Wallace Trumped Cruz

George Wallace & Lyndon Johnson, 1965
George Wallace & Lyndon Johnson, 1965

For anyone familiar with Dan Carter’s The Politics of Rage, this election cycle, while rife with randomness, the tenor of this election cycle has been far from unpredictable.

Starting in the early 1960s and arguably reaching into the late 70s, George Wallace and his horde of out of control, states’ rights social warriors were a necessary part of building any coalition for Democrats.

The Democrats had made a deal with the devil, and the voters they kept in their folds in order to maintain a national majority made sure to remind them of that at every state committee meeting, during every southern legislative session.

As the Civil Rights movement became more acceptable to middle America than massive resistance, there was a shift of power in the Democratic Party. In short, a new coalition of Southern Civil Rights progressives, both liberal and conservative, and New England New Deal Democrats side-lined and eventually booted Wallace’s unruly bunch.

The Republicans had been courting Wallace voters since before Nixon’s Southern Strategy, but they had yet to trade in their bullhorn for a dog-whistle. Once they figured out how to work a dog whistle, the volatile southern malcontents were their problem.

Many, citing a tired and overused Lyndon Johnson quote, look back at the Democrats’ decision to purge the Wallace voters as the beginning of the conservative revolution: the first mistake of the Democrats leading to the rise of the Reagan’s coalition, and thrusting Democrats into the wilderness for generations.

Today, the Indiana Republican Primary will lay to rest that notion; Johnson’s decision to purge the Wallace faction from the party by validating the civil rights movement, which has long been morally vindicated, will also be politically vindicated. The descendants of the Southern civil rights Democrats, both black and white, and New England liberals, who orchestrated that purge should watch closely this evening. Not as an act schadenfreude, but to finally understand why, politically and not just morally, Johnson had to act.

For a century Democrats courted the dark side of politics, a populism based on receiving more than your fellow man because based on something arbitrary like skin color, faith, or gender. Democrats took it to the brink, and then backed off.

Moderates in the Republican Party have longed warned of this day. They saw day the Wallace voters would trump the national sentiment the second they started courting them. They warned Cruz and the Tea Party that what they were creating was unable to be put back in the box once let out.

They were right. The Wallace-like populism Ted Cruz has nurtured to power will be used against him tonight as he is devoured by Trump. For years, Cruz and the likes of him have enraged voters over arbitrary and false notions of inequity, just as Wallace did. Just as Wallace before him, he scared them.

But, he didn’t back off when it got to the brink. And it’s going to destroy him. He will lose tonight, and not because of liberals. Conservative voters, acting on the fear that he nurtured will reject him, thus effectively ending his Presidential bid. Because, just as it was with Wallace, it never was about liberty, or small government, or nullification. It was never about immigrants taking American jobs, the rise of secularism, or the death of American Exceptionalism.

It was about taking advantage of people’s fear in order to rise to power.

But a scared person is not a rational person. Cruz and his cohorts scared conservatives. And Trump, seeing opportunity, came in with a bigger gun to protect them.

So, tonight, as we watch the ghost of George Wallace be used to trump Cruz, it’s terribly important for the country that the voices of reason in the party of Bob Dole and Ronald Reagan look not to the bastions of their party for answers, but also to Lyndon Johnson.


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