„And so I know that what it all comes down to, this election — what it all comes down to, after all the shouting and the cheers — is the man at the desk.”
George H. W. Bush - acceptance speech at the RNC August 18, 1988
The Candidates - A Political Biography
George H.W. Bush
George Bush, a New England aristocrat partially transplanted to Texas, entered politics after almost two decades in the oil business. He was born on 12 June 1924 in Massachusetts, and grew up in a wealthy New York suburb.
Bush followed his father’s example in switching from financial success in business to politics. He was and unsuccessful Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from Texas in 1964 and 1970, was elected to the House of Representatives in 1966 and again in 1968. After losing the race for the Senate in 1970, Bush was appointed by Presidents Nixon and Ford to a succession of important positions: U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, chairman of the RNC, liaison to China, and director of the CIA. In January 1977 Bush resigned as head of the CIA and returned to Texas, where he began campaigning for the presidency in 1978. However, he lost the nomination to the more glamorous and conservative Ronald Reagan, who later picked him to be his running mate for the office of vice-president. The Reagan-Bush ticket won easily in 1980, and 1984.
Michael Dukakis’s political strength, and the reason he won the Democratic nomination in 1988, was the fact that very different kinds of Democrats and liberals could project their hopes onto him. At heart, the Governor of Massachusetts was an old-style Democrat. Dukakis’s style was that of the upper-middle-class reformers who were now so important to the Democratic nominating process. Yet Dukakis was also a Greek American, the “son of immigrants,” as he would say over and over. His approach to government was intensely serious and mistrustful of politics-as-usual.
The Race for the White House
Many Democrats reasoned that 1988 was just like 1960. The country was being led by a popular Republican president whose administration was running out of steam. His far less popular vice president was trying to succeed him. The country was at peace and relatively prosperous but uneasy about the future. The Republicans were tired, the Democrats were the future.
The Nominating Process
Bush officially entered the presidential race on 12 October 1987. The Republican primary was fairly uneventful, with the Vice President going in as the clear frontrunner and as the only Republican with true national support and a strong organization. He went into the race behind Dole in the polls by a narrow margin but with all the advantages of money and organization rolling his way.
The importance of Super Tuesday in the Republican nominating process underscored how central the South was becoming in GOP affairs by the 1980s. Originally designed to boost the Democratic nomination race, the cluster of presidential contests now had a similar impact for the Republicans. Lee Atwater, Bush’s campaign manager, understood how important southern Republicans were to Bush’s chances for the nomination in 1988. The blend of cultural and economic conservatism that played well in the region tapped into feelings about race and religion, qualities voters found in the GOP. On Super Tuesday, March 8, 1988, Bush recorded victories in all the southern states.
Meanwhile, the Democrats were on the verge of selecting Governor Michael Dukakis as their candidate, and public opinion polls gave him a lead of as much as 16 points over Bush. A moderate, centrist Democrat, Dukakis seemed a fresh face that might be able to tap into a public desire for gradual change after eight years of Ronald Reagan and the Republicans.
George Bush - The Reagan Heir
All through his political career Bush had to fight doubts about his abilities and commitment to conservatism within the GOP. The conservative columnist George Will wrote in 1986 of the vice president as a potential successor to Reagan, “The unpleasant sound Bush is emitting as he traipses from one conservative gathering to another is a thin, tiny ‘arf’ – sound of a lapdog.” Will clearly reflected the thoughts of the party’s right wing.