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DeSantis fighter jet ad draws comparisons to Dukakis tank photo op

“DeSantis’ Dukakis Moment,” said one critical tweet.

Michael Dukakis (left) rode in a battle tank in Michigan during the 1988 presidential election. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (right) in his "Top Gov" political advertisement. (Michael E. Samojeden/AP File, left, and

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis made it clear he was trying to emulate Tom Cruise’s “Top Gun” character, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, in a recent campaign ad.

But the political spot — labeled “Top Gov” — instead drew comparisons to a far different cultural moment: the infamous tank ride taken by former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis during his 1988 campaign for president.

In DeSantis’s ad, which came out Monday, the Republican governor is sporting a bomber jacket and a pair of aviator sunglasses before zipping up a flight suit as he walks onto the tarmac.

He then briefs an unseen team on its mission (“dogfighting” with the aim of “taking on the corporate media”) as a guitar track plays in the background. DeSantis later climbs into the cockpit of what appears to be a fighter jet and dons headgear labeled “Top Gov.”


“Alright, ladies and gentlemen,” says DeSantis, who is widely considered a top contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, as he readies for takeoff.

The spot quickly circulated on social media and was linked to the Dukakis campaign’s debacle.

During a campaign stop at a factory in Michigan in September, Dukakis tried to boost his military image by hopping into a battle tank while wearing a helmet bearing his name. But critics panned the decision and his Republican opponent, George H.W. Bush, later used footage of the ride against him.

Dukakis, who had been criticized for being soft on crime and national security, was defeated decisively that November. Although he didn’t blame his loss solely on the so-called tank moment, others said it helped unravel his presidential aspirations. In the years since, it’s been called “the worst campaign photo op ever, even becoming part of a documentary series.

On Monday, when DeSantis’s ad was shared by his wife on social media, the misstep, like “Top Gun” itself, came roaring back from the 1980s, even causing Dukakis to trend on Twitter.


Dukakis, now a professor at Northeastern University, could not be reached for comment.

But online wags were quick to weigh in. One remarked that DeSantis’s Cruise-like ad, complete with a labeled helmet, “has a strong Dukakis in the tank vibe to it.” Another quipped that “this is like that wildly successful photo op that Michael Dukakis did in a tank.”

While some praised the ad, or noted that it seemed to be tongue-in-cheek, others mockingly called the comparison with Dukakis “perfect,” saying they “hope it works out for DeSantis the way it did for Dukakis!”

“The massive difference here is Mike Dukakis is a selfless, lovely person,” one person said.

It’s not the first time that Dukakis’s helmet photo has come up in Republican circles. In 2019, President Donald Trump joked about it during a visit to an Army tank manufacturer in Ohio, saying he wanted to get into one of the vehicles but didn’t because of the memory of Dukakis.

In an interview with the Globe, Dukakis lashed out as Trump, calling him “just another rich kid who used his father’s influence to avoid military service.”

Shannon Larson can be reached at Follow her @shannonlarson98.