Bush Is Elected President

After winning the presidential election of 1988, George H. W. Bush continued the conservative agenda inaugurated by Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

Summary of Event

George H. W. Bush was the first sitting vice president of the United States to win the presidency since Martin Van Buren in 1836. His election to the presidency marked the first time the same party had won three consecutive elections since the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Presidential elections, U.S.;1988
[kw]Bush Is Elected President (Nov. 8, 1988)
[kw]Elected President, Bush Is (Nov. 8, 1988)
[kw]President, Bush Is Elected (Nov. 8, 1988)
Presidency, U.S.;George H. W. Bush[Bush, George H. W.]
Presidential elections, U.S.;1988
[g]North America;Nov. 8, 1988: Bush Is Elected President[07020]
[g]United States;Nov. 8, 1988: Bush Is Elected President[07020]
[c]Government and politics;Nov. 8, 1988: Bush Is Elected President[07020]
Bush, George H. W.
[p]Bush, George H. W.;presidential elections
Quayle, Dan
Dukakis, Michael
Bentsen, Lloyd
Jackson, Jesse

The election of 1988 was also unusual because of the large number of candidates who sought each party’s nomination. Republicans running included Bush, Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, Dole, Bob Representative Jack Kemp, Kemp, Jack Governor Pete du Pont Du Pont, Pete of Delaware, former U.S. secretary of state Alexander M. Haig, Haig, Alexander M. and religious broadcaster Pat Robertson. Robertson, Pat Democratic hopefuls included four U.S. senators, Joe Biden, Biden, Joe Al Gore, Gore, Al Gary Hart, Hart, Gary and Paul Simon; Simon, Paul (U.S. senator) a congressman, Dick Gephardt; Gephardt, Dick two governors, Bruce Babbitt Babbitt, Bruce of Arizona and Michael Dukakis Dukakis, Michael of Massachusetts; and African American minister and civil rights activist Jesse Jackson. African Americans;politicians and judges This large number of candidates was a result of changes in the rules of both parties for delegate selection, the rise in primaries, the availability of public campaign money, and the arrival of new campaign, media, and fund-raising technologies. In addition, many believed that the political definitions and futures of both parties were at stake.

George H. W. Bush.

(Library of Congress)

The Republican Party was divided over what President Ronald Reagan’s legacy should be and who should carry the legacy forward. Vice President Bush was the front-runner, but those in the conservative core of the party saw him as a vacillating moderate. Kemp and du Pont claimed that they would be able to institute the limited national government, tax reduction, and market-oriented economic and regulatory policies of the Reagan agenda. Dole also emphasized these traits and had the second-highest ratings in the polls in 1987, after Bush. Haig was the weakest candidate because he had no electoral base or constituency. The Reverend Pat Robertson represented a new force in electoral politics. As a television preacher with a large audience, he had a potentially large political base because of his visibility and his stance on moral issues.

Bush stressed the need for party members to be loyal to him as Reagan’s vice president. After some early campaign setbacks, Bush won a clear victory in the New Hampshire primary and then won decisively in the sixteen state primaries held on what is known as Super Tuesday. When he had secured the Republican Party’s nomination, he selected a little-known second-term senator from Indiana, Dan Quayle, as his running mate. Bush’s campaign theme became “a kinder, gentler America.”

The race for the Democratic nomination was more complicated. The party was deeply split between those who wanted to continue in the activist government mode of the social and economic programs of the Great Society Great Society of President Lyndon B. Johnson Johnson, Lyndon B. and those who espoused a stance that was more moderate, or less liberal, yet preserved the party’s traditional ideals. Gary Hart was the initial front-runner, but personal scandal involving a liaison with an aspiring model scuttled his campaign. Biden withdrew because of accusations that he had plagiarized a speech he gave. The remaining candidates suffered from lack of name recognition, fund-raising difficulties, and an inability to differentiate themselves from one another and to reconcile the liberal and moderate forces within the party. Jackson was very visible and had a solid constituency among African Americans, but he was too closely linked to the policies of the liberal wing of the party for most voters.

The Democratic primaries were chaotic. Michael Dukakis prevailed because of superior organization, ample campaign funds, and an ability to bring together a national coalition of Democratic groups and voters. The nomination evolved into a three-way contest among Dukakis, Gore, and Jackson, who attracted significant white support to his campaign. Dukakis continued to expand his base, and his momentum eventually gave him the nomination. Dukakis selected Senator Lloyd Bentsen of Texas as his running mate.

Since the advent of television, electoral politics in the United States had been sensitive to the needs and demands of the mass media. The election of 1988 continued and expanded on this trend. Both sides focused on negative advertising and mudslinging as each attempted to define the other with negative connotations and associations. Although the candidates participated in televised national debates, most observers would not characterize the campaign as driven by substantive debate on either side.

Bush won the election with 426 electoral votes from forty states; Dukakis received 111 electoral votes (one elector cast his vote for Lloyd Bentsen). Bush received 47,946,422 votes, for 53.89 percent of the total; Dukakis received 41,016,429 votes, or 46.11 percent. Voter turnout was 50.2 percent of the eligible voting-age population, the lowest since 1948.

