What do DeSantis and his team get in return? Comparisons to Michael Dukakis, the Massachusetts governor who took one of the most mocked campaign photos in modern political history when he became president in 1988.
It was September 13, 1988, less than two months before Americans would go to the polls and elect Dukakis, a Democrat, or his GOP rival, then-Vice President George HW Bush, to lead the free world. Dukakis had taken a huge lead last summer, but the Bush campaign’s assault ads on Dukakis’ crime policies had done the damage. Now the Bush campaign said Dukakis wanted to cut military spending.
Bush, a decorated World War II pilot, joked during a campaign layoff that Dukakis “thinks a naval drill is something you find in Jane Fonda’s training book.”
For George HW Bush, Pearl Harbor changed everything, and World War II made him a hero
It was true that Dukakis opposed the so-called Star Wars program, an expensive missile defense system designed to protect the United States from nuclear attacks. He predicted — rightly, it turned out — that future wars would be fought in deserts and that the U.S. military would have to invest in tanks and helicopters instead, according to Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, in a PBS documentary. from 2016 on the campaign .
So, seeking to bolster his national security, Dukakis delivered a speech at an M1 Abrams tank plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan.
“Someone had the not-so-great idea to put my father in a tank,” John Dukakis, the candidate’s son, said in the documentary. “With a helmet of course, because without a helmet you can’t ride a tank.”
The images of the not so tough politician jumping out of a tank, smiling in military gear, his name taped to the helmet, went what we would now call “viral.” Reporters can be heard laughing hysterically. ABC News legend Sam Donaldson — to whom an aide to Dukakis told Politico was doubled over with laughter — can be heard jovially yelling, “Come out! Put them on!”
“We saw it on the evening news and knew it was a bad look,” recalled John Dukakis.
“He looks like Mickey Mouse,” Jamieson said. “It doesn’t look like something a presidential candidate would do.”
The Bush campaign took advantage by broadcasting a devastating campaign ad while the footage played as a narrator says, “Michael Dukakis is against pretty much every defense system we’ve developed…and now he wants to be our Commander in Chief. America cannot afford that risk.”
A poll soon found that 25 percent of voters said they would be less likely to vote for Dukakis because of the tank photo, Politico said. Worse, Dukakis refused to “go in the sandbox” or “throw mud bins,” as he called it, by fighting back against the Bush campaign, a decision he later said he regretted. His campaign went into free fall.
In the end, he won just 10 states. Bush handily defeated him — although, it should be noted, Dukakis still outperformed his immediate predecessors, 1984 Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale, and then-President Jimmy Carter in 1980.
So what about DeSantis — widely believed to have presidential aspirations of his own — who appears to be pursuing one of politics’s greatest misadventures, down to the “Top Gov” sticker that slapped the governor’s helmet ?
In DeSantis’ defense, the ad appears aim for comedy, where Dukakis was definitely not. In addition, DeSantis has served in the military and is still on the naval reservation, although he serves as a judge attorney general (military attorney), not a fighter pilot. And in small print at the end of the ad is the message: “The appearance of visual information from the United States Department of Defense does not imply or constitute endorsement by the DOD.”
Still, Dukakis also served in the military, but not as a tank operator, and that didn’t matter in the end.
Now retired and probably making turkey stock at his home in Brookline, Massachusetts, Dukakis has been followed by the tank gaffe for decades. In 2008, he told US News & World Report that when he arrives somewhere, people still ask him if he got there with a tank.
“I always respond by saying, ‘No, and I’ve never vomited all over the Japanese prime minister,'” he said, digging into one of Bush’s most vulnerable moments.