Suppose Gary Hart Hadn't Been Caught Out as an Adulterer?

Would he have won the Democratic nomination for President?
Would he have then beaten Bush, Sr.?
Would Bush, Jr. then never have become President?
Would we have thus avoided the Iraq War?

Article about Gary Hart:

I think your article kind of overstates how much of a lock Hart had. He was like a lot of candidates - polling well in the first stages, and then he says something dumb or does something dumb and everything falls apart.

But even if he had got the nom I doubt he would have become President - Reagan’s Presidential coattails were too long. And he may not have gotten the nom - Mondale beat him out in 1984 before his affairs were publicized. He was seen as something less than solid because he changed his name and lied about his age, although he had already separated from his wife twice at that point.

And it may be the case that had he been elected President, we would not have had the invasion of Iraq because we didn’t have Desert Storm - Hart was predicting tens of thousands of casualties and 5,000-10,000 American casualties (it wound up 132 American deaths) and that we weren’t prepared to fight in the desert. Cite. So it is quite possible that he would not have fought - he would waited for sanctions like that despicable moral coward John Kerry.

It was a long time back, and Hart wasn’t any better or worse than any other Dem of the time. Unfortunately.


In my opinion, Walter Mondale had the 1984 Democratic nomination sewn up from Day One, and nobody else had a chance.

Mondale was supported by EVERY important faction of the Democratic party- the unions, black leaders, the farmers, the big city machines, the South, the liberal wing, the moderate wing… almost EVERYBODY in the party was solidly behind Mondale.

In 1984, Gary Hart was a longshot. I don’t believe he ever had any real hope of getting the nomination. So, how did he come to SEEM like a serious contender? Simple- the media HATE a boring campaign. NOBODY wanted to report, “In the news today, Mondale still has the nomination sewn up, and nobody else has a prayer.” Hart was in second place (albeit miles behind), so the media felt compelled to create a horse race even where one didn’t really exist.

There was one bonus factor: Gary Hart didn’t have many supporters, but the spporters he DID have fell into a broad, general category: they were mostly young, well-educated, affluent, urban whites.

See where I’m going with this? The very WORD “Yuppie” was coined in 1984 to describe the type of people who were supporting Gary Hart!

Since the news media have always been interested in appealing to this very demographic (even before anyone was using the word “yuppie,” TV stations were trying desperately to appeal to affluent, urban young white adults), the news media gave a lot of coverage to a guy who SEEMED to represent that demographic.

Hart didn’t win in 1984, but because he was the runner-up (by a looooong way), he was seen as a frontrunner in 1988. In reality, most Democrats had long since lost interest in Hart. There were a LOT of Democratic contenders running in 1988,and Hart was no more or less attractive than any of them. Dukakis won the nomination by default, since nobody was really excit6ed by ANY of the candidates.

Even without Donna Rice, I don’t think Hart could have won the 1988 nomination. He was already old news.

If he HAD gotten the nomination, hed have lost as badly as Dukakis.

P.S. Look at it this way- if Lee Atwater was able to pin Willie Horton on Dukakis, what kind of dirt do you think he could have flung at Hart?

Donna Rice, the paramour in question, was only the first salvo they took at Hart, and he dropped like a sack of potatoes. I’ve always had the unsupported suspicion that she was a plant sent by someone like Atwater. Monkey Business indeed.

Did Atwater somehow compel Hart to tell the press they could follow him around and see if he was lying about his womanizing? That would be a neat trick.


Wouldn’t Atwater have waited till Hart got the nomination and then sink him?

There’s no a doubt in my mind Hart would have been nominated without the Rice affair.

Win the election, though, that’s a different matter. Really, it is impossible to say. Bush coasted over Dukakis, but Dukakis was a terrible candidate. Hart would not have been.

I seem to recall a conservative columnist saying that the right should give Hart a pass on changing his name, as “Gary Hartpence” would have been the wimpiest name in American politics since “Millard Fillmore”.

He certainly was lying about it. I personally think Hart would not have been a strong candidate. Whether it was Atwater or someone else, someone knew where to be at the exact right time and place. I’ve always thought Rice was in on it. But again, Hart was a fool for issuing the challenge. Nobody cared that Bush Sr. had a mistress. Nobody really cared about Clinton having several. Or JFK. The only person who seemed to care about Harding’s infidelities was Mrs. Harding. And boy, did she care.

Some people believe anything.


I don’t believe in this conspiracy theory, but you can spice it up with the fact that Donna Rice Hughes later became a pro-censorship—“won’t someone think of the children!”—activist.

Seven years after the fact, yes.


People were talking about Hart’s womanizing for years before that, and it is difficult to see how Atwater got Hart to issue the famous dare at the same time that he was running around with Rice. Hart was just stupid - he thought he could get away with lying about it.


Well, he is the only Democratic presidential candidate who ever had an affair during the campaign thinking he could get away with it, so that makes it a slam dunk that it was the Republican’s fault.

I was aware that she hasn’t exactly made a name for herself as democrat or a liberal.

I am amused that people think that nobody, especially Republicans, would ever conspire to encourage a young woman to do this sort of thing, so easily forgetting Lucianne Goldberg and Linda Tripp. Or that Republicans could possibly get together and commit dirty tricks, forgetting the Paris Peace Talks, Watergate, Iran-Contra, etc. or the various dirty tricks campaigns that came to light in 1972 and by Atwater. Or the stealing of Carter’s debate briefing books and giving them to Reagan’s prep team, including George Will. Politics is rife with such conspiracies.

I’d add a little bit of doubt because of election politics, but he was the most personable candidate going for the nomination by far, and he had a lock in the early polls. A few of the other candidates may have won state primaries as favorite sons, but he could have locked up the nomination early based on his general appeal.

I think Hart would have had a very good chance in the general election. Bush never won the hearts of the right and wasn’t much of a candidate either, and yet compared to the bumbling Dukakis he seemed masterful in his campaign.

Reagan’s coattails didn’t keep Bush Sr. from falling into a big deficit behind Dukakis. At one point, Dukakis led Bush by more than 12% in the polls. Bush had to fight very hard to win from behind.
Reagan’s coattails weren’t much help in the 1988 election.

Nor were Clinton’s for Gore in 2000. Didn’t help Nixon in 1960. Incumbency only helps an actual incumbent. Helped Martin Van Buren? Hard to say.

This, and no, Dukakis was not a terrible candidate, he was a very good candidate whose only sin was representing a Democratic Party that had not yet figured out why it was losing and taken corrective action. Hart or any other Democrat in that race would have been exploited by the almost the exact same playbook the Bush team used because they were all vulnerable to it.

But all in all, I think that of that field, no one was more ready to be President or would have been a better President than Michael Dukakis. Hart strikes me as more exciting but with less substance, and Gore was still too green, plus the Democrats weren’t ready to nominate a moderate yet. Four years later, they finally made their peace with the Reagan revolution, sort of.

I remember Dukakis being 17 points up coming out of the conventions that year. I think it is possible, maybe even likely, another dem might’ve won. Remember, Dukakis was reluctant to answer Bush’s constant barrage of negative ads. That was his decision personally, even though almost the entire party urged him to. Bill Clinton even said he learned the lesson not to be shy about negative ads in a national election DIRECTLY from the Dukakis campaign.