Trump’s voter appeal echoes campaigns of George Wallace
Atlanta – — One presidential candidate pledged to “Stand up for America.” Two generations later, another promises to “Make America Great Again.” Their common denominator: convincing certain Americans that their version of the United States is under threat.
Donald Trump, leader for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, has never said he’s following the playbook of Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who achieved national stature on his promise of “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever,” then made four failed bids for the White House from 1964 to 1976.
Instead, Trump invokes the anger of “the silent majority,” a phrase he’s resurrected from the era of Wallace and President Richard Nixon, who won in 1968 and 1972 in part by co-opting Wallace’s racially charged populism.
Trump detractors hear more than a faint echo of Wallace in Trump’s anti-establishment mix of economic protectionism and blunt nativism, and they note that the brash billionaire, like Wallace, has drawn similar results in the campaign: tense rallies that often involve violent clashes among protesters, police and the candidate’s supporters.
“Trump is taking his campaign straight to the haters, and he’s gotten the roots of that old Wallace crowd,” says Joe Reed, a black Democratic Party broker in Alabama who came to know the four-term governor toward the end of his life, when he had abandoned his segregationist positions, long after a would-be assassin left him paralyzed.
The comparison offends Trump backers. “George Wallace was a racist,” said Debbie Dooley, a national tea party leader. “It’s totally ridiculous for anybody to think the same about Donald Trump.”
Trump denies he is playing to racism or xenophobia. His supporters “aren’t angry people,” he says, just frustrated “about the way the country is being run.”
“What are we looking for, OK, all of us?” Trump asked after declaring that families, jobs, homes and health care face existential threats. “We’re looking for security. We’re looking for safety. We’re looking for family, and taking care of our family, right?”
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