The Elections of 1992 and 1996

Candidates:

1992
William Clinton (370 Electoral Votes)
George Bush (168 Electoral Votes)
H. Ross Perot (0 Electoral Votes)

1996
William Clinton (379 Electoral Votes)
Robert Dole (159 Electoral Votes)
H. Ross Perot (0 Electoral Votes)

In the eighteen months from March 1991 to November 1992, President George Bush went from a record 91 percent approval rating in the opinion polls to the lowest percentage of the popular vote for an incumbent since William Howard Taft.  Bush’s achievements were in foreign policy, from his deft response to the fall of Communism to his skillful assembly of a coalition against Iraq in the Gulf War.  His downfall was failure to respond to a relatively mild recession, or even to appear to be very much concerned about it (“Message: I care”).  He compounded this problem by going back, inevitably, on his rhetorically effective but ill-advised pledge against new taxes (“Read my lips”).  Public frustration over partisan squabbling (the Clarence Thomas hearings) and political gridlock (budget battles and a rising deficit) was also growing enough to win the improbable Ross Perot the largest vote for a third-party candidate since the “Bull Moose,” Theodore Roosevelt.  Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton translated a unique combination of superb political skills and policy wonkery into a solid Electoral College majority (built on only 42 percent of the popular vote).  Once in office, Clinton’s wonkery got the best of his political skills for a while with his too-complicated-by-half health care reform proposal, and he promptly suffered a humiliating defeat in the 1994 congressional elections.  But Clinton has always displayed excellent political judgment in his choice of enemies.  He maneuvered House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his new Republican majority into overplaying their hand by forcing a government shutdown over a budget battle.  The Republicans had to back down, and Clinton was in perfect position to win reelection against Robert Dole in 1996.  Of course, during the government shutdown a young intern came to the Oval Office with pizza…

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