other candidates have fired broadsides at him. He does so in amazingly crude ways. He’s criticized opponents’ physical appearance; he has denigrated a journalist’s physical handicap; he has chided an opponent for the manner in which he perspires. All of this, though, has endeared him to the Trumpsters who have glommed on to his message — whatever the hell it is.

And those examples comprise a tiny fraction of Trump’s much-touted business, personal and political history.

And it’s that crudeness that, by itself, is going to present the Clinton team with much of the opposition research material it figures to use against their expected foe.

You want negative campaigning? We’re about to get it.

It won’t be pretty. We’ll bitch about it.

Bring it on!


GOP frontrunner getting softened up for Democrats?


Donald J. Trump is the clear frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination.

I’ll concede that much.

It’s interesting, though, to listen to other Republicans tear into him. It makes me wonder — not that I’m predicting it, given the wackiness of this campaign — whether the intraparty opponents will soften him up for the Democratic candidate who might face him this fall.

Marco Rubio blasts Trump for hiring illegal immigrants to build his hotels. He calls Trump a “con man.”

Ted Cruz accuses Trump of hiring foreign workers over American workers to work in his “world-class companies.”

Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney challenges Trump to release his tax returns.

Lindsey Graham says his party has gone “bats*** crazy” by backing Trump.

It reminds me a bit of the 1988 Democratic primary campaign when Sen. Al Gore of Tennessee introduced the “Willie Horton” issue to voters, reminding them of how Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis signed off on a furlough for a prison inmate who then went on a crime rampage. Republicans seized on that theme and beat Dukakis senseless with it during the fall campaign that year.

And so it goes.

Nothing about this campaign makes conventional sense.

It might be that all this piling on only will strengthen the Republican frontrunner.

It’s making me crazy, y’all.