“[If] any protesters lie down in from of my automobile, it’ll be the very last time they lie down in front of anything.” – Not Donald Trump, yet
As Trump-ist as the quote above seem, it is nearly 50 years old, pronounced during the 1968 Presidential Campaign by George Wallace, another long shot candidate inexplicably seeking the position “Leader of the Free World” from a political platform consisting purely of unapologetic racism and his own over-inflated ego. Wallace served as the Governor of Alabama more than 16 years (four terms – the third longest tenure in a state governorship since the ratification of the Constitution) and ran for President in 1964, 1968, 1972, and 1976. While officially a Democrat, Wallace’s platform of pro-segregation and strict social conservatism owed much of its support to those on the far right and from the Deep South. After failing to win the Democratic nomination in ’64 and failing to pick up any steam in the ’68 nomination process, Wallace created the American Independent Party to run as a third-party candidate against eventual Republican nominee Richard Nixon and Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey in the ’68 general election.
Wallace became infamous for his bombastic remarks even before political correctness became a concern of office-seekers everywhere. During campaign stops, his race baiting rhetoric and blatant demagogy led to clashes between his supporters and opponents, sometimes escalating to confrontations requiring police intervention. His speeches were laced with racist comments like, “They’re building a bridge over the Potomac for all the white liberals fleeing to Virginia,” and angry retorts to hippie protesters such as, “The only four-letter words hippies don’t know are work and soap.” After Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, Wallace’s campaign tapped into white voters’ fear that law and order throughout the country was breaking down and only his personal toughness and bravado could prevent the country from descending into anarchy. In the chaos of anti-war protests (notoriously the riot outside of the Democratic Party’s nominating convention in Chicago), assassinations of political figures (Bobby Kennedy was killed the same year as MLK Jr.), and growing racial tension across the nation, George Wallace stood in the middle peddling barefaced racism and espousing the belief that the nation’s problems should be laid at the feet of the weak Johnson administration, racial minorities, and the progressive left. Wallace was so isolated from the political establishment during the election of 1968 that he could not convince any member of Congress to break with their party to serve as his running mate, eventually settling on a former Air Force general named Curtis LeMay.
Does any of this sound familiar? With a few quick edits, we can easily adapt the paragraph for Donald Trump’s presidential bid:
[Trump] became infamous for his bombastic remarks even [despite] political correctness [becoming] a concern of office-seekers everywhere. During campaign stops, his race baiting rhetoric and blatant demagogy led to clashes between his supporters and opponents, sometimes escalating to confrontations requiring police intervention. His speeches were laced with racist comments like, [“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people,”] and angry retorts to [critics] such as, [Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest – and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure, it’s not your fault.”] [In 2015], [Trump’s] campaign tapped into white voters’ fear that law and order was breaking down and only his personal toughness and bravado would prevent the country from descending into anarchy. In the chaos of [perceived threats to Americans from ISIS and other terrorist organizations abroad], [widespread protests against police brutality and incidents of domestic terrorism], and growing [racial and religious] tension across the nation, [Donald Trump] stood in the middle peddling barefaced racism and espousing the belief that the nation’s problems should be laid at the feet of the weak [Obama] administration, racial minorities, and the progressive left. [Trump] was so isolated from the political establishment during the election of  that he [boycotted the final GOP debate before the Iowa caucus, hosted by the conservative-friendly network FoxNews.]
Had you not read the above paragraph about George Wallace first, there would no reason to not believe it was originally written about Donald Trump’s 2016 Presidential bid instead of George Wallace’s 1968 Presidential bid. America and its people have changed many ways in the last 50 years, but fear and prejudice will always be available as tools of the firebrand politician.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two campaigns is that Trump fully expects to be elected, whereas Wallace, even during his campaign, admitted that he had little chance of winning the presidency outright. Instead, he hoped to prevent both conventional candidates (Nixon and Humphrey) from reaching the 270 required number of Electoral College votes for either to claim victory. In such a case, the House of Representatives would decide the winner of the election and Wallace was positioned to have a much greater influence in the House’s deliberations than he could ever have had in the general election.
Ultimately, Wallace’s strategy failed when Nixon destroyed Humphrey in the Electoral College 301-191, but his campaign did become the most successful third-party presidential candidate in the history of the United States by carrying 5 states in the Deep South (Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, and his home state of Alabama), earning 46 of the 538 Electoral College electors, and nearly 10 million votes. While Trump has vowed not to run as a third-party candidate if he fails to win the Republican Party’s nomination, he has since backtracked on those comments. Honestly, would anyone be surprised if he created his own political party to run as Wallace did? That seems so Trump that I would be shocked if there wasn’t a Trump is a Winner political party discreetly collecting signatures in key battleground states right now. A few defeats at the early Republican caucuses in 2016 and Trump could be following Wallace’s example in 1964 as the nominated candidate of a party created by the nominated candidate.
Consider this: only 50 years ago, nearly 10 million people voted for a man who actively promoted racial segregation with the campaign slogan, “Stand Up for America.” With that in mind, consider the reaction 50 years from now when the next generation looks back on Trump’s crusade to, “Make America Great Again.” Nothing leads me to believe that the reaction will be any different and the reasonable, intelligent human beings among us should assign the same disgust we hold for George Wallace’s policies to Donald Trump’s farcical campaign. The next generation will certainly ascribe an identical sentiment to both men.
One of my favorite quotes, usually attributed to Mark Twain, “History may not repeat itself, but it often rhymes,” was the initial thread that led to this comparison between Wallace and Trump. The similarity between both men’s rhetoric and style is as simple as it is striking: both are nontraditional candidates largely disowned by their parties because of their agitating and radical political positions. Both cover their policies’ shortcomings with bluster and a tough guy image. Both antagonize and capitalize on a fraction of the white majority’s prejudices and fears. If Twain’s quip holds true, both will be rejected by mainstream voters and end up a footnote in American political history. Here’s hoping.
Update (11/8/2016): Donald Trump was elected president tonight. It appears our morality may have regressed since the time of George Wallace.