George Will notes that Michael Dukakis’s much-ridiculed 1988 campaign got 45.6 percent of the vote, and did so in an unfavorable year: during the conservative 1980s, running against a background of peace and prosperity. The Dukakis performance casts doubt on the likelihood of a blowout win for Bush. It’s not inconceivable, he says, that Dean could add 4.4 percent to the total.
He’s right. It’s not inconceivable that Dean will win. It’s also wise not to expect Bush to get 59 percent of the vote if he does win. (John Podhoretz writes today that a “razor-thin” win by Bush of “a point or two” would not mean much, whereas a win of eight or more points would end the Democratic party. Let’s not be too quick to scoff at a razor-thin win. Nobody has gotten an absolute majority of the popular vote in 16 years.)
But a Dean win remains unlikely. Dukakis may have had an unfavorable environment in some respects, but it was favorable in others. Sitting vice presidents don’t usually succeed in succeeding their presidents. (Also, we know that the 1980s were conservative in part because Dukakis lost. We’d remember the period differently if he had not.)
I suspect that there will be at least one point, if not several, during which Bush will fall behind Dean in the polls, just as his father fell behind Dukakis (by 17 points!). But Bush is the guy to bet on.