Reboots are all the rage in Hollywood these days, and also in politics it seems. There’s something familiar about a Democratic nomination contest featuring a former Vice President trying to fend off a challenge from a far left Senator who enjoys the enthusiastic backing of the frenzied left for the privilege of facing off against a Republican incumbent that Democrats loathe with the intensity of a thousand white hot suns. Oh yeah—that was 1972, when the George McGovern insurgency ended Hubert Humphrey’s presidential ambitions.
There are some lessons to be learned from that long ago contest, including how the party establishment was unable to stop McGovern, partly because McGovern had helped write the new rules after the 1968 cycle that decimated the power of party bosses. Among other things, McGovern actually polled fairly well against Nixon—until he actually secured the nomination and the one-on-one contest revealed his flaws. As late as May, several polls showed McGovern within 5 points of Nixon. But on election day, Nixon won 60 percent of the popular vote and 49 states. This is one reason why current polls showing Sanders running strongly against Trump don’t much impress me.
It is always important to look beyond the mere percentage of votes a candidate gets in primaries to the more crucial question of how many delegates they win in the process. As late as mid-May 1972, Humphrey had actually received more primary votes than McGovern—2.6 million to McGovern’s 2.1 million—but McGovern had racked up more delegates because of superior organization and command of the delegate apportionment rules. With Bernie’s huge cash advantage right now, unless his campaign is completely inept (possible, since he’s a socialist) I suspect they are very well organized to capture delegates. I’m actually getting lots of text messages from Bernie’s campaign (see below), though for some reason they think I’m “Tasha.” (Maybe they’re jumping the gun, and giving me my new name after herding me into the gender reassignment camps they’ll set up after they win?) If they have the money and staff to be sending texts to me, I’m guessing they are reaching every potential Bernie voter out there. The irony is I might vote for Bernie in the primary: Operation Chaos and all that. I’d be curious, by the way, to find out whether many other Power Line readers are also getting texts from Bernie Bros. Let us know in a comment thread here perhaps.
As I mentioned in my item here Tuesday, Bernie is well positioned to capture a large share of delegates in the California primary, because delegates are awarded partly congressional district by district as well as to the statewide winner, meaning if your vote is widely distributed you do very well. Sort of like the electoral college—snort! Once again, McGovern’s primary victory in California in June 1972, which sealed the nomination for him, reminds us that the class divide in the Democratic Party—that is, leftism as a fashion statement of the affluent and overeducated—goes back decades. Humphrey vigorously attacked McGovern’s tax increase proposals that sound like Sanders and Warren today as “confiscatory” (he was right about this), but McGovern ran very strong in Beverly Hills and other affluent west side LA neighborhoods, while Humphrey trounced McGovern by more than two-to-one in older downscale working class neighborhoods in places like Long Beach and La Habra.
It wasn’t until after McGovern sealed the nomination that the media began to give him closer scrutiny. We’ll see whether the media gives the same kind of treatment to Sanders, but here’s a sample of what McGovern got: Time magazine called McGovern’s proposals “A radical economic scheme reminiscent of the days when Huey Long promised to make ‘every man a king.’” The New Republic said McGovern’s program “is notable neither for logical consistency nor irresistible political appeal.” The Washington Post’s Nicholas von Hoffman called McGovern’s welfare ideas “horrendous,” “a pernicious extension of the power of the state.” The business community was sounding the alarm; the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped sharply the day after McGovern won the California primary, and the financial community started warning of a “McGovern market.” Time came back for another bite two weeks after its “Huey Long” comment, calculating that McGovern’s proposals for expanded welfare, universal government health care, and other social programs would cost a staggering $165 billion a year (at a time when the total federal budget was still about $250 billion a year), requiring massive tax increases that no one thought realistic, including McGovern himself. (Time was even more emphatic about McGovern’s defense and foreign policy proposals: “But the net effect of McGovern in the White House would likely be that the U.S. would be living more dangerously.”)
By the way, one of McGovern’s delegates from California in 1972 was actress Shirley MacLaine, who remarked that the California delegation “looked like a couple of high schools, a grape boycott, a Black Panther rally, and four or five politicians who walked in the wrong door.” And the roll call vote at the Democratic convention was conducted in random order of the states, so as not to discriminate on the basis of alphabetic order. As I say, things haven’t changed that much. In his campaign chronicle of that election, Theodore White wrote that “There would be a permanent residue of the McGovern campaign.” That residue has hardened into today’s Democratic Party.
Meanwhile, my Bernie text threads:
Wish I had had the quick wit to think of this response: