I thought I'd do a snapshot of my opinions and relative estimations of the campaigns of major presidential candidates [the democratic or republican nominee, plus one crazy texas fucker] since Richard Nixon resigned. It's not a comment on the merits of each candidate as president, or as putative president.
I rank them in order of worst campaign to best (and change tenses as it suits me):
Mondale '84 --
forthrightly announcing that we have to raise taxes, and that you are just the candidate to do it, is honest and honourable. in this case, honourable equaled worst.
Perot '92 --
dropping out because your daughter has been abducted by aliens in refrigerators is no way to run a campaign. imagine what his numbers would have looked like that year if he'd been sane. or run a good campaign (dissimilar concepts).
Gore '00 --
hmmmm. you succeed a generally popular president who had worn out his welcome, but left behind the impressions of peace and prosperity. you proceed to mismanage your image, your message, and your coverage in a way that loses you your home state of tennessee. and west virginia -- as a democrat. I didn't find this one too hard.
Dukakis '88 --
when you become a verb [wow, that guy really dukakissed himself. . . ] and you proceed to be tone deaf and blind at almost every turn (the tank image is often brought up, and rightly so. as president, you sure as shit need to know how you look, and when you look ridiculous. especially if you're pandering by trying to establish military bona fides that you should just concede you don't have). treatment of his wife's murderer was seized upon as a "gotcha" moment, but when you're really tone deaf and sing loudly, expect the worst kinda looks. to his credit, he remains oblivious to this day: he still doesn't understand the response to his debate answer, and continues to defend it.
McCain '08 --
palin. hmmm; his one likely selling point was his opponent's youth and inexperience; good choice there. oh, yeah -- you don't cancel a debate because of a crisis, and then do nothing and appear irrelevant as the crisis unfolds. and then show up at the debate. and then complain that if the crisis hadn't occurred to interrupt your desired crisis, people would like you better. maybe this one should be higher (lower). . . .
Reagan '84 --
sleepwalking, lumbering campaign. but see "mondale '84" above to explain victory.
Bush '88 --
quayle. this is not said with the benefit of retrospect. it was appalling that afternoon. but see "dukakis '88" above to explain victory. and imagine the following word in the ears o' your mind: *buuuuuuhr-nie *
Dole '96 --
it's hard to run a campaign when you don't know why you're running except that it's your turn, and you imagine yourself a decent fellow. and you opponent is a charming sleazeball who somehow offends your combat-wounded self.
Kerry '04 --
combine a milder version of dukakis's tone-deafness with an overly-analytical, lawyer's mind, and you've got this campaign. swift-boating could have been turned against its perpetrators, and a more aggressive single-mindedness could have benefited the campaign greatly.
Carter '80 --
I don't really want to include the campaign, as much as the presidency. national scold, national schoolmarm, and too-clean-to-play-politics outsider, with a disconnected, better-than-the-politicians staff, aren't attributes that make for good administrations or campaigns.
Bush '04 --
a heavy-handed use of fear muggings gets you elected, but sets you up to think you have political capital that you lack.
Clinton '96 --
a solid victory, and a nice bashing o' the republican revolution. but see dole (and perot '96) for help; the guy wasn't even tested.
Carter '76 --
i guess he played the peanut farmer theme well, and he sure as shit beat the bushes in new hampshire, so he's to be respected. but the dems could have run william jennings bryan (in his 1976 form) and had a decided edge -- see richard m. nixon.
Bush '00 --
seem friendly, seem more likable than your opponent, make the prospect of nightly meetings in the living room, via national news, as inviting as you can. act like you're not al gore. push to vindicate your victory in florida. squeaker.
Ford '76 --
despite the pardon, despite reagan's charge before and at the convention, and despite his observations on poland during the debate, he made this a real contest. a damned fine campaign.
Clinton '92 --
gennifer flowers, and her revelations that "he ate pussy like a champ" [penthouse magazine; while published after the election, her quote got out early], and the general perception that he was . . . just the kinda guy he turned out to be, still couldn't keep a master bullshitter and charmer out of the white house. and his staff ruthlessly kicked ass, while maybe having some ethics (how un-campaign-like!).
Obama '08 --
nearly note perfect. the cool guy had emotion, but didn't let his emotions rule him. and he showed all of that. and oh yeah, that "new media" approach and actually turning out some youngsters seemed to have helped. and see mccain '08 above.
Reagan '80 --
from "I'm paying for this microphone" to "there you go again" to the stern grandfather who wanted to get you to swell your chest a little, he ran a kick-ass campaign. and see carter '80 above.