Haven’t you sat around some afternoon and re-cast the WH 2012 Republicans as…the WH 1988 Democrats? Sure you have. But if not, here’s what I’ve got. OK, it’s mainly the first two, but as long as I’m at it…

NEWT GINGRICH as Gary Hart — revived campaign phase. Gary Hart was drummed out of the campaign in Spring 1987 after a sex scandal, but then jumped back in late in 1987 and actually led the polls…before fading out rapidly. Both are disliked and not trusted by Washingtonians, but seem more presidential to many voters than the rest of a disappointing field. Not to say that Newt will fizzle as rapidly as Hart did (but he could!).

JON HUNTSMAN as Bruce Babbitt. This is actually the one that got me started. Both are loved by the press. Both are liked and respected by a lot of party actors, but not actually supported by them. In both cases, voters have zero interest. Both tried the same Big Campaign Strategy of packing their debate prep with one-liners. Babbitt’s comedy writers were better than Huntsman’s, but neither revealed any sense of comic timing whatsoever. I’m waiting for Hunstman to Stand Up! for, oh, I don’t know, the scientific consensus on climate change? But I guess he’s abandoned it.

MITT ROMNEY as, obviously, Michael Dukakis. Technocrat Massachusetts Governor that everyone figures will get the nomination despite the disadvantage of no one actually having any strong feelings about him one way or another.

RON PAUL as Jesse Jackson. Repeat fringe candidate doing better this time. Only candidate with actual enthusiastic supporters, but support capped thanks to qualification/mainstream deviation problem. Many party actors sort of like the idea of the candidate and his platform, but not the actual candidate and his platform.

HERMAN CAIN as Joe Biden. Says crazy things. Wacky campaign gurus are part of the story. Dropped out of the race after a scandal. Will become VP twenty years later. OK, maybe not that last part.

These are getting to be more of a stretch at this point…

TIM PAWLENTY as Dick Gephardt. Perfectly respectable and successful pol; very, very, very boring as a presidential candidate.

RICK PERRY as Al Gore. Well, Perry supported him, right? Candidates who appeared better on paper than in real life. Southern. Actually, Perry’s more of a John Glenn 1984, at least so far.

MICHELE BACHMANN as Paul Simon. Improbable candidate, ideological, briefly relevant.


SARAH PALIN as Mario Cuomo. The one who makes everyone else look like small, albeit in totally different ways.

Also: you may be thinking that I should have Buddy Roemer as James Traficant. Blasphemy! No one can ever take the place of Traficant. Have I mentioned that I own a genuine 1988 Traficant For President button? Don’t you wish you had one?

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.