Since comparisons keep coming up to the 1968 election, especially the civil war among the Democrats, it's worth looking at who the major players were back then and who their modern counterparts are.
President Johnson was pulled aside by the Establishment and told that he would not be running for re-election, because his escalation of the Vietnam War and cracking down on students was threatening to blow the society apart. The elites wanted the social tensions to calm down, and Johnson couldn't stop himself from antagonizing them further. So he was out.
His VP, Hubert Humphrey, was the Establishment next-in-line. His counterpart today is the next-in-line of the Establishment bigwigs, Crooked Hillary Clinton.
Robert Kennedy was making a play for the white ethnics, immigrants, and minorities, before he was assassinated during the primaries. That faction of the old New Deal coalition has by now been thoroughly integrated into the Establishment wing. Martin O'Malley was attempting to present himself as a latter-day Bobby Kennedy, but since Kennedy's base is no longer a distinct faction of the party, O'Malley had no distinct audience to appeal to, and quickly vanished.
Eugene McCarthy represented the progressive peacenik wing, mostly popular with young people, and his counterpart is clearly Bernie Sanders.
George Wallace actually broke away from the Democrats and ran on a third-party ticket, though representing a key faction of the old New Deal coalition -- white Southerners. That demographic has left the Democrats, and so his present-day incarnation -- Jim Webb -- had no one to appeal to, and left as quickly as O'Malley.
And yet when we step back and take a look at how the contest between Hillary and Bernie has played out, perhaps the spirit of George Wallace lives on in the Bernie phenomenon after all. Not by advocating segregation, of course, but by nevertheless wanting to make national parties focus on something more important than minority identity politics.
Everyone knows how white the Bernie movement is, and how reliant Crooked Hillary has been on minorities -- particularly blacks, who have deep roots in the party, back to the '60s, unlike Hispanics or Asians, who have shallow roots, are not loyalists, and not gung-ho at the ballot box. That percolated up to the state level, where white states went to Bernie and black or minority-heavy states went to Hillary. And that has percolated further up to the national level -- the Democrats' electorate is more minority-based than the country as a whole, so the winner overall was Hillary.
The disconnect between white progressives and black Democrat loyalists is nothing new, and rears its head every time a progressive movement shows up, the last time being Nader in 2000. This time around, though, it was big news because the white progressives attempted a hostile takeover of a major party rather than run third-party and be invisible.
This recent article from Politico by a black Southern Democrat loyalist discusses the racial rift in the party. At the root of the problem is white progressives wanting to reduce racial injustice to class / economic injustice, or at most talking about criminal justice reform. They don't get identity politics ("what it's like to live as a black man in America"), and aren't interested in trying to get it.
During the New Deal era, these would have simply been two factions that didn't address the same problems but still co-existed within the larger party's coalition. Once the working class was kicked out during the status-striving and profiteering era (no later than the Go-Go Eighties), the progressives were no longer a full-fledged member of the party's coalition. Today, therefore, they have no standing to push for their agenda at the national level. The black faction has nothing to do one way or the other with Wall Street, corporate monopolization, etc., so they were allowed to stay in the coalition. Today, they do have standing to push for their racial identity politics agenda.
Normally progressives are left out in the cold by both Democrats and Republicans, and remain depressed and apathetic. That's changing, though, now that they've tasted national recognition, participation, and come so close to actually securing the nomination (in their minds, anyway -- the superdelegates would have over-ridden a Bernie victory in pledged delegates).
What was the biggest obstacle in their path? Not the Wall Street donors to Crooked Hillary, or her sprawling political machine, although those certainly paved the way. The Trump movement's hostile takeover of the GOP faced the same obstacles -- fueling even more competitors, in fact -- and yet he won big-league.
At the end of the Dem race, however, Bernie still lost in the popular vote, pledged delegate count, and state contests. And those losses all boil down to the racial composition of the Dem electorate. Trump appealed to an almost entirely white electorate, so his populist campaign took off and won victories so overwhelming that the Establishment could not over-rule his voters without setting off a bloody revolution.
Every time Bernie lost a diverse state, his supporters flipped out and came this close to blurting out, "Fucking niggers again". But that would make them evil racists, so they just bit their tongue and waited eagerly for the next whitopia state to cast its vote.
