What Mike Dukakis Could Teach Donald Trump About Winning

Democratic candidate and Mass. Governor Michael Dukakis wipes his brow as he speaks on the U.S. economy at the University of Illinois at Chicago on Friday, March 11, 1988. (AP Photo/Charlie Bennett)

I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not I’ll vote for Donald Trump about as many times as… well, as Trump has gone back on forth on most any issue. But now that Hillary Clinton has secured the Dem nod, #StopHillary trumps #NeverTrump, so I fully expect to vote for Trump.


At least, that’s what I fully expect for now. If by some miracle President Obama’s wholly politicized “Justice” Department should actually indict Hillary for her obvious crimes, then I reserve the right to rethink my vote. And then to rethink it again.

ASIDE: The genius behind Roger Simon’s “Diary of a Mad Voter” is that the title alone grants him license to indulge in all of this election’s madness. I wish I had thought of it.

The reason for this long-winded intro is so that we might set aside the intra-movement rancor for just long enough to discuss the state of Trump’s campaign like reasonable people who disagree reasonably on whether Trump ought or ought not to be the nominee. Let’s please avoid the temptation to shout “I told you so!” or “RINO establishment cuckservative!” at one another. Instead, let’s talk about how things stand now, and whether a small bit of presidential campaign history can provide us some guidance on going forward.

Over at Instapundit today, I’ve already covered Trump’s fundraising troubles and oddities. The short version is that Trump has raised very little money, has even less in the bank (Hillary beats him 32-to-1 in cash on hand — sad!), and one-fifth of his spending has been on Trump or Trump-branded properties and campaign expenses for his kids. Last month’s FEC filings show he’s even paying a salary to himself for running for president.


That said, I have to admit that Trump has demonstrated the unprecedented ability to win a primary race on a shoestring budget, and I’m willing to stipulate that his gift might carry over to the general election. Trump has taken us into unknown waters; anything is possible.

But even the most diehard Trump supporters need to chill out for a moment and brace themselves for what he said last weekend to NBC’s Hallie Jackson:

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee discussed his efforts to secure the Oval Office in two interviews with NBC’s Meet the Press that aired on Saturday and Sunday. “We really haven’t started. We start pretty much after the convention,” Trump said, adding that presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has had a “head start” in her campaign.

Good lord. Trump himself said that Clinton has a “head start,” even though he all-but-secured his party’s nod a full month before she did. What the hell has he been doing since trouncing his GOP rivals in Indiana? Not “really” campaigning, I suppose.

But if all that didn’t give you an “Oh, crap!” moment, allow me to remind you what happened to Mike Dukakis in 1988.

Dukakis was riding high out of the Democratic convention, outpolling GOP nominee George Bush by double digits. Bush had been hammered for a year by the Democrats, by the press (but I repeat myself), and by his fellow GOP contenders — his own campaign hadn’t had a chance to really go after Dukakis.


But what did Dukakis do with his lead? He taped a “Kick Me” sign on his own back and took off for the Berkshires.

True story:

The campaign for president, Dukakis famously preached, was about competence, not ideology. Right after winning the nomination at the 1988 convention, Dukakis took off for a three-week sabbatical in the Berkshires. While there he decided he needed a new management team, new media producers, a new (and utterly implausible) plan to do door-to-door canvassing in California, but nothing new on message. Nothing.

Meanwhile, on the other side, the Bush team of Lee Atwater, Roger Ailes, James Baker and Peggy Noonan had no choice but to use the wimp-and-weird strategy against their opponent. A poll released right after the Democratic convention showed they were trailing by 14 points. Thus began the Republican version of Charles Manson’s “helter-skelter.” The GOP threw everything at Dukakis.

The Bush campaign enjoyed a free hand defining the public’s perception of Dukakis, because Dukakis took most of a month off. He failed to respond. He came back from the Berkshires to find his lead had evaporated, never to recover.

Dukakis might have committed the worst unforced error in modern presidential campaigning — until now. Rory Cooper lays out the hard facts:

If a House or Senate candidate came to the national campaign committees — NRCC or NRSC — and had no money, no field operation, no digital operation, no paid media effort and was generally offensive to half of the party, they’d get thrown out of the building.


Whatever noises #DumpTrump is making, it’s nearly impossible to throw the nominee out of any building, whether he has a proactive campaign like Bush or an unresponsive one like Dukakis.

But unlike Dukakis, Trump doesn’t have a 14-point lead to sit on. He’s treading water or sinking in most national polls, and today’s battleground numbers from Quinnipiac aren’t exactly reassuring.


So Trump’s statement to NBC News ought to be a wakeup call for his supporters, who must demand that the time to start “really” campaigning isn’t after the convention, it isn’t next week, it isn’t even tomorrow.

It’s right now.


Trending on PJ Media Videos

Join the conversation as a VIP Member