Analysis: What Bernie Sanders could learn from 1988

In this Oct. 13, 1988, file photo Democratic presidential candidate, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, acknowledges the auditorium as Republican presidential candidate, Vice President George Bush, looks on after their final debate in Los Angeles, Calif. (AP Photo/Lennox McLendon, File)

WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) — In July 1988, Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis had a 17 point lead in public opinion polls over GOP nominee George H.W. Bush.

The Democratic Party had suffered two brutal losses at the hands of Ronald Reagan. The 49 state loss to Reagan in 1984 left the party in tatters. Dukakis, four years later, looked like its savior.

But in a few short months, Dukakis, the man who touted his state’s turnaround he dubbed the “Massachusetts Miracle,” was reduced to a tax and spend daffy liberal who let rapists and murderers get weekend furloughs from prison.

The Willie Horton ad produced by the Bush campaign used grainy photos of an African American Massachusetts man who murdered a boy and stabbed him 19 times. Horton received 10 weekend passes despite a life sentence. He fled, kidnapped a couple and raped the man’s girlfriend. The ad pinned the passes on Gov. Dukakis.

On November 8, 1988, George H.W. Bush won in a 40 state romp. The Democrats looked back at July 1988 and wondered how the candidate who seemed unbeatable got decimated. The Massachusetts Miracle turned into a mirage.

So, in 2016, when the Huffington Post headline blares “Bernie Sanders destroys Donald Trump,” Democrats would be wise to think back to that 1988 disaster.

It is true that Sanders does better than Clinton against Trump in head to head matchups.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bernie Sanders
Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, talks to Bernie Sanders after a Democratic presidential primary debate, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

But Clinton has spent 25 years in the public spotlight. She’s been vetted, tested, pitied, vilified and glorified.

Sanders, a self-proclaimed Democrat socialist who admitted boldly he would raise taxes as president, hasn’t received a similar review for consumption by general election voters.

On WNYC radio, the Nation columnist Joan Walsh said, “All politicians get battered the more they’re known. Maybe that won’t happen to Bernie, but I think it will.”

In part, it hasn’t happened to the extent it might because Clinton is in a delegate lead that makes it appear she will be the Democratic nominee.

Yet, in individual states Sanders also does better than Clinton in polling matchups against Trump in Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan and New Hampshire. Four of those states will be battlegrounds this fall.

But polls this far out have proven to be bad predictors of what could happen in November.

Just ask President Dukakis.

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