What has this done to their long-term vision of politics? Twenty-four hours a day for the past six months, they've been dreading when black people vote, and praying and celebrating when a lily-white electorate votes. Black voters sink progressivism, while white voters keep it afloat. Whether they want to admit it publicly or not, no level of "intersectional outreach" is going to bring more than a small share of the entire black voting pool over to their side.
Worse than failing to bridge the gap, they are getting mercilessly clobbered by the Establishment politicians and their media propaganda outlets -- from the lowliest troll repping Black Twitter, all the way up to the President himself. Right up until Election Day, they're going to be subjected to non-stop attacks about, "Sit cho white azz down an check yo' pribbalege, honkey-azz progressive cracka."
I can't imagine that the Sanders supporters will remain as committed to "intersectional" politics after this experience, especially those who are new to elections and are getting blind-sided by the reality of who the base of the Democratic Party is, and what they're all about (not class).
So in its own way, the Bernie phenomenon is a mix of both the Eugene McCarthy and the George Wallace wings of the 1960s-era Democrats. Anti-war, yay -- black grievance, nay.
Let's end with a fun little speculation about what it would look like if Bernie grew a pair and ran as an independent in the fall, representing a progressive movement distinct from both Clinton and Trump.
Like George Wallace, Bernie's support would be highly localized around the country, unlike Ross Perot whose message resonated everywhere -- though not at a high enough level to win any state. Wallace's message resonated in the Deep South, where he won 5 states and 46 electoral votes. Bernie's "who cares about black grievances?" message would resonate in several key areas, which also showed the highest support for Nader in 2000.
The map below is my projection for a general election between Trump, Hillary, and Bernie, where Trump keeps the Romney states and adds a few swing states for a narrow victory. In reality, he'll enjoy a much larger victory, but let's keep the tension high by only allowing a narrow victory. The projections are based on primary results in 2016, as well as historic electoral outcomes for progressive parties.
Bernie would win several states in peripheral New England -- the non-elite states of Vermont, Maine, and Rhode Island. He would pick up the Lutheran Belt states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. He would do well with Mountain State hippies, although there are only a large enough concentration of them in one state for him to win -- Colorado. Finally he would scoop up the Pacific Northwest states of Washington and Oregon.
I've given California to Hillary to be conservative, but in a three-way contest between her, Trump, and Bernie, I'd give even odds to each one of them.
Without California, Bernie would win 9 states and 65 electoral votes. With it, 10 states and 120 votes. Either way, an even stronger performance than Wallace in '68, the last time a third-party candidate won anything.
A cynic looking for an excuse would complain about "What's the point if he can't win the entire election?" Well, if he wants progressive causes represented in the next administration, a solid showing in the general election would be hard to ignore. In fact, if he did eke out a win in the three-way battle for California, his electoral vote count would be almost as much as Clinton's -- 120 to her 145. Suddenly the progressive movement would not look and feel so marginal.
The wimpy cynic would continue with the excuse about how "A third-party run would hand the election to Trump." First of all -- Trump is going to win this thing no matter who else does or does not run against him, just as Nixon would have won in '68 whether or not Wallace's electoral votes went back to the Democrats who normally won the Deep South. Wallace did not eat into traditional Republican states of the time, and Bernie would not eat into the red states of today.
I'm being generous in only giving Trump the Romney states plus Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida, to squeak by with 273 electoral votes. Whether Crooked Hillary wins all of the remaining minority of the electoral votes in the absence of Bernie, or splits them nearly evenly with Bernie, makes no difference for who's got the majority and is heading to the White House.
The progressives had better get used to President Trump. Turnout is off the charts for Republicans, and deflated for Democrats. If they sadly line up behind the Wall Street warhawk, merely because "she's not Donald Trump," that will be the wasted vote. Instead, their choice is between voting for a losing candidate they loathe, or a losing candidate they love.
I voted Nader in 2000, so the choice seems like a no-brainer to me. Luckily this time I've got a superior populist and non-interventionist candidate to vote for -- President Trump -- but if he had not entered the race, and it were Clinton vs. Bush: The Resurrection, there's little doubt I would have voted for Bernie in the primary as well as the general (write-in, independent, or whatever).