After Reagan

Bush, Dukakis, and the 1988 Election

John J. Pitney, Jr.

Upon the 2018 death of George H. W. Bush, pundits and politicians mourned the passing of an exemplar of the statesmanship and bipartisan ethos of an earlier day. The judgment, though sound, would have shocked observers of the 1988 election that put Bush in the White House. From a scholar who played a small role in that long-ago election, After Reagan provides an eye-opening look at a presidential campaign that few suspected marked the end of an era—or the rise of forces roiling our political landscape today.

Willie Horton. “Read my lips: No new taxes.” Michael Dukakis in a helmet, in a tank. Though these are remembered as pivotal moments in a presidential campaign recalled as whisker-close, in his book John J. Pitney Jr. reminds us how large Bush’s victory actually was, and how much it depended on social conditions and political dynamics that would change dramatically in the coming years. A turning point toward the post–Cold War, hyper-partisan, culturally divided politics of our time, the election of 1988 took place in a very different world. After Reagan captures a moment when campaigns were funded from the federal Treasury; when Republicans had a lock on the presidency and Democrats controlled Congress; when the electorate was considerably whiter and less educated than today’s; and when the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union—and the subsequent rise of globalization—were virtually unimaginable.

“John J. Pitney, Jr.’s After Reagan transports the reader back in time to the hard-fought presidential race between George H. W. Bush and Michael Dukakis. Pitney’s retelling highlights the candidates, issues, and media environment of that time and juxtaposes them with our current political world. This engaging, well-written book is much more than an expert analysis of one memorable election from thirty years ago—it’s a thoughtful exploration of how much, for better and for worse, our politics has changed since then.”

—Jeffrey Crouch, author of The Presidential Pardon Power

“This fine book might well be subtitled Present at the Creation. Pitney’s argument—that in the Bush-Dukakis race of 1988 we find the seeds of present-day presidential politics in both parties—is both timely and well supported. Judiciously argued and gracefully written, After Reagan makes a worthy contribution to the literature.”

—John Robert Greene, author of The Presidency of George H. W. Bush, Second Edition, Revised

Many books tell us that elections have consequences. Pitney’s explains how campaigns are consequential—the 1988 campaign more than most. From the perspective of the last thirty years, After Reagan shows us the 1988 election in a truly new light—one that, in turn, reveals the links between the campaign of 1988 and the politics of the twenty-first century.

About the Author

John J. Pitney Jr. is Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College. His many books include The Politics of Autism: Navigating the Contested Spectrum, The Art of Political Warfare, and Congress’ Permanent Minority? Republicans in the U.S. House.

Additional Titles in the American Presidential Elections Series