On July 26, 1988, the Gallup Poll had Massachusetts Democratic Gov. Michael Dukakis with a 17-point lead over Republican Vice President George H.W. Bush (41) in the race for the White House.
That was before he donned a military helmet and looked absolutely ridiculous riding in a tank in September. That was also before Dukakis gave a cold, clinical, dispassionate answer when CNN moderator Bernard Shaw asked him if he would support the death penalty for any man who raped and murdered his wife, Kitty.
“No, I don’t, Bernard,” Dukakis said. “And I think you know that I’ve opposed the death penalty during all of my life.”
He was done. “President” Dukakis, who looked like a shoo-in for the White House in the summer of 1988, lost 40 states to Bush who won 426 electoral votes and walloped Dukakis by 7 million votes nationwide despite being down in the polls by 17 points four months previous.
We may be seeing a repeat of the 1988 campaign in 2020. Democratic nominee Joe Biden is way ahead in many national polls and his supporters are already measuring for new drapes in the Oval Office.
But the campaign to define Joe Biden has yet to begin. Just as Dukakis was portrayed as a goofy, cold, liberal who was soft on crime, Joe Biden can expect to be caricatured as a goofy, senile liberal who will be soft on crime as well. His party will not allow him to be the moderate he wants to be in order to win the White House.
A senior Democratic strategist several years ago bemoaned the fact that every time the Democratic Party lurched further left to gain a far-left socialist young voter, they lose three older, traditional Democrat or Democrat-leaning unaffiliated voters.
“That is bad math for us” he groaned. Older voters of all races watch rioters protest with no masks, no social distancing and no hand-washing restrictions and then can’t go to their local gym, bar or minor league baseball game, and they start to wonder if everyone really is in this together.
There are some indications that a red tide could rise in states such as North Carolina, and Republican candidates might shock sophisticated observers on MSNBC and CNN.
I recently saw a woman in a store in Southport bedecked with a Trump hat and T-shirt and asked her if she thought he would win in November. “I think it is going to be a butt-whipping,” she answered confidently.
“Why do you say that?” I asked innocently.
“Because the Democratic Party doesn’t care about protecting anyone anymore,” she said. “They don’t believe in law and order; they always want to raise our taxes; and they don’t have any solutions. We live in a small town and when we see what is going on in Raleigh and Charlotte, we just shake our heads and say we are glad we don’t live there. We can’t wait to vote.”
Even with some national polls showing Biden with a Dukakis-like summer lead, President Trump is still leading in North Carolina. A veteran political operative has polled thousands of people in North Carolina in recent months about how likely they were going to vote this year. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 meaning they would vote today if they could, the number of 10s recorded for Trump voters outnumbered the number of 10s for Biden voters by a 10-to-1 margin.
He had never seen that much of a disparity in voter intensity before.
Do President Trump and the Republicans face a daunting challenge this fall? They sure do; they do every election cycle. But the economy is starting to open back up; people are going back to work and leaving the unemployment lines. Consumer confidence has perked back up to near 80 from a low of 71 in April.
Tuesday, November 3 is eons away in terms of the ebb and flow of politics. Joe Biden is not going to win by 17 points. Ask “President” Dukakis.