Is Clinton 2016 Channeling Dukakis 1988?

There is a growing chorus of concern regarding the strategy of the Clinton campaign, a sense among many commentators that her campaign believes Trump will self-destruct. Therefore, it appears many in the Clinton campaign believe the best course of action is to stay out of harm’s way.


If this is the belief, one should reflect on the 1988 presidential campaign.

In 1988, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, upon becoming the nominee of the Democratic Party, took an initially leisurely approach to the final election. At least, it appeared he was taking the summer off. Further, the emphasis of his campaign was his superiority as a manager, rather than a leader. In case you missed this one, he lost the November 1988 election.

Secretary Clinton and VP nominee Tim Kaine exited the Democratic Convention and went campaigning. That was the good news. This, however, was followed by a period of relative silence, with the exception being media reports regarding the Clinton emails and various fundraisers. While Trump continues to make a fool of himself, he also has upgraded his white nationalist rhetoric while at the same time hypocritically reaching out to African Americans. The Clinton campaign seems to believe Trump will implode.  

Bad assumption.

While it is true that Hillary Clinton is ahead in the polls, she does not have a commanding lead. And the point that we have to keep in mind about this election is that nothing is predictable. The polls cannot be trusted because it really is not clear whether whites who are polled are telling the truth about what they will do on November 8. Additionally, Clinton’s favorability ratings are not improving (even if people may vote for her). Thus, a strategy of assuming Trump self-destruction is dangerous at best.

There is an additional factor. People may hate Trump, but if they are not inspired by Clinton, they may simply remain at home. This is a great concern. While the Green Party candidacy of Stein/Baraka may sift away some votes, the greater danger is lack of inspiration. When we see stories about young black voters discontented by their electoral choices, we should worry…a lot!

Is there an alternative approach? Absolutely. The Clinton campaign MUST give the voters a reason to leave their homes on November 8 and vote not only for her but for the "down ballot" candidates. While part of this involves an attack on Trump’s credibility (and certainly his sincerity), another part needs to be framed in terms of what a Clinton America will look like.

For progressives there should be no expectation that a Clinton presidency will bring us closer to nirvana. We must, however, recognize that the field of battle improves over what we would find under a white nationalist administration. As a result, pressure must be brought to bear on the Clinton campaign to follow through on the campaign promises arrived at with Senator Bernie Sanders.

The Clinton campaign must also understand that it should not put its faith in the polls or in Trump making one more mistake. His constituency is fired up and hates Clinton (to a dangerous point, one must argue). They intend on voting. A passive sentiment on the part of the anti-Trump voter will not bring about a Clinton victory. More than likely it will bring about a stunned morning on November 9 when people awaken and wonder how it was possible that a delusional, anti-worker, xenophobic white nationalist was elected president of the U.S.

Perhaps it is time for the Clinton campaign to hit the reset button and treat this as a hot war rather than a cold one. The other side is going for the jugular. Expectations of a Clinton victory are, at best, premature. It's time for a dazzling campaign with a determination to win and a determination to crush the opposition. Standing above the crowds is only for those who have forgotten the 1988 debacle.

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