Rhyming with 1972

by | Feb 19, 2020 | 2020 elections, Editor's Blog | 16 comments

In poll after poll, Bernie Sanders is surging, Joe Biden is tanking and Mike Bloomberg is filling the gap. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight predicts that Sanders will sweep up enough delegates by Super Tuesday to have an insurmountable lead. I’m trying to get my head around a Sanders nomination. Right now, it’s just depressing. 

As a friend of mine says, we’ve been in this movie before. At a time of great social upheaval, the vanguard of change convinces itself and enough left-leaning Democrats that the country is ready for a virtual revolution. Back in 1968, they lined up behind Eugene McCarthy, storming the Democratic convention and leaving the party divided and torn. The result was Richard Nixon. Four years later, convinced that Democrats lost because 1968 nominee, Hubert Humphrey, was too much of a moderate, they nominated George McGovern, an anti-war Senator who promised to offer amnesty for draft dodgers and a guaranteed minimum income. 

Like Sanders, McGovern excited and motivated young activists. His campaign inspired a generation of young people who would shape the Democratic Party for the next thirty years. Gary Hart was his campaign manager. Bill Clinton ran Texas. Many of the consultants who ran campaigns during the 1980s and 1990s got their start working for McGovern. 

Support for McGovern was fueled partially by anger at a Democratic establishment that had not adequately embraced the social change that was happening in the nation. Unfortunately, neither had much of the country. Blue-collar voters who supported McGovern during the primaries abandoned him as they learned more about his more liberal positions on cultural issues. In the end, McGovern lost in the largest landslide in modern political history, winning only the District of Columbia. 

As the saying goes, history doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes. This year feels like it’s rhyming with 1972. We have a deeply immoral man in the White House who harbors authoritarian instincts running for re-election. The Republican Party has embraced him despite his obvious ethical flaws. 

On the Democratic side, the establishment frontrunner is collapsing as the primaries start, not unlike Edmund Muskie in 1972. The moderate candidates, Muskie, Hubert Humphrey and Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, split the vote, giving McGovern a clear lead in delegates heading into the convention. Similarly, the relative strength of Biden, Bloomberg, Buttigieg and Klobuchar is preventing the centrists from coalescing around one candidate to challenge Sanders.

Back in 1972, the young anti-war and civil rights activists interpreted the public support for their causes as a broad demand for social and economic change. Today, as we re-examine and reinterpret our racial history, embrace LGBT rights, acknowledge the truth of the #MeToo movement  and watch the courage of the #NeverAgain survivors, young activists believe the nation is ready for a political revolution that will end economic and cultural inequality. For them, Bernie Sanders is the leader of that movement and in the reinforcing bubble of social media, they believe a majority of the country is with them. I hope they’re right but I don’t think they are.

Despite all of the media attention and the hype of the presidential primary, most voters didn’t know much about George McGovern when he was nominated. They don’t know much about Bernie Sanders yet, either. Between the convention in 1972 and election day, Richard Nixon used McGovern’s own positions against him. In the fall of this year, you can bet Donald Trump will do the same to Sanders if he’s the nominee. What crushed McGovern is that his positions really were out of sync with most middle class and working class voters. What will crush Sanders is that his positions are, too and the GOP will use his own words against him.


  1. JD Wilson

    I understand how folks feel with all of our attention on the frontrunners from both Parties. Sadly, we have a dual problem in the USA that affects national voting outcomes, and unfortunately doesn’t get a lot of our attention. #1) we have far too many eligible voters who stay home during the Election, either the early voting period or the “day of”, and #2) we have far too many voters who somehow find the President Box and check it, then, turn in their ballot with all the down-ballot choices left empty. I, for one, would sure hate not taking the Senate away from Mitch’s claws. Let’s not forget that whoever is the next President, that person will need a Government to work along with them, as well as having the ability (and using that ability) to keep the POTUS accountable and “in check” wherever and whenever that needs to happen in the future of our great Nation.

  2. Bobby Padgett

    If you are going to post yet another anti-Bernie scare piece, get your facts straight. McGovern won Massachusetts and DC. The biggest electoral college was loss for the Dems was 1984 when Carter’s VP Mondale only won Minnesota and DC. In terms of popular vote, LBJ holds the record for the biggest win with 61.1% in the wake of the JFK assassination.

    The worst ever GOP performance was Alf Landon in 1936 who took Vermont and Maine for 8 votes while FDR got 60.8% of the popular vote. McGovern’s loss by 18 million votes was the largest margin of victory for the GOP. There is the landslide, not your claim of only winning DC.

    I supported Sanders as the anti-Hilllary in 2016. Had the Party nominated anyone except for her Trump would have been a bad joke. This time I want anyone but Sanders, but like in 2016 if he is the nominee I will hold my nose and vote for him, because the other option is not only unpalatable, but unconscionable.

    • Tom

      If plurality of delegates determined outcome of nominations Wilson, Lincoln, FDR, etc would never have been President. Crazy.

  3. Bridget Rosenstock

    Our 14-year-old grandson summed it up watching the free-for-all debate: “We’re doomed”.

  4. Kimball Royster

    The one thing we really cannot survive as a nation is 4 more years of a disruptive, angry old white man–Trump or Sanders

  5. Jim Parker

    McGovern won Massachusetts as well as the District of Columbia.

  6. Adam Tebrugge

    Terrible analysis Thomas. McGovern was 50 years and an ocean of demographics ago. Senator Sanders is the only candidate who can put together the massive amount of support needed to win. Too bad you hate him so much that you are willing to torpedo his campaign.

  7. Monica Neil

    Have you so much as gone to the Berny Sanders website and checked out his positions? I highly doubt it because if you did you would understand that his ideas are not out of sync with the majority of Americans. You are looking at this as though it was a repeat of the 1972 election but it’s not. This is a repeat of the 1933 election. Fascism had a grip on our country, those fascist Republicans would not do anything to help the masses of hungry, homeless and underpaid workers. Then someone stepped out of the crowd and said that he had a better way of doing things. That he could put the government back in the hands of the people if they were willing to do the legwork. The Republicans called him a Socialist. They called Social Security and Medicare Socialist. We are at a tipping point where we need to choose Fascism or Socialism. I’m afraid that if we choose Fascism one more time, we will never have to worry about who to elect again.

    • Kathy

      There are a ton of people who will not vote AT ALL is Bernie or Elizabeth win the nomination. Just like Bernie’s supporters did not vote when he wasn’t nominated. The result? 4 more years of Trump.
      Sanders can not/will not beat Trump. Doesn’t matter if you believe every word that old man utters.

      • cocodog

        Yes Kathy they will not vote, not for the reason their ideal candidate failed to make the cut, but they personally do not give a dam as to who sits in the oval office. These pathetic folks fail to grasp the notion Trump is not working for this country, he is just in it to enlarge his personal fortune and build his ego.

    • Rod Lee

      Monica, if 2020 feels like the Great Depression to you, I question how much you know about the economy of that period. Name calling may make headlines, but, as Bill Clinton recognized, the economic conditions have a lot more to do with who wins elections.

  8. Frank Stroupe

    I agree, Trump is worried about Biden certaintly not Sanders. No way Sanders can beat Trump.

  9. margaretc2014

    You terrify me. but I can’t say you’re wrong.

  10. Daryl Bowman

    I agree. The self proclaimed socialist is not even a member of the Democratic Party! At least join the party if you want to be it’s nominee!

    • Rick High

      I agree with Daryl. How can A Democrat vote for someone who will not join the party? I have contacted his organization every time they have solicited money and the only answer I get is “he votes with the Democrats”. When he joins the party, I will consider voting for him.

      • cocodog

        Sanders is a “Social Democrat”. But what party label he wears should not be the big concern. The big concern is getting rid of Trump and his crime family. Socialism is currently part of America. Social Security, Medicare, Fire and Police protection, postal services started by that old socialist Ben Franklin, City provided water and trash service are among the more obvious examples. Sanders is very much a part of the party.

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