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Race for The White House: George H.W. Bush versus Michael Dukakis. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired March 20, 2016 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[21:00:14] KEVIN SPACEY, "RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE" EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: So you want to be the most powerful man in the world? How far are you prepared to go? Will you turn friends into enemies? Will you break your own rules? If you want to be the most powerful man in the world, do the ends ever justify the means?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.
SPACEY: In the fall of 1986, the White House is mired in scandal. Ronald Reagan's administration is accused of secretly selling weapons to America's most dangerous enemy, Iran.
RONALD REAGAN, 40TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have a few words here before I take your questions.
SPACEY: With the profits diverted illegally to fund a right-wing Guerilla group in Nicaragua, the contras --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your credibility has been severely damaged. Can you repair it? What does it mean for rest of your presidency?
REAGAN: Well, I imagine I'm the only one around who wants to repair it and I didn't have anything to do with damaging it.
SPACEY: Bad news for Reagan, but worse for his loyal deputy George Bush. Iran-Contra could kill his own presidential plans.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: News of the widening investigation comes as Vice President George Bush is trying to put some distance between himself and the arms deal.
CRAIG FULLER, CHIEF OF STAFF TO GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I remember him kind of coming back into his office in the west wing of the White House as though the wind had been knocked out of him. He knew that this would become a very large and evolving story. That he would have a very hard time separating himself from President Reagan. And yet he really was not something that he's making.
SPACEY: In February, 1987, investigators revealed the secret arms trade was being run from inside the White House.
REAGAN: A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true. But the facts and the evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower Board report --
SPACEY: Reagan's address to the nation sticks a knife right through George Bush's dreams.
FULLER: Politically, he recognized could be devastating to his campaign. And I think that was probably one of the low moments in the four years I was with him.
REAGAN: As the Navy would say, this happened on my watch. Let's start with the part that is the most controversial.
MICHAEL DUKAKIS, FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: Like a lot of Americans, I was appalled. Iran-Contra really started me thinking, what's going on here. What are these people doing? And what is this doing to American democracy?
REAGAN: There are reasons why it happened, but no excuses.
DUKAKIS: That was really the first time that I started thinking about maybe running for the presidency. Prior to that time, I had never given it a second thought.
SPACEY: Michael Stanley Dukakis is the son of first-generation European immigrants and proud of it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His Excellency Michael S. Dukakis --
SPACEY: Midway through a successful third term as governor of Massachusetts, Dukakis sees himself as a knight clad in armor made from the American dream.
JOHN DUKAKIS, SON OF MICHAEL DUKAKIS: We thought that he was in a good place to be running. Having served as governor for quite a few years. What he had done in Massachusetts was something that would resonate across the country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he were running for president, a haircut with George the Greek would mean this little barber shop would be filled with secret service agents, Dukakis says it's not an easy decision.
DUKAKIS: I'll never forget my older daughter saying to me, dad, very few people have this opportunity. You've got a responsibility to do this.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(APRIL 29, 1987)
[21:05:10] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you all very much. Thank you. Today, a son of Greek immigrants named Mike Dukakis announces his candidacy for the presidency of the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Anyone who has been within six counties of Michael Dukakis has heard the story of Massachusetts, how a rundown state with double-digit unemployment became one of the hottest economies in the country. Dukakis' campaign will be run by his chief of staff, John Sasso and
Harvard Law Professor Susan Estrich.
SUSAN ESTRICH, DUKAKIS CAMPAIGN MANAGER: In Dukakis you had somebody who was tenacious, driven, and believably hard-working and disciplined. All my friends from politics were coming together to support a very smart man running for president.
So, I went to Boston and helped the guy set up the campaign.
MATT BENNETT, DUKAKIS CAMPAIGN VOLUNTEER: I was just a kid in college. Then I just went to Boston and barged in there and volunteered. Governor Dukakis had a rule that nobody could be hired unless he personally interviewed them. And I thought to myself, why are you talking to me, I am 21, I make photocopies, what are you doing?
