Is Donald Trump the George Wallace of 2016?
For some time, I've been trying to understand the Trump phenomenon of 2016. Have I seen something like this before? I have not.
Some have compared the Trump of 2016 to the Perot of 1992. It's true that there was some anger in 1992, but I don't recall Perot generating this kind of enthusiasm or passion in voters. Perot's appeal was primarily economic.
I was intrigued to hear Stuart Stevens, a Romney strategist from 2012, make the comparison to George Wallace of 1968:
"This isn't complicated," Stevens told CNN. Donald Trump is running as George Wallace. He is almost doing with it more deliberateness than George Wallace did. Wallace at least pretended at times to be civil. What is remarkable about what Donald Trump is doing, he is sort of exalting, he is out there shouting and playing the thug and encouraging people to do that. He is inciting violence. Can you win a Republican primary this way? I sure hope not. I know you can't win a general election this way."
I went to my garage and could not find my old paperback copy of The Making of the President 1968 by Theodore White. So I went to the library and managed to read a bit about the 1968 contest. I also found this from Marianne Worthington to put the events in some context:
Probably the most significant political issues of 1968 were the war in Vietnam and the racial and campus disorder in the United States.
Wallace burst onto the national political scene by addressing himself to the increasing levels of cynicism, pessimism, alienation, and estrangement; the increasing concern with law and order, social issues, and the war in Vietnam.
Wallace believed he was the "different" candidate -- the one who had the best interests of the disgruntled, common citizen at heart. In his words:
You can take all the Democratic candidates for President and all the Republican candidates for President. Put them in a sack and shake them up. Take the first one that falls out, grab him by the nape of the neck, and put him right back in the sack. Because there is not a dime's worth of difference in any of them.
Like Wallace in 1968, Trump is touching nerves in the political body. He is talking about issues that other candidates avoid.
First, immigration and the chaos created by porous borders, sanctuary cities, and the cost of processing 40,000 kids showing up at the border.
Second, job insecurity, especially people who fear that their jobs will be sent to another country.
Third, there was a Democrat senator shaking things up in New Hampshire – i.e., Senator Eugene McCarthy!
Last, but not least, people are angry with a political class that they believe is out of touch with their day-to-day concerns.
Yes, it's always hard to compare events of today to those that came before.
The big difference is that Wallace never had a chance to win the presidency. He did carry several Southern states but got only 14% of the total vote. He also ran as an independent.
On the other hand, Trump could be the GOP nominee this fall and has a real chance of winning.
Nevetheless, the 1968 landscape had lots of problems and a very unique candidate, just as like 2016 does.