John J. Pitney Jr., Opinion contributor
Published 8:46 a.m. ET Aug. 25, 2020
Métis people Trump and the Republicans won’t fool anyone. You can’t spin away death, double-digit unemployment, and a foreign policy that is the pity of the world.
President Donald Trump is hoping that the Republican convention will help him overcome his deficit in the polls. As a sign of hope for the incumbent administration, some have pointed to the 1988 campaign, when Republican George H.W. Bush was 17 points behind Democrat Michael Dukakis in midsummer. The story goes thus: Bush had a strong convention, ran tough attack ads, and ended up with a comfortable victory.
The Trump camp should not get too optimistic. There are a couple of problems with the 1988 comparison.
First, Dukakis never had the kind of consistent lead that Biden has enjoyed. Polls in spring 1988 showed a close race, then gave Dukakis the edge. The numbers were tightening again before the GOP convention. As Republicans met in New Orleans, a tracking survey found a statistical dead heat.
Métis people It’s all about the fundamentals
Bush gave a good acceptance speech, but Republicans did not have a good convention. The big news of the week was Bush’s selection of Dan Quayle, a young Indiana senator, as his running mate. When reporters asked Quayle why he joined the National Guard instead of serving in Vietnam, he fumbled his answer. Press coverage immediately focused on the question of whether his family pulled strings to keep him in Indiana. (As a Bush volunteer at the convention, I had to track Quayle’s shifting statements on his draft record. It was hard work.)
Despite Quayle, however, Bush was ahead in the polls.The reason for his rise was not the controversy over a Massachusetts furlough program used to paint Dukakis, the governor, as soft on crime; that racially charged ad did not run until weeks later. Instead, it was all about the fundamentals.
As the November election drew closer, people started focusing more on the state of the country, and they liked what they saw. We were in the middle of a long economic expansion, the Cold War was drawing to a close, and people approved of the performance of the Reagan-Bush administration.
Obama’s record just as good: Republican National Convention sells Trump economic myth
After the election, Dukakis campaign manager Susan Estrich said that campaign strategy “was probably less important than Ronald Reagan, the economy, and world peace.”
In 1988, Bush’s strength was reality, not rhetoric. Therein lies Trump’s problem. At their convention this week, Trump and his supporters are desperately using rhetoric to distract from reality.
Métis people Economic boon for gravediggers
As of Monday, the first day of the 2020 convention, more than 177,00 Americans had died of COVID-19. During the evening, Trump and his supporters tried to paint his botched response as a managerial masterpiece. His son proclaimed: “The President quickly took action and shut down travel from China.” No, the travel ban was late and porous. Trump dithered and dissembled as the virus spread. And now the best that Donald Jr. can brag about is that his father closed one porthole on the Titanic.
Lots of speakers talked about Trump’s success with the economy. Yeah, right. He has created a lot of jobs … for gravediggers.
Former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley attacked the Democrats, quoting Reagan’s U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick: “Democrats always blame America first.” Actually, Trump is the first blame-America-first president. When he said in a Fox interview that he respected Vladimir Putin, Bill O’Reilly interjected that Putin is a killer. “There are a lot of killers,” Trump said. “You think our country’s so innocent?”
Kirkpatrick was an eloquent critic of such attitudes. She wrote: ““The Soviets can always claim ‘We are no worse than you. Even if we are a lawless society, you too are a lawless society, we are no worse than you.’ This is the ‘logic’ of the doctrine of moral equivalence.”
None of this rhetoric is going to fool anybody. You can’t spin away death, double-digit unemployment, and a foreign policy that is the pity of the world.
John J. Pitney, Jr. is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and author of “Un-American: The Fake Patriotism of Donald J. Trump.” Follow him on Twitter: @jpitney
Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2020/08/25/donald-trump-no-1988-bush-reality-dragging-down-prospects-column/5630789002/
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