Originally posted 2016-04-27 13:19:03. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Trump Should Learn Lesson

Wallace Got Too Late

Donald Trump might do well to research what happened in Pittsburgh in 1968. That was when a candidate with the same style and followers as Trump came here to announce his vice presidential running mate. It was, as George Wallace later lamented, a fiasco. He held a news conference here to introduce, or reintroduce, the man sometimes known as Bombs Away