Mike Dukakis on the Third Debate and State of the Election

Former Massachusetts Governor and Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis at the joint Massachusetts and Washington State delegations breakfast on Thursday, July 28, 2016. (Photo by Andrea Asuaje/ BU News Service)
Written by Michael Sol Warren

By Michael Sol Warren
BU News Service

Michael Dukakis was the Democratic nominee for president in the 1988 election and the governor of Massachusetts from 1975-1979 and 1983-1991. Today he is a political science professor at Northeastern University, a visiting professor of public policy at UCLA, a steady presence in the politics of transportation in Massachusetts and a surrogate for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Today, Dukakis spoke with BU News Service to preview tonight’s debate and the discuss general state of the presidential election

Over the past few days or weeks, Clinton has kind of been laying low. Do you think this is more because she’s letting Trump wallow in his own mess, or because she’s trying to avoid the Podesta emails?

Well, I don’t think she’s laying low. I mean, she was out in Seattle the other day…. Obviously she’s got a debate, … and she’s taken two or three days off to prepare for the debate. … I thought her performance in the first debate was about as good as you can possibly get. And the second debate was a little strange. I mean, she had that guy kind of hulking around her in a strange kind of way.

I suspect that the audience for this third one will drop off somewhat. You know, people are ready for this election to be concluded. We’ll see, but I don’t expect that this is going to have anywhere near the kind of impact the first one did, or even the second one.

But I think she is quite wise at preparing a lot and spending time and making sure that she’s at her best for this one. And then, I have no doubt that tomorrow she’ll be on the campaign trail and she will be sprinting to the end.

So do you think that Trump has lost his opportunity to turn this around?

You never, never lose that opportunity. I wouldn’t relax for a second. But I do think that, particularly over the last two or three weeks as people see this guy in action, the impact has become fairly noticeable, and it’s not a good one for him, obviously. But I wouldn’t relax for a second if I were Hillary, and she won’t. She’ll be out there campaigning very hard. And so will lots of us who are out there with her, especially the President and the Vice President and the First Lady. And no question, these folks will be extremely helpful; I mean the First Lady [laughs] has proved to be an extraordinary campaigner and speech maker. So I think you’ll see a full court press out there starting tomorrow.

How effective do you think the President really is as a surrogate? Maybe his approval rating is going up as a result of Trump and Clinton’s disapproval ratings.

But in fact her numbers are going up, too, and I think, at least to some extent, that has to do with a growing perception that we’ve had a pretty good administration over the past eight years and the country is in dramatically better shape than when [President Obama] took over. But particularly the past two or three years, we’re getting pretty close to full employment and lots of other things. Which doesn’t mean that there isn’t much to do; don’t get me wrong here. But I think his rising numbers do reflect the perception that the country is doing well. And it is.

Well, since we’re talking about legacies and policy discussion, it’s kind of been missing from the first two debates. Do you think that Trump will take this opportunity tonight to try and focus more on policy and try not to talk about the scandals that have surrounded him?

I just don’t understand this guy. You know, his decline began when he started getting into all of this stuff. So one would think that you would change your approach. In fact he’s doubled down on it, and if anything, he’s getting more strident. If your strategy isn’t working, then one would think you’d change it, right? And that hasn’t happened. I mean he’s still doing the same stuff, he’s tweeting the same stuff, and I think its hurting him badly. So I don’t know what he’s going to do tonight, to tell you the truth. It’ll be interesting to see, but I’m absolutely baffled.

And he’s now surrounding himself with, as you know, with some really extreme right-wingers who have had an interesting history themselves. And apparently they’re urging him to do this stuff, and he’s following their advice. It makes absolutely no sense to me.

Trump surrounding himself with the extreme right-wingers has really taken the partisanship to the next level. It’s something that people complain about every election, that partisanship gets worse and worse. Can you think of a time where it’s been like this?

Oh sure. Look, this notion these days that the Reagan years were kind of friendly…I mean this country was seriously polarized under Reagan. Vietnam was worse – families were divided, communities were divided. And then remember, too, we had in the ’60s three extraordinary Americans all assassinated: the two Kennedys and Martin Luther King. And I won’t go back to the ’50s, but I remember Joe McCarthy and the ’50s.

So yeah, I’ve seen worse, which doesn’t make me pleased. Frankly, I hope one of the things that those of us who have run for the office, whether Republicans or Democrats, can help to do immediately after the election is see if we can’t come together and say, “Okay folks, we’ve gone through this incredibly difficult period, but we’re the United States of America, we’ve got some great qualities and some great values and some great people, and we’re going to work together to see if we can’t get this thing moving in the right direction, get this behind us and get serious about doing the kinds of things that the country needs to do.”

I’m not assuming everything is going to be hunky-dory, but I do think it’s important that those of us who have been part of the process, that we kind of come together and see if we can’t help in our own way to reassure people [laughs] that its okay, this is a good place, we’re actually doing quite well and we’re going to work to try and continue to do that. I think that’s a responsibility that we have.

Do you think the current level of partisanship has gotten to where it’ll cause people to step back and decide they need to move back towards moderate positions?

We’ll see. I hope so. This is, after all, a moderate country, you know, we don’t tend to be wildly left or wildly right. That’s who we are, so I hope that we’ll kind of reestablish that. Don’t kid yourself; there will still be controversy. There is always controversy in Washington and I understand that. But let’s hope that there can be some level of civility and willingness to sit down and have a consensus.

Well let me circle back to the debate one more time. What do you think is the best case scenario for both candidates tonight?

Look, I hope we have a serious discussion of the critical issues that face this country. And that the candidates seek to address them forcefully and well, in a way that is going to not only be constructive, but give us some sense of where we’re going on the ninth of November. We’ll see what happens.

I certainly think that’s what you’re going to get from Hillary, although its extremely difficult to do that when the other guy is engaging in the kind of stuff that he’s been engaging in. So a lot of this is going to depend on whether or not Trump wants to address the issue seriously.

The problem is that about 85 percent of what Trump says is just false. I mean, I don’t know where he gets this stuff. Where does he get this stuff? Why does say this stuff?

If he tried to seriously address issues, frankly, I think it would do him a lot of good, and it would do the rest of us a lot of good. But these have been strange patterns, I’ve got to tell you. For the life of me I don’t understand. They’re not very substantive, but they’re also hurting him badly politically. So we’ll see.

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