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The Campaigner (1988)

“Politics ain’t bean bags. Politics is a blood sport. I damn well know that because I’ve done a lot of it and I have the bruises to show for it.”
— James Baker

Watch this video clip from the documentary. As you watch the clip, ask yourself:

  • In what way did George H. W. Bush’s successful presidential campaign of 1988 demonstrate Baker’s assertion that “politics is a blood sport”?
  • Do you think that Bush and Baker went too far in their television attacks of Michael Dukakis?

As Reagan’s second term drew to a close, Vice President George H. W. Bush decided to run again for president. And again he looked to his close friend and former tennis partner to lead his campaign. Baker accepted the position, though not without reservations.

“It was not something I was enamored of doing. I enjoyed being treasury secretary,” Baker recalls. “But there was never any doubt in my mind that I was going to do it.”

It was a tough campaign, and it became tougher when Bush selected Indiana Senator Dan Quayle as his vice presidential running mate. Though Quayle boosted the Bush ticket’s conservative credentials, his tendency to misspeak threatened to derail the campaign. It fell to Baker to do a lot of the damage control.

Bush’s opponent, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, started off with a healthy lead. But Baker and the Bush team went to work portraying Dukakis as an out-of-touch liberal. Television ads grew increasingly negative. The Washington Post referred to Bush’s campaign as “reckless, demagogic nonsense.” Nevertheless, despite the negativity — or perhaps because of it — the Bush team won comfortably in November.

Baker had helped propel his old friend into the White House. In return, the newly elected president nominated Baker to be his secretary of state. As a close friend of the president, James Baker brought a unique advantage to the office of the secretary of state. “A secretary of state who is close to the president and can count on the president’s backing and can really represent the president is well ahead of the game,” explained Condoleeza Rice, who subsequently served as secretary of state under George W. Bush.