Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Will 2020 Be Another 1972 for Democrats?

by Victor Davis Hanson//National Review

Going hard to the left was the wrong lesson to learn from their narrow loss in 1968, and they could repeat the mistake.

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 Senator Robert F. Kennedy and civil-rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. Lyndon Johnson’s unpopular lame-duck Democratic administration imploded because of 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 prime-time 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 twelve 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 senator 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 governor Ronald Reagan and commentator William F. Buckley Jr. as right-wing 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 reelected with over 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 reelection never followed the far-left trajectory of McGovern.

Democrats would remain out of the White House until 1976, when Jimmy Carter ran a winning Humphrey-like campaign as a centrist populist outsider from the South.

Will 2020 end up like 1972 for Democrats?

So far, the similarities are eerie.

Hillary Clinton lost the election but won the popular vote over Trump. Had she campaigned more in the so-called blue-wall states of the Rust Belt and Midwest, and not stupidly labeled a quarter of the country “irredeemable” and “deplorable,” Clinton might 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 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.

Trump might not seek reelection, or he could become as unpopular as Lyndon Johnson.

War or economic depression could overshadow politics.

The Democrats could find a charismatic candidate like Obama who could win on personal popularity.
Nonetheless, if in 2020 Democrats go hard-left as they did in 1972, then they will probably lose just as big.

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About victorhanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture. He recently published an historical novel The End of Sparta (2012), a realistic retelling of Epaminondas invasion and liberation of Spartan-control Messenia. In The Father of Us All (2011), he collected earlier essays on warfare ancient and modern. His upcoming history The Savior Generals(2013) analyzes how five generals in the history of the West changed the course of battles against all odds. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin. Hanson has been a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California (1992-93), a visiting professor of classics at Stanford University (1991-92), a recipient of the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002), an Alexander Onassis Fellow (2001), and was named alumnus of the year of the University of California, Santa Cruz (2002). He was also the visiting Shifrin Professor of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland (2002-3). He received the Manhattan Institute’s Wriston Lectureship in 2004, and the 2006 Nimitz Lectureship in Military History at UC Berkeley in 2006. Hanson is the author of hundreds of articles, book reviews, scholarly papers, and newspaper editorials on matters ranging from ancient Greek, agrarian and military history to foreign affairs, domestic politics, and contemporary culture. He has written or edited 17 books, including Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece (1983; paperback ed. University of California Press, 1998); The Western Way of War (Alfred Knopf, 1989; 2d paperback ed. University of California Press, 2000); Hoplites: The Ancient Greek Battle Experience (Routledge, 1991; paperback., 1992); The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization(Free Press, 1995; 2nd paperback ed., University of California Press, 2000);Fields without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea (Free Press, 1996; paperback, Touchstone, 1997; The Bay Area Book reviewers Non-fiction winner for 1996); The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer (Free Press, 2000; a Los Angeles Times Notable book of the year); The Wars of the Ancient Greeks (Cassell, 1999; paperback, 2001); The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999, paperback, Anchor/Vintage, 2000); Carnage and Culture (Doubleday, 2001; Anchor/Vintage, 2002; a New York Times bestseller); An Autumn of War (Anchor/Vintage, 2002); Mexifornia: A State of Becoming (Encounter, 2003),Ripples of Battle (Doubleday, 2003), and Between War and Peace (Random House, 2004). A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, was published by Random House in October 2005. It was named one of the New York Times Notable 100 Books of 2006. Hanson coauthored, with John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (Free Press, 1998; paperback, Encounter Press, 2000); with Bruce Thornton and John Heath, Bonfire of the Humanities (ISI Books, 2001); and with Heather MacDonald, and Steven Malanga, The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s (Ivan Dee 2007). He edited a collection of essays on ancient warfare, Makers of Ancient Strategy (Princeton University Press, 2010). Hanson has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, New York Post, National Review, Washington Times, Commentary, The Washington Post, Claremont Review of Books, American Heritage, New Criterion, Policy Review, Wilson Quarterly, Weekly Standard, Daily Telegraph, and has been interviewed often on National Public Radio, PBS Newshour, Fox News, CNN, and C-Span’s Book TV and In-Depth. He serves on the editorial board of the Military History Quarterly, and City Journal. Since 2001, Hanson has written a weekly column for National Review Online, and in 2004, began his weekly syndicated column for Tribune Media Services. In 2006, he also began thrice-weekly blog for Pajamas Media, Works and Days. Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz (BA, Classics, 1975, ‘highest honors’ Classics, ‘college honors’, Cowell College), the American School of Classical Studies, Athens (regular member, 1978-79) and received his Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University in 1980. He divides his time between his forty-acre tree and vine farm near Selma, California, where he was born in 1953, and the Stanford campus.

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