Demographic analysis of the presidential vote, based on election-day exit polls, shows that the African American vote was distributed 12 percent for Bush and 86 percent for Dukakis, with 2 percent going to other candidates. Those who identified themselves as Hispanic voted 30 percent for Bush and 69 percent for Dukakis. Among white voters, 59 percent voted for Bush and 40 percent for Dukakis. Women voters were divided almost evenly, with 50 percent voting for Bush and 49 percent for Dukakis. Overall, Bush did almost as well in areas of the country and among groups where President Reagan had done well in his two elections, and he did not do well where Reagan had not.


In his term of office as the forty-first U.S. president, Bush had policy and political failures and successes. His strongest legacy is found in the arena of foreign affairs, where his crowning achievement was the orchestration in 1990 of the world response to the invasion of Kuwait Kuwait;Iraqi invasion by Saddam Hussein Hussein, Saddam of Iraq, which threatened the stability of the Middle East as well as the supply of oil. Through intense personal diplomacy, Bush convinced a reluctant Congress and hesitant allies to mount Operation Desert Storm, Operation Desert Storm later known as the Persian Gulf War, Persian Gulf War (1991) which delivered a military victory over Iraq. Presidency, U.S.;George H. W. Bush[Bush, George H. W.]

Another major event during Bush’s administration was the American assault on Panama to depose military leader Manuel Noriega. Noriega, Manuel Although the decision to undertake this action was a popular one with the American public, the long-term impact the assault would have on Panama’s domestic political and economic problems was unclear. What was evident was that Bush’s policies signaled an end to the so-called Vietnam syndrome—the reluctance of the United States to use military force.

During his presidency, Bush was heavily engaged in the management of the new international order brought on by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. Cold War;conclusion This marked a shift in focus for the United States from nuclear deterrence and containment of communism to dealing with problems of drug trafficking, dangers to the environment, Third World development, and the increasing interdependence of nations.

In domestic affairs, Bush worked to consolidate the Reagan program. His efforts in this area were hampered by several factors, including the demands of foreign affairs, the controversy over his selection of Clarence Thomas Thomas, Clarence for the Supreme Court, and the collapse of the savings and loan industry, which necessitated a massive government bailout. Perhaps most important, the large federal deficit of the Reagan years led Bush to break his pledge not to raise taxes. These factors, coupled with a perceived lack of domestic vision and political and management disarray in the White House, led to Bush’s defeat by Arkansas governor Bill Clinton Clinton, Bill in the 1992 presidential election.

Ultimately, George H. W. Bush lacked the ideological conviction and comforting rhetoric of President Reagan, but his election confirmed the existence of a strong conservative movement in U.S. politics. This fact was demonstrated later both by the Republican dominance of the House and Senate during the Clinton years and by the victory of Bush’s son, George W. Bush, Bush, George W.
[p]Bush, George W.;presidential elections in the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004, in which Republicans extended their control of the legislative branch as well gaining back control of the White House. Presidency, U.S.;George H. W. Bush
Presidential elections, U.S.;1988

Further Reading

  • Abramson, Paul R., John H. Alrich, and David W. Rohde, eds. Change and Continuity in the 1988 Election. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1990. Collection of essays focuses in large part on voter behavior historically, including in the presidential election of 1988.
  • Barilleaux, Ryan J., and Mark J. Rozell. Power and Prudence: The Presidency of George H. W. Bush. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2004. Presidency scholars offer evaluation of the impacts of various aspects of the Bush administration.
  • Campbell, Colin, and Bert A. Rockman, eds. The Bush Presidency: First Appraisals. Chatham, N.J.: Chatham House, 1991. Collection of essays examines President Bush’s leadership style in the context of divided government.
  • Drew, Elizabeth. Election Journal: Political Events of 1987-1988. New York: William Morrow, 1989. Presents a chronicle of the major events and personages in this election year, along with a solid account of the role of the mass media in politics.
  • Germond, Jack, and Jules Witcover. “Betraying the Revolution.” In Mad as Hell: Revolt at the Ballot Box, 1992. New York: Warner Books, 1993. Provides an analysis of the root causes of Bush’s fall from great popularity in less than two years.
  • Himelfarb, Richard, and Rosanna Perott, eds. Principle over Politics? The Domestic Policy of the George H. W. Bush Presidency. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004. Collection of essays and panel discussions focuses on the impacts of the Bush administration’s domestic policies in areas including the economy, civil rights, and science and technology.
  • Pomper, Gerald M., ed. The Election of 1988: Reports and Interpretations. Chatham, N.J.: Chatham House, 1989. Collection of essays discusses the electoral and political contexts of the Bush election.
  • Simon, Roger. Road Show. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1991. Presents a lively account of the candidates and their managers during the 1988 campaign in an environment dominated by the mass media.
  • Will, George. The New Season: A Spectator’s Guide to the 1988 Election. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989. Offers an often witty analysis of the ideology and political forces at work in the 1988 election, from a conservative’s point of view.

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Bush Nominates Second African American to the Supreme Court

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