Michael Dukakis speaks from experience, warns Biden to ignore the polls

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Former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis had some sobering advice for Joe Biden about his poll numbers.

In comments to the Boston Globe, the former Massachusetts governor warned the presumptive 2020 Democratic nominee not to put too much confidence in polls showing him with a double-digit lead over President Trump. And Dukakis speaks from experience as he saw his own numbers plummet in 1988 after leading against then-Vice President George H. W. Bush.

(Image: WCVB screenshot)

A Newsweek/Gallup poll in July 1988 showed Dukakis with a 55-38 lead over Bush. Other polling at the time also showed a significant lead and prompted what Boston Globe political writer Thomas Oliphant referred to at the time as  “an immediate ‘victory lap’ of the country that repeated many of his acceptance speech’s themes before enthusiastic crowds.”

But, several gaffes and poor debate performances later, as well as targeted ads by his opponent accusing him of being soft on crime and weak on defense, took a toll on the Democrat. Then-President Ronald Reagan even questioned his mental acuity, calling Dukakis an “invalid.”

“I think I dropped eight points in the week Reagan called me ‘the invalid,’” Dukakis told The Boston Globe. “I never took those early polls seriously.”

Similarly, a recent Fox News poll shows Biden leading Trump 50-38 nationally and by 8.8 percentage points in poll averages compiled by Real Clear Politics. The president’s poll numbers have slipped in recent weeks as he has battled the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide protests.

Biden’s team and Democrats have been touting the polling as a sure sign that the anti-Trump campaign they have been waging has worked, with some reports even suggesting the president would just drop out of the race if his numbers did not improve.

Speaking from experience, however, Dukakis warned that “particularly this year, [polls] should be studied cautiously.”

“Biden can and should win, but being at 50, no matter how weak your opponent is, is no guarantee of success,” he told The Globe.

“I think Biden now is weaker than Dukakis in 1988,” columnist Alex Beam wrote in the op-ed published by The Boston Globe Friday.

“Biden is battling an incumbent president who can wield the levers of power to his own benefit almost any time he wants. And Biden, you can argue, is no Dukakis,” he added, noting that Biden at 77 is prone to “cringe-worthy gaffes” while Dukakis turned 55 in 1988, just days before Election Day.

And as Massachusetts governor, Dukakis was able to take credit for “a sustained period of economic growth for which he doubtless had some responsibility,” Beam noted.

“What can Biden take credit for?” he wrote. “A serviceable stint as a small-state senator, eight years of unremarkable vice-presidential yeomanry, and — lest we forget — an unblemished losing record in presidential campaigns.”

Bush prevailed and won that election in 1988, despite trailing in the polls behind Dukakis for months before. Republican strategist Karl Rove pointed to the same bit of history when speaking to Fox News recently about the current gap between Biden and Trump in the 2020 race for the White House.

The former White House Deputy Chief of Staff suggested on “America’s Newsroom” Friday that Trump needs to hot “reset” on his campaign and he needs to do it before he appears at the Republican National Convention later in August.

“When you are in the barrel. When you’re getting a lot of bad press and the polls are going against you, you need to do something that says, ‘We’re moving in a different direction.’ That’s what I mean by a reset,” Rove told Fox News host Leland Vittert.

(Source: Fox News)

“So, you have got to do something that’s big and grabs the attention of the American people and says, ‘This is either a big new policy or a change in tone or direction.’ And, that’s a mechanical thing,” Rove continued.

“You can’t simply say, ‘Well, we’ve got bad polls and we’re getting bad press.’ You’ve got to say, ‘OK, we’ve got to do something different,'” he added.

“No president gets re-elected by saying, ‘I’ve done a good job,'” Rove told Vittert. “You have to be in a place where you say, ‘I’ve done a good job and I’ve got more things that I want to do and those are things that you like.’”


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