Will 2020 be an­other 1972 for Democrats?

Go­ing hard left in­vites the ghost of Ge­orge McGovern

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Vic­tor Davis Han­son Vic­tor Davis Han­son is a clas­si­cist and his­to­rian with the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion at Stan­ford Univer­sity.

Forty-nine years ago, Vice Pres­i­dent Hu­bert Humphrey was the Demo­cratic can­di­date for pres­i­dent.

The year 1968 was a tu­mul­tuous one that saw the as­sas­si­na­tions of ri­val can­di­date Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. Lyn­don Johnson’s un­pop­u­lar lame-duck Demo­cratic ad­min­is­tra­tion im­ploded due to mas­sive protests against the Viet­nam War.

Yet Humphrey al­most de­feated Repub­li­can nom­i­nee Richard Nixon, los­ing the elec­tion by just over 500,000 votes (43.4 per­cent to 42.7 per­cent).

In­fight­ing Democrats could have de­feated the un­pop­u­lar Nixon if not for a few un­fore­seen de­vel­op­ments.

Their con­ven­tion in Chicago turned into a creepy car­ni­val of tele­vised ri­ot­ing and rad­i­cal protests. Hip­pies and left­ists were seen bat­tling po­lice in the streets on prime­time news.

The former Demo­cratic gover­nor of Alabama, Ge­orge Wal­lace, ran as a states’ rights third-party can­di­date and drew 13.5 per­cent of the vote. Wal­lace de­stroyed the Democrats’ tra­di­tional hold on the old “solid South” by winning five South­ern states out­right. He also si­phoned off enough tra­di­tional Demo­cratic sup­port­ers to give Nixon as­ton­ish­ing Repub­li­can vic­to­ries in half-a-dozen other states in the re­gion.

Nixon won over a few North­ern blue-col­lar states that had of­ten voted Demo­cratic, such as Wis­con­sin and

Ohio — again with help from Wal­lace, who ap­pealed to fed-up, work­ing-class Democrats. What was the les­son from 1968? The Democrats could have re­cal­i­brated their mes­sage to ap­peal more to work­ing-class vot­ers.

They should have re­built the old Franklin D. Roo­sevelt-era coali­tion that had elected Harry Tru­man and John F. Kennedy, mostly by ap­peal­ing to pay­check is­sues and avoid­ing rad­i­cal agen­das.

Yet de­spite pick­ing up 12 House seats in the 1970 midterm elec­tions, and in­stead of at­tribut­ing the 1968 loss to Wal­lace’s third-party pop­ulism and voter push­back against rad­i­cal­ism, the Democrats went off the rails and veered hard left in 1972.

The low­er­ing of the vot­ing age to age 18 in 1971 also tricked Democrats into wrongly think­ing that most new young vot­ers were left­ists and would vote in record numbers for left­ist can­di­dates.

So the Democrats in 1972 fool­ishly nom­i­nated die-hard left-wing South Dakota Sen. Ge­orge McGovern.

Although Pres­i­dent Nixon wasn’t a pop­u­lar po­lit­i­cal fig­ure, he was busy uni­fy­ing vot­ers by mov­ing all over the po­lit­i­cal map. The wily, flex­i­ble and prag­matic Nixon talked hard-right but ac­tu­ally moved to the cen­ter. He cre­ated the En­vi­ron­men­tal Protection Agency. He vastly ex­panded the wel­fare state and pushed for uni­ver­sal health care.

Nixon also had im­posed wage and price con­trols, and vis­ited Com­mu­nist China. Nixon ridiculed con­ser­va­tive icons such as Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Ron­ald Rea­gan and com­men­ta­tor Wil­liam F. Buck­ley Jr. as rightwing trou­ble­mak­ers and elit­ist ide­o­logues.

In other words, Nixon was as con­tro­ver­sial — and as po­lit­i­cally un­pre­dictable and mis­un­der­stood — as Don­ald Trump.

The Novem­ber 1972 elec­tion proved one of the big­gest Repub­li­can land­slides in Amer­i­can his­tory. Nixon was re-elected with more than 60 per­cent of the pop­u­lar vote, winning 49 of 50 states.

Democrats held on to Congress only be­cause sober Demo­cratic se­na­tors and House mem­bers up for re-elec­tion never fol­lowed the far-left tra­jec­tory of McGovern.

Democrats would re­main out of the White House un­til 1980, when Jimmy Carter ran a winning Humphrey-like cam­paign as a cen­trist pop­ulist out­sider from the South. Will the 2020 end up like 1972 for Democrats?

So far, the sim­i­lar­i­ties are eerie.

Hil­lary Clin­ton lost the elec­tion but won the pop­u­lar vote over Mr. Trump. Had she cam­paigned more in the so­called “blue wall” states of the Rust Belt and Mid­west, and not stupidly la­beled a quar­ter of the coun­try “ir­re­deemable” and “de­plorable,” Mrs. Clin­ton may have won in the Elec­toral Col­lege as well.

As in 1968, the fu­ture les­son from the lost 2016 elec­tion was for Democrats to ap­peal more to work­ing classes — and not to pan­der on po­lar­iz­ing hot-but­ton cul­tural and so­cial is­sues.

But it ap­pears that Democrats may be on their way to an­other hard-left McGovern-style blowout.

Democrats are now even blam­ing Mrs. Clin­ton for be­ing too cen­trist rather than for run­ning a ter­ri­ble cam­paign. The newly elected chair­man of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee, Tom Perez, is a po­lar­iz­ing far-left fig­ure.

The high­est-pro­file Demo­cratic Party sup­port­ers are in­creas­ingly smug Hol­ly­wood ac­tors, rich Wall Street and Sil­i­con Val­ley elit­ists, and em­bit­tered mem­bers of the me­dia, along with ca­reerist iden­tity groups and as­sorted protest move­ments — a fos­silized 1972 echo cham­ber.

Democrats’ po­lit­i­cally cor­rect mes­sag­ing de­rides op­po­nents as de­plorable racists, sex­ists, big­ots, xeno­phobes, ho­mo­phobes, Is­lam­o­phobes and na­tivists. That shrill in­vec­tive only fur­ther turns off mid­dle Amer­ica. Be­ing merely anti-Trump is no more a suc­cess­ful Demo­cratic agenda than be­ing anti-Nixon was in 1972.

Of course, any­thing can hap­pen in pol­i­tics.

Mr. Trump may not seek re-elec­tion or could be­come as un­pop­u­lar as Lyn­don Johnson.

War or eco­nomic de­pres­sion could over­shadow pol­i­tics. The Democrats could find a charis­matic can­di­date like Barack Obama who could win on per­sonal pop­u­lar­ity.

None­the­less, if in 2020 Democrats go hard left as they did in 1972, then they will likely lose just as big.


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