Racial attacks on Republicans are par for the course in most presidential contests — though there seems little question the degree of the smears against Goldwater in '64 and Trump are the most extreme. In 1988, the Democrats complained that then-Vice President George H. W. Bush was using racial implications in his ads attacking Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts. Dukakis had approved a furlough program for felons, and on one such furlough, a convicted murderer named Willie Horton took flight and went on to rape a woman. Willie Horton was black.Share
The anti-furlough ads infuriated the Democrats, the media, and the Left. The ads were the brain child of Lee Atwater, Bush's right-hand man, a brilliant South Carolina GOP operative who became the focus of non-stop attacks after the campaign. In the last days of the 1988 campaign, the Democrats charged the ads were racist. To this day, even Dukakis still complains about the ad. Dukakis can be seen whining about it in the 2008 documentary, "Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story." The media even sought out Horton, a convicted murderer, for comment.
The temptation to charge Republican candidates with racism is particularly potent with Democrats because attacks along racial lines can rile up two key Democratic constituencies: black and Hispanic voters. And, as Johnson knew, predominantly white voters in America's suburbs react to the attacks as well — not wanting to risk the label of racist themselves.
In late August, Trump supporter and church Pastor Mark Burns blasted out a statement through the Trump campaign: "Hillary Clinton and her campaign went to a disgusting new low today as they released a video tying the Trump campaign with horrific racial images. This type of rhetoric and repulsive advertising is revolting and completely beyond the pale. I call on Hillary Clinton to disavow this video and her campaign for this sickening act that has no place in our world." (Read more.)