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Remember Michael Dukakis’s infamous tank ride? So does he

FROM MERLIN ARCHIVE DO NOT RESEND TO LIBRARY Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis gets a free ride in one of General Dynamics' new M1-A-1 battle tanks at its land systems division in Sterling Heights, Mi. Tuesday afternoon September 13, 1988. Dukakis took time out to tell General Dynamics' workers that he's not soft on defense. (AP Photo/Michael Samojeden) prescampaign

Michael Samojeden/AP/file 1988

Michael Dukakis rode in a battle tank in Michigan during the 1988 presidential election.

There’s one thing former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis doesn’t blame for losing his 1988 presidential bid: the infamous tank ride.

In a short documentary released Wednesday as part of a series by ESPN Films and FiveThirtyEight on iconic election moments, Dukakis and other key figures from that election reflect on the stunt.


The Democrat, who had been facing criticism that he was soft on crime and national security, sought to bolster his military image by riding a battle tank while wearing a helmet during a campaign stop at a Michigan factory.

The moment backfired — immediately. Members of the press corps guffawed at the sight. The New York Times nicknamed him “Macho Mike Dukakis” in its story the next day. Dukakis’s opponent, George H.W. Bush, used footage to create an ad that hammered home his campaign’s criticisms of the Democrat as incapable of being commander in chief.

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But Dukakis does not see it as the death knell of his campaign.

“It was much more the mistakes that I made early, and the big ones, that I think affected the result,” he said in the film.

And Dukakis also sees a silver lining: Four years later, when Democrat Bill Clinton began his own presidential campaign, he created a group of people who focused on responding quickly to the possible attacks that could come his way.


The film, called “Backfire: How to Destroy a Presidential Candidate,” is the fourth entry in the “FiveThirtyEight Elections” series. The first film looked at the “Dean scream” of 2004. Former Vermont governor Howard Dean, then a top presidential candidate in the Democratic primary, unleashed an outburst at the Iowa caucuses that became fodder for late-night comedians and sunk his campaign. Two months later, Dean endorsed then-Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who went on to win the nomination.

The two other films look at the 1976 Republican National Convention and the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright, President Obama’s longtime pastor.

Nicole Hernandez can be reached at nicole.hernandez@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @NRHSJax.
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