He said I'm going to run this campaign, you know, in a very ethical way and I want to make sure everybody that comes to work for me understands that. And I was hooked. I knew I wanted to do this.
SPACEY: Dukakis sets out to win his party's nomination, there's literally a short list of opponents.
DUKAKIS: There were seven of us, some of the press rather uncharitably referred to us as the seven dwarves.
SPACEY: Of the seven, Joe Biden, a young senator from Delaware, is one of the front-runners.
JOE BIDEN (D), THEN-DELAWARE SENATOR: I announce my candidacy for president of the United States of America.
DUKAKIS: Good, solid progressive Democrat. And just an all-around good guy. And a fine United States senator.
BIDEN: I tell you today that America is a nation at risk.
ESTRICH: So Biden came to Washington and as one of the most sympathetic young senators. And was widely viewed as a very decent man.
SPACEY: A very decent man who now poses a threat to Dukakis' presidential ambition. As the candidates prepare for their first campaign battle, the Iowa caucus, Biden finds himself under the microscope like a pinned bug.
DAVID YEPSEN, DES MOINES REGISTER: I was the chief political writer for the "Des Moines Register," the largest newspaper in Iowa. A very respected democratic political writer called me and said, "I got something I want to show you off the record." I said, "OK." And so, we went out to his car and he got in the trunk and handed me a copy of this videotape. He said, "Just take a look at that." Well, I went back to my office. Popped it into the cart. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his
YEPSEN: It was the kind of story that sucks all the oxygen out of the room.
[21:12:06] SPACEY: The chief political reporter of Iowa's leading newspaper has been given a videotape featuring Joe Biden. It's not a sex tape. It's worse than that.
YEPSEN: You know here is Joe Biden giving a speech.
BIDEN: Why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go to a university?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's almost word for word what British Labor Party Leader Neil Kinnock said. A way of life, the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university.
YEPSEN: Here's a clip of Kinnock and here is a clip of Biden saying the same thing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was it because they were weak. Those people who worked eight hours underground and then come up to play football.
BIDEN: My ancestors who worked in the coal mines in Northeast Pennsylvania came up after 12 hours and play football for four hours?
YEPSEN: Biden is stealing Neil Kinnock's words without attributing it.
I wrote my story and there were more and more examples of plagiarism, reporters were digging into his past. There was a thousand of a death by a thousand cuts.
BIDEN: I've concluded that I will stop being a candidate for the president of the United States.
SPACEY: But who was behind the leaked tape?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael Dukakis is assessing the damage to his campaign following the disclosure that two of his top aides sabotaged the campaign of rival Joseph Biden.
SPACEY: None other than Dukakis' supposedly squeaky clean campaign Manager John Sasso.
ESTRICH: I linked to John's office and he was saying that Dukakis was going to fire him tomorrow.
I was like -- what? I knocked on the governor's door and I said, this is crazy. What they did wasn't so wrong. You're losing the heart and soul of your campaign. He said I've heard all the arguments, no.
DUKAKIS: I spoke to Joe Biden a few moments ago on the telephone and I want to publicly apologize to him for the involvement of my campaign.
I just thought it was very important that if I was going to win that nomination I do so in a way that had Democrats feeling good about my candidacy and good about my nomination.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, THEN-VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am here today to announce my candidacy for president of the United States.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
SPACEY: While Dukakis is dismantling his team, Bush is assembling a gang of political hard men. Republican heavyweight James Baker. Veteran strategist Roger Ailes. And his campaign manager, political bruiser, Lee Atwater.
ED ROGERS, DEPUTY MANAGER, BUSH CAMPAIGN: Lee was South Carolina, Lee was a rabble-rousing visceral, loud, street-level politician.
SPACEY: Bush is on the stump, dogged by questions about his role in the Iran-Contra scandal. He can run for president. But he can't hide.
ROGERS: It was by no means a certainty that George Bush was going to be the nominee.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please go to the caucuses and let me get out of the way so you can make a buck here.
ROGERS: He had the residual and the cancerous debilitating effect of the Iran-Contra affair.
FULLER: What we decided to do was, I would become the most knowledgeable person possible about his involvement and I would be the only person to talk about, the campaign wouldn't talk about it, only I would talk about it. And that's the way we operated.
SPACEY: Just weeks before the Iowa caucus, Bush gets a phone call from CBS News anchor Dan Rather.
FULLER: George Bush announced to us he agreed to do this interview. We begin to get calls that Rather's operation has shut down everything except his preparation for the interview with George Bush and that all the focus was on Iran-Contra, all of it.
SPACEY: George Bush and Craig Fuller have been traveling out of town and now make their way back to Washington.
FULLER: We're going to do the interview from the Vice President's office in the U.S. Capitol. With the exception of George Bush, the rest of us were going into this with a great deal of trepidation. And I remember saying, you know, this is really unfair of rather. It's like judging his career on the time he walked off the set. Dan Rather had walked off of the news set, in anger, like a couple of months earlier. But George Bush said, you guys, he looked at us like you guys, you don't understand this is going to be, you know, a more thoughtful kind of a discussion.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Vice President, thank you for being with us tonight. Donald Reig (ph) still serves as your thrusted advisor.
[21:17:18] FULLER: He's listening in an ear piece, to Rather who is in New York. I'm listening to a telephone hook-up to the interview in another room. And as the program begins, the Vice President's hearing this assault, if you will, solely on Iran-Contra.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One-third of the republicans and one-fourth of the people who say that, you know, they rather like you, believe you're hiding something. If you are --
BUSH: I am hiding something.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- here's a chance to get it out.
BUSH: You know what I'm hiding? What I call the President, that's the only thing.
FULLER: I thought it was going to be difficult this is even worse than difficult.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said if you had known this was an arms for hostages swap, that you would have opposed it.
FULLER: And as I'm sitting there, I hear --
BUSH: It's not fair to judge my whole career by a rehash on Iran. How would you like it if I judged your career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set in New York? Would you like that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Vice President --
BUSH: But I don't have respect for what you're doing here tonight.
FULLER: And I thought, oh, my God! I mean, it was, it was just delivered so perfectly. And so appropriately.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd be happy to --
BUSH: I want to judge on the whole record.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I'm trying to set the record straight.
BUSH: You invited me to come here to talk about I thought -- the whole record straight.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much for being with us, Mr. Vice President. We'll be back with more news in a moment.
FULLER: When he came back out, he was not happy. He was not really realizing how well he had done. And I'm saying, sir, you just knocked it out of the park. Are you kidding? This is one of the greatest interviews I've ever seen.
SPACEY: Bush arrives to campaign in Iowa, happy as a clam.
ROGERS: We thought we were probably going to win the Iowa caucus.
BUSH: We just gotten the returns in from Iowa and I congratulate both Mr. Dole and Senator Dole and Pat Robertson.
SPACEY: Bush is hammered into third place behind television preacher Pat Robertson and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That Iowa in his pocket and Bush off-balance, Dole thinks he stands a chance of upsetting the vice president of New Hampshire.
ROGERS: We were morose, we were shaken, we were rattled. Lee thought this could break us. That there could be no recovery from this.
Eight days to go before the most important of the nomination polls, the New Hampshire primary.
JOHN SUNUNU, NEW HAMPSHIRE GOVERNOR: Having lost Iowa, if Bush doesn't win New Hampshire, he's not going to win the nomination. He's dead.
[21:23:43] SPACEY: With the New Hampshire primary looming, Lee Atwater and the team have just over a week to turn Bush from a pumpkin into a golden coach.
SUNUNU: And my message to the Vice President and Atwater was you have to understand that in New Hampshire, a campaign is what we call see me, touch me, feel me. You have to go and look the voters in the eye.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, how are you? What are you having?
SUNUNU: We had three breakfasts a day in three fast food places. He may not eat everything on his plate, but he's talking to everybody in the diner.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You live right in --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just happen to be coming by.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I live here.
We're going to win! We're going to win! We're going to win!
SPACEY: Bush's campaign is gaining momentum. But Senator Bob Dole is still in the lead. Time to cry havoc and unleash Atwater.
ROGERS: Lee was driven, but not a genius. A lot of his politics was instinctive. LEE ATWATER, FORMER ADVISER TO GEORGE H.W. BUSH: A little louder!
Bush, George Bush, a little louder! Let's go. Bush!
SPACEY: Tax on the road was one of Lee Atwater's sayings on how to diminish the other side. What can we do to three some tacks in the road in the way of the Dole bus. And cause some confusion.
FULLER: There were a number of positions that we found that in which Bob Dole appeared to be on both sides of an issue. And I said, well maybe we refer to him as senator straddle.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: George Bush and Bob Dole on leadership.
SPACEY: Atwater falls on the line like a ravenous wolf. The team make an attack ad accusing Dole of sitting on the fence over tacks.
ROGERS: We had a meeting with myself, Lee Atwater, the vice president, Mrs. Bush. Bush was not totally convinced of the merits of the straddle ad. Bush was a gentleman. He didn't call someone names. He thought very well of Senator Dole. I think Lee and others ganged up on Bush.
SUNUNU: The Vice President sort of looked over at Barbara and saw she wasn't objecting anymore and he agreed to have the ad run.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bush says he won't raise taxes, period. Dole straddles. He's been on both sides. That's why he's becoming known as senator straddle. George Bush, presidential leadership.
BUSH: Reports of my death were greatly exaggerated.
SPACEY: George Bush takes New Hampshire with close to a 10-point lead. Dole just got Atwatered.
ROGERS: I think that Bush knew that Lee gave him something. That he didn't have on his own.
SPACEY: Also taking New Hampshire, is the new Democratic front- runner, Governor Michael Dukakis.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis had said he was going for the gold. And New Hampshire Democrats went for him in a big way.
BENNETT: He came out of there with a huge head of steam and it really started to look like we were catching fire.
DUKAKIS: A long race, a long race.
ROGERS: Dukakis had sort of burst onto the scene.
DUKAKIS: I'm the strongest candidate against Bush. I think I can take the fight to him.
ROGERS: He had gone from nowhere to somewhere in a hurry and that was worrying. DUKAKIS: With your help, the son of Greek immigrants can seek and win
the presidency of the United States. Thank you all very much.
BENNETT: Every field office that I entered had pounds and pounds of Greek food Moussaka, Baklava, if I hadn't been 21-years-old, I would have gained 40 pounds in that campaign, for sure.
[21:28:04] DUKAKIS: Tonight, the race to the finish line begins.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
With the memory in my heart of the young man who arrived at Ellis Island. And how I wish he was here tonight. He would be very proud of his son.
J. DUKAKIS: I was very emotional. When he talked about his father and how, how proud he would have been of him.
DUKAKIS: It would have been great to have him there. So --
I accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
SPACEY: Dukakis chooses Senator Lloyd Benson, the workers' friend as his running-mate.
J. DUKAKIS: That night, my dad's path to the presidency was as clear as it had ever been.
DUKAKIS: This is going to be a competitive race no question about it. But it was imminently winnable.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor Dukakis leading Vice President Bush, 50 percent to 40 percent. Two weeks ago this is the way it looked.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Vice President 27 percent --
ROGERS: Lee Atwater said we know he's got a big lead, but hit his negatives up to about 48 percent and then we'll see how he's doing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's for raising taxes. Big spending, soft on crime.
ROGERS: We're going to strip the bark off the little bastard.
[21:33:21] SPACEY: Ten points ahead, Michael Dukakis seems untouchable.
ESTRICH: News that's stupid, untrue, terrible rumor floating around that Dukakis had suffered a serious depression after he lost his first re-election campaign for governor. And had been treated by a psychiatrist.
BUSH: Vetoed the defense authorization bill in the Oval Office.
ESTRICH: And I think we tamped it down for at least a week or so.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you feel that Michael Dukakis had made his medical record public?
ESTRICH: And then Ronald Reagan, president, in a news conference was asked about something about Dukakis' policies or whatever.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think that American people deserve to know whether he's fit to govern by having his medical records made public?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look, I'm not going to pick on an invalid --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, Mr. President! (INAUDIBLE)
ESTRICH: Every line I have on my desk is ringing. Everybody's phone is ringing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello.
DUKAKIS: Well I was pretty upset. An incumbent president is calling the Democratic nominee an invalid. What do you mean by that?
J. DUKAKIS: The President elevated this crazy rumor to something that made some people believe him. I was very, very angry.
DUKAKIS: I'll be happy to provide the people of this country with a full report on my mental and physical condition from my position of 17 years, and I think that's appropriate, and I think the American people like to know whether or not --
ESTRICH: We quickly learned that the same trick had been used by Lee Atwater, the campaign manager in a race in South Carolina.
ROGERS: No, we didn't do that. Everybody knows that that would have crossed a line and back-fired on whoever was dispensing that information.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But the target is hit.
ESTRICH: Anything that puts you at risk it makes you seem like a riskier choice for the voter. Is going to hurt you back.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We went down seven points that night.
BUSH: The vice presidency is Senator Dan Quayle of Indiana.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tell George Bush one thing -- go get him!
SPACEY: For all Quayle's boasting, Bush continues to drown in the polls. Lee Atwater brings in ad man Sig Rogich.
SIG ROGICH, BUSH ADVERTISING DIRECTOR: We just collaborated and came up with good scripts and good ideas. And then they would be tested.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From unknown governor to candidate for president, how much do we really know about Michael Dukakis?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Out of touch with our values and problems.
ROGICH: I thought we captured the differences between us and Michael Dukakis.
SPACEY: Congress has increased Federal spending at an alarming rate, Michael Dukakis has increased state spending in Massachusetts twice as fast.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The natural throw-away line is it's negative campaigning but comparative campaigning, I mean, how are you going to get a contrast between two different philosophies and two different ways of running government if you don't compare?
SPACEY: Michael Dukakis promised not to raise taxes. But as governor he imposed the largest tax increase in Massachusetts history. He promised jobs, but since 1984 Massachusetts lost 90,000 blue collar jobs. Now he wants to do for America what he's done for Massachusetts. America can't afford that risk.
ESTRICH: People will sit there until they're blue in the face saying they hate negative ads, but they're the only ones they remember.
SPACEY: But Dukakis loves the moral high ground so much. He won't let Estrich play dirty.
ESTRICH: And we had various ones made. We had one in the can with the helicopter flying over Bush's house in Kennebunkport. The ocean and the golf courses and you know, is this where you live?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've heard all the arguments --
ESTRICH: Dukakis said I never want to see that ad go out on the air.
DUKAKIS: I wasn't listening. I made a decision we're not going to respond.
ESTRICH: It was perfectly clear. That they were playing hardball and we were playing softball and you can't win hardball with softball.
ROGICH: I was doing some research on George Bush. And wouldn't you know it, we found a piece of footage.
SPACEY: George Bush had been a pilot in World War II and he had been shot down in the Pacific.
ROGICH: A submarine emerged and saved him. Somebody on the submarine had a camera and filmed it. We used it everywhere. You know, as much as we could.
BUSH: I, George Herbert Walker Bush do solemnly swear --
SPACEY: How does a man get to this point in his life -- how this one man come so far? And maybe for George Bush, it began when he became the youngest pilot in the Navy or perhaps it began this day in 1944. When he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery under fire.
BENNETT: I saw that footage and I was just sick. Because it was, it was phenomenal. I mean the guy was a war hero. That is hard in the television age to overcome.
SPACEY: Atwater takes Bush to flag factories. He puts him in F-16s. And the Democrats? They tanked. Literally.
BENNETT: I was told to go to Sterling Heights, Michigan. And report to the general dynamics tank factory and proving ground up there. He's going to take a ride in a tank. We had an enormous world historic campaign catastrophe.
[21:43:37] SPACEY: Two months to go until the election and presidential nominee Michael Dukakis hopes his visit to a tank factory will have the whole nation singing "Hail to the Chief."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a real personal privilege to introduce Mike Dukakis of Massachusetts.
SPACEY: To show he's a real man, Dukakis is going to sit in a tank. What could possibly go wrong?
BENNETT: There are a site advance person, there's press people and motorcade and my job was to deal with the sites. They said, you should really get a sense of how this is like, would you like to go for a ride yourself? However, when I looked at myself in a mirror, I realized I have a bit of a nose the way Dukakis does, and I thought I will look terrible in this helmet and so will he. And I got incredibly nervous about putting Mike Dukakis in this tank. So I called the boss at headquarters and told him he's going to look terrible if he wears this helmet and they said, well Bush was just sitting in an F-16, now we're going to sit in a tank this is our thing, just do it.
SPACEY: Dukakis prepares to flex his military muscles before the national press.
BENNETT: And he was excited to ride in the tank because, you know, he's a red-blooded American male, he wanted to ride in this tank too. So you're like all right, terrific, let's go.
DUKAKIS: I didn't give it a second thought. I was going to get into the thing and he told me to put the helmet on, I did so.
BENNETT: So the doors open and the tank emerges. And I will never forget what happened, we have this giant riser full of press, at least 90 people and they just burst out laughing. I mean, to a person they're just --
And I think oh my God! We are in so much trouble.
ESTRICH: You're looking at a guy and you said Jesus Christ, that guy doesn't belong in a tank. Which is to say, that guy doesn't belong running the national security of our country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dukakis complete with helmet standing in the hatch of an M1 Abrams tank is a race across an open field.
ROGERS: We gather in Lee's office and there was much howling, much laughter, much celebration.
ROGICH: He looked ridiculous. And I wrote a commercial that night.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael Dukakis has opposed virtually every defense system we developed. He opposed aircraft carriers. He opposed anti-satellite weapons.
ROGICH: We added grinding gears, so those are gears grinding the tank, you know.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dukakis opposed the stealth bomber.
ROGICH: He goes eh-eh --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And now he wants to be our commander-in-chief.
ROGICH: Then we froze-framed it and said America can't afford that risk.
ESTRICH: Dukakis had a tremendous knowledge and record on education. On health care. On job creation. But that wasn't what the election turned out to be about. They defined it as who's the here?
SPACEY: By late September, Dukakis' lead is like mist in the sun. Can things get any worse for him? Of course they can.
Bush and Dukakis on crime. Bush supports the death penalty for first- degree murderers. Dukakis not only opposes the death penalty, he allowed first-degree murderers to have weekend passes from prison. One was willie Horton who murdered a boy in a robbery, stabbing him 19 times, despite a life sentence, Horton received ten weekend passes from prison. Horton fled, kidnapped a young couple stabbing the man and repeatedly raping his girlfriend. Weekend prison passes, Dukakis on crime.
The Willie Horton ad comes not from the official Republican campaign, but from pro-Bush activists.
SUNUNU: Willie Horton was a Black American and I think one of the reasons the campaign did not want to associate itself directly with the ad, is that they felt that people might interpret it as being a racist ad. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Weekend prison passes, Dukakis on crime.
SPACEY: But Lee Atwater smells fresh blood.
ROGERS: Lee knew that it was powerful. Lee knew that it fit a liberal stereotype that would make a larger point about Dukakis.
SPACEY: Atwater wants to put Willie Horton front of stage, but he knows he's playing with fire.
ROGERS: Lee also knew that he could be radioactive with Bush. That if it weren't handled right, Bush wouldn't use it. Bush would declare it off-limits.
SPACEY: Atwater and Ailes take a different tack. Casting a shadow over Dukakis' prison furlough weekend program by making a specter of Willie Horton.
FULLER: We felt that the furlough policy in Massachusetts was tuning in. And so did we push it? Yes, we did.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As Governor Michael Dukakis vetoed mandatory sentences for drug dealers --
ROGICH: We went to a prison site in Utah, we created and built a set, the revolving prison door.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His revolving door prison policy gave weekend furloughs to first-degree murderers not eligible for parole and many are still at large. Now Michael Dukakis says he wants to do for America what he's done for Massachusetts.
ESTRICH: The revolving door ad accomplished what Lee Atwater said was his goal, which was to make Willie Horton into Dukakis' running-mate.
SPACEY: The Dukakis team arrive in California for the final debate. Willie Horton looms over the Agenda like the grim reaper.
ESTRICH: This is our last chance in front of a national audience of that size. What if he gets the Willie Horton question? What is he going to say?
[21:54:01] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you would all please take your seats, it would --
SPACEY: With just three weeks until voting day, the candidates prepare for a face-to-face battle. Top of the agenda, crime.
ESTRICH: It's what we had spent most of our debate prep doing, was getting ready for the Willie Horton question. There was going to be a question coming, whose side are you on? The criminals or the victims?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the debate commission, we welcome you. SPACEY: Estrich believes the answer is in Michael Dukakis' own family
history. Both his father and brother were victims of violent crime.
ESTRICH: This is what the answer has to be, however they frame the question. I know what it's like to be the victim of crime. I found my brother who was killed on the side of the road, left to die by a hit-and-run driver. My father in his 70s in his medical office, they came in, they tied him up, robbed them, took the medicines, 75-year- old man. So, believe me, I know what it's like to feel that pain. Great answer, huh?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vice President George Bush, the Republican nominee.
FULLER: You know, the lighting looks good, the Vice President walks on stage, you know, very powerfully and strong, he looks presidential.
BUSH: There are no restrictions and the questions that my colleagues and I can ask this evening --
BENNETT: I was watching in the senior staff room that I had set up in the basketball arena for UCLA.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The candidates have no prior knowledge of our questions.
BENNETT: Susan Estrich is there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first question goes to Governor Dukakis --
ESTRICH: First question comes in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?
BENNETT: Here it is, it's a layup. All right. It's so easy for Dukakis to react with genuine emotion and anger and righteous indignation at the thought that somebody would murder his wife.
BENNETT: I know what it's like. That is where the answer had to go.
DUKAKIS: No, I don't, Bernard. And I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all my life. I don't see any evidence that it's a deterrent and I think there are better and more effective ways to deal with violent crime. We've done so in my state --
ESTRICH: And I thought, dead.
BENNETT: When he answered the way he did, which was clinically and analytically, we just -- it just -- all the air went out of the room.
ESTRICH: Did we just lose the election?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have the biggest drop --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was a perfect answer.
ROGERS: There was jumping, there was fist pumping. We knew that it was going Bush's way in a dramatic fashion.
DUKAKIS: People were looking for something a lot more emotional than what I gave them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would like to thank all of you for joining us this evening.
SPACEY: An ecstatic Lee Atwater meets the press.
ATWATER: Dukakis was so squeamish tonight about being a liberal. I mean, I thinks that was the most interesting, he stayed on the defensive all evening long.
ESTRICH: I saw him coming off the stage and he said, I'm sorry. I blew it. I'm sorry. I said, we're all just doing the best we can. And, you know, we just cratered in the polls.
SPACEY: Three weeks later, George H.W. Bush thunders home with almost 80 percent of the Electoral College votes.
BUSH: The people have spoken.
DUKAKIS: There's no question that the attacks hurt and my failure to anticipate them and be ready for them from the beginning was a huge mistake on my part.
BUSH: I, George Herbert Walker Bush, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of the president of the United States.
[21:59:05] J. DUKAKIS: My father went back to work the next morning. He walked to the subway, went back to the statehouse to go do his job. And that was unsurprising to most of us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations.
BUSH: Thank you.
ESTRICH: Lee Atwater used to say -- and he's right about this -- that there's a little boat and on this little boat are the people the American people can imagine being president. They are the kind of people who have the stature or experience. George Bush is in the boat. Dukakis never made it in.