Dan T. Carter writes:
Donald J. Trump, reality television star and real estate mogul, is different in many ways from major political figures in our past. But there are striking similarities between Mr. Trump and George C. Wallace, the Deep South politician who ran for president each opportunity he got from 1964 through 1976. The connections between the two — their rhetoric and their ability to fire up crowds — give us a better sense of what Trumpism will mean once he is gone from the campaign stage. After all, political losers as well as winners can shape the future....Here's Wallace on Face the Nation.
What both share is the demagogue’s instinctive ability to tap into the fear and anger that regularly erupts in American politics.
Mr. Wallace’s 1963 inaugural address as governor of Alabama (“Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”) and his “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” that same year seemed to limit his role to that of a strictly regional figure, part of Dixie’s long tradition of racist politicians. His presidential candidacy in 1964 and surprising strength in Democratic primaries in Wisconsin, Indiana and Maryland did little to change that national image. In April 1967, when Mr. Wallace told a Syracuse, N.Y., audience that he had decided to run for president as a third-party candidate, the television networks ignored his announcement, as did most of the major newspapers.
But in 1968, against a backdrop of urban riots, a war in Vietnam that dragged on inconclusively, tumultuous antiwar demonstrations and the assassinations of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, a fiery Mr. Wallace began to draw interest across the nation; by September the crowds at his rallies rivaled those for his two main opponents, Richard M. Nixon and Hubert H. Humphrey. Mindful of his reputation as a defender of segregation, the Alabama governor avoided explicitly racist language. He was a pioneer in the use of code words to attack African-Americans while seldom mentioning race, instead condemning “asinine” school busing, the “bloc vote” and the “thugs” from America’s inner cities who supposedly stalked the nation’s streets.
Uncertain of what to make of the political upstart, the nation’s print media initially played down their coverage of Mr. Wallace rather “like parents who refuse to look when their child is doing something naughty for fear it might encourage him to show off,” in the words of one British journalist.
As his poll numbers rose from single digits in the spring to more than 20 percent by the fall, it was no longer possible to ignore Mr. Wallace, and the major newsmagazines and largest newspapers attacked him with a barrage of thinly veiled invective: He was “simplistic”; he had not “one constructive proposal to offer a troubled nation”; he sought “political profit in fear and hate.” Attacks by the mainstream media only strengthened his support. As one of Mr. Wallace’s followers told a newspaper reporter, “I could care less what Time magazine thinks; I only use it once a day in the outhouse.”...
On paper his speeches were stunningly disconnected, at times incoherent. But videotapes of those 1968 rallies captured a performance. A wild energy seemed to flow back and forth between Mr. Wallace and his audience as he called out their mutual enemies: bearded hippies, pornographers, sophisticated intellectuals who mocked God, traitorous anti-Vietnam War protesters, welfare bums, cowardly politicians and “pointy-head college professors who can’t even park a bicycle straight.”
For the television networks the spectacle became irresistible, particularly since rallies often erupted into violent chair-throwing confrontations between Mr. Wallace’s supporters and angry demonstrators. Hunter S. Thompson understood that George Wallace’s followers were not interested in position papers on banking regulations or the pros and cons of thermal energy. Watching the Alabama governor perform was awe-inspiring to the gonzo journalist, who likened the rallies to a Janis Joplin concert “in which the bastard had somehow levitated himself and was hovering over us.”...
George Wallace was never going to be president; neither is Donald Trump.
Wallace was shot in May 1972, during a year he sought the Democratic nomination for president,
President Richard Nixon went on to win re-election in a sweeping landslide that year against the weak Democratic candidate George McGovern.