“Effort Lost” was the tagline for Dole’s 1964 Democratic presidential campaign. “Make America Great Again” is the motto of Donald Trump’s inauguration. And, somehow, these two political slogans seem right for the Trump era. It was then — more than 50 years ago, and with the help of a conniving political consultant named Dean Donen — that former Senator Bob Dole lost a presidential election against John F. Kennedy and the democratic party. To help Make America Great Again — and, by association, Bob Dole — the Dole campaign chose what should have been a clear and decisive victory.
Dole was hawking the promise of a “Big Red Machine” to gain enough votes to turn red states blue. Lyndon Johnson was the main antagonist for the candidate and for Mr. Dole’s conservative, pro-lifers supporters. Johnson was a famously difficult candidate to defeat, with the backing of the Democratic Establishment and a shrewd strategy. Dole, as we all know, failed.
But that failed campaign has a deeper influence on our psyche than just the general election outcome. For one thing, Reagan’s 1964 presidential victory, along with those of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, came after a period of political upheaval that included the popular discontent of the Nixon years. President Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace and the Democratic Party grappled with a whole host of new factions, including Barry Goldwater’s ultraconservative forces, made evident when he failed to win the presidency in 1964.
And the discord within the Democratic Party couldn’t have come at a more critical moment. Its reaction to the election of “Mr. Kennedy” signaled a premature break with more conciliatory political thinking from the Democratic Party’s success under President Franklin Roosevelt through the rise of the New Deal of the 1960s.
Make America Great Again quickly came to mean all the Republican candidates, not just Dole, as Trump continues to prove. So does Dole, all his campaign phraseology notwithstanding.