It Shouldn’t Surprise Us To See A President Down In The Polls Lash Out

Roundup
tags: George H.W. Bush, presidential campaigns, Donald Trump, 2020 Election, negative campaigning, mudslinging

Robert Fleegler is instructional associate professor at the University of Mississippi.

While President Trump has never been the model of restraint, he has seemed increasingly desperate in recent weeks, frustrated by his inability to close his polling deficit with presidential nominee Joe Biden. He refused to participate in the second debate, walked out of an interview with “60 Minutes,” called Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) a “monster” and repeatedly referred to former president Barack Obama as “Barack Hussein Obama.” He has even turned on staunch allies like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General William P. Barr, attacking them for not advancing investigations into his political opponents. Though Trump has always been uniquely harsh and bombastic, he is just the latest in a pattern of incumbent presidents becoming more shrill when on the verge of defeat. Witness the patrician George H.W. Bush in 1992 before he lost to Democratic challenger Bill Clinton.

Bush 41’s presidency got off to a roaring start. He inherited a strong economy from Ronald Reagan and then successfully managed the end of the Cold War beginning when the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989. After Iraq invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990, Bush organized an international coalition to defeat Saddam Hussein. The Persian Gulf War in February 1991 became the most successful U.S. military campaign since World War II. Bush’s approval ratings soared, as did his chances for winning reelection. Major Democratic figures such as Al Gore, Dick Gephardt and Bill Bradley all opted not to challenge him.

But a recession was already underway before the Gulf War and unemployment was growing. Bush had also broken his pledge not to raise taxes as part of a compromise 1990 deficit reduction package that he agreed to with congressional Democrats, alienating conservatives who had always been suspicious of him. As Americans turned their focus to domestic politics in 1991, Bush’s political support rapidly declined.

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Still trailing in October, Bush took an even more drastic step — one that was decidedly out of step with his serious, patrician background — when he seemed to imply that the Arkansas governor was some kind of Manchurian candidate. After conservative Republican congressmen raised the subject of Clinton’s antiwar activities overseas, Bush questioned why he had traveled to the Soviet Union as a student in 1969. “I don’t want to tell you what I really think, because I don’t have the facts. But to go to Moscow one year after Russia crushed Czechoslovakia, not remember what you saw?” Bush told Larry King, “I really think the answer is, level with the American people.” While Bush and his surrogates had certainly employed hardball campaign tactics in his 1988 race against Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, this insinuation went even beyond the attacks regarding Willie Horton and the Pledge of Allegiance four years earlier.

Read entire article at Made by History at The Washington Post