Washington Monthly - September/October 2016 - 119

ON POLITICAL BOOKS grim misnomer for the broken candidate of a broken party. Democrats were not, of course, divided just by left and center-left differences of opinion over Vietnam: the southern wing of the party was ultimately devastated by the third-party candidacy of George Wallace, who had four years earlier shown his potential national appeal in surprisingly strong primary performances in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Maryland. Cohen's take on Wallace is one of the best features of a very good book, and helpful in understanding the otherwise shocking appeal of Donald Trump. Yes, racial grievances-in the South against desegregation, and in the North against riots and open housing legislation-were never far from the surface in Wallace's campaign. But it's not accurate to say he and his supporters were simply to the right of the GOP: A majority of his backers identified themselves as Democrats and were far more likely to be supportive of government spending than traditional conservative voters. They just preferred the kind of spending that benefited them. When the American Independent Party issued its platform in October 1968, it called for greater government engagement in nearly every other facet of American life: more job training for "all Americans willing and able to seek and hold gainful employment; more federal monies for transportation, education, and even the space program; a significant increase in Social Security benefits; and more support for elderly health care." The white working-class voters who gravitated to Wallace are in many respects ideological forebears of the white working-class voters showing up at Trump rallies today, where they are likewise treated to attacks on the "lying liberal news media" and occasional cathartic violence against the inevitable protesters. And those rallies were pretty much the sum and substance of Wallace's campaign, much like Trump's: The candidate, said one aide, was completely uninterested in the "nuts-andbolts" of campaign operations. . . . His advisors maintained tenuous control over the various state campaigns, many of which were stocked-in the words of [Wallace aide Tom] Turnipseed-by a "motley group of segregationists, Southern rednecks, Northern ethnics, John Birchers, corporate executives, right-wing kooks and assorted bigots." The campaign seemed to operate by the seat of its pants. . . . "An almost total lack of organization" defined the Wallace campaign. It's fascinating to speculate in retrospect what Wallace might have accomplished in 1968 or in 1972 with a major-party nomination in his hands, and horrifying to realize that a candidate so similar to him is in that position today. Richard Nixon famously became adept at coopting both Wallace's racial appeals and his selective appropriation of New Deal government activism on behalf of the white middle class. But his route to the 1968 nomination was imperiled by a pincers movement of old and new forces in the GOP. Having lost to Goldwater in the 1964 primaries, Nelson Rockefeller offered a restoration of what was then called "Eastern Seaboard" Republicanism in 1968 (though he hamstrung his own campaign by initially declining to run but then jumping back in after the primaries had begun). He was the spiritual godfather of every candidate in both parties who seeks to overcome ideological differences with the "base" with a naked "electability" argument. Having accumulated little goodwill from party leaders, Rockefeller relied instead on opinion polling to convince GOP delegates. He needed the numbers to show him not simply outperforming Nixon but also trouncing Humphrey by such a margin that Republicans would see nominating him as their only chance to win in November. A week before the convention, that strategy collapsed. A Gallup poll showing Nixon running ahead of Rockefeller against Humphrey came out just in time to help Nixon wrap up the nomination. But Nixon himself had to cut off a charge from the right among southern delegates attracted to last-minute candidate Ronald Reagan via a historic deal with Strom Thurmond that cast a long shadow over Nixon's vice presidential choice (Spiro Agnew, as a last resort after Thurmond ve- toes of more popular but Dixie-phobic prospects), civil rights policies, and Supreme Court appointments. Having won the GOP nomination against the twin perils of Rockefeller's electability and Reagan's ideologized charisma, Nixon hewed to a similar center path to the presidency, with Wallace's presence on the campaign trail making it possible for the Republicans to seem moderate on domestic and foreign policy issues. He won traditional GOP states, southern border states, and the swing states of California, Illinois, and Ohio, en route to a victory by a margin that was narrow in both the popular vote (0.7 percent) and the electoral college (301-191, just thirty-one more than a majority). He also had virtually no coattails, which fed Nixon's obsessive determination to win a decisive reelection victory in 1972, accompanied by the self-destructive hubris later known as Watergate. As Cohen notes, the 1968 Democratic performance was by any measure a calamity: "In 1964, [Humphrey] and Johnson won forty-three million votes and 61 percent of the popular vote. Four years later, nearly twelve million of those same voters abandoned Humphrey. . . . Forty percent of Johnson voters in 1964 cast a ballot for Nixon in 1968." The Democratic deficit of 1968 among white voters would persist and generally increase until the very present, along with Republicans losing an overwhelming percentage of minority voters. The exceptional partisan and ideological polarization of 1968 never entirely subsided, and cultural issues steadily became central instead of peripheral to presidential politics (particularly after the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion). The national consensus that so briefly appeared in 1964 has not returned, despite repeated false appearances in 1984, 1996, and 2008. The biggest shock is that the generational divisions and racial intolerance that created so many ugly images and memories in 1968 are back with a vengeance nearly a half century later, along with a dizzying sense that we have no idea what comes next. Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine's politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist. Washington Monthly 119

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