Republican Ronald Reagan easily defeated his Democratic opponent, Walter Mondale in 1984, as expected.
Which brings us to the election of 1988. This is an election in which the Democratic candidate, Michael Dukakis, like Republican Tom Dewey in 1948, could be said to have “snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.” It is best “summarized” in the Saturday Night Live “debate” between “Dukakis” (played by Jon Lovitz) and “Bush” (played by Dana Carvey). At one point “Dukakis” says “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy.”
In 1992 and 1996, Democrat Bill Clinton defeated his Republican opponents.
While 1998 was not a presidential election, I am including it here for the reason that it might reasonably fall into the “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory” category. Historically, the party out-of-power in the White House gains seats in the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections of a president’s sixth year in office. In 1998 the Republicans had this historical precedent on their side, plus the added advantage of a Democratic president who had been impeached by the House (but acquitted by the Senate). Yet, despite these advantages the Republicans lost seats in the House of Representatives in that election.
The famous (or infamous) 2000 election was another very close decision, with the Democratic candidate, Al Gore, receiving over 500,000 more votes than his Republican rival, George W. Bush. Of course, Bush won with the majority of electoral votes (271), which is what really matters in presidential elections. Regardless, this election hardly falls into the “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory” category.
Some might argue that Democrat John Kerry would fall into this “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory” category, pointing to his failure to respond to the so-called “Swift Boat” attacks throughout September of 2004, before the general election. Yet, Kerry never enjoyed the three elements of the “appearance of victory,” so while his campaign was definitely flawed, his election was not a foregone conclusion before Election Day.
As we have defined, the presidential candidate who has the appearance of victory, yet loses on Election Day, can be said to have “snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.” History shows that this was the case in the elections of 1948 and 1988, with the six-year mid-term Congressional elections, in 1998, also falling somewhat into this category. And with that summation the tally of elections where the presidential candidate “snatched defeat from the jaws of victory” would be:
So, in over 75 years (and 19 elections) have the Democrats “snatched defeat from the jaws of victory” in election after election, justifying a “once again” comment? History would seem to indicate otherwise.
Republicans: 1948 (Dewey losing to Truman)
Democrats: 1988 (Dukakis losing to Bush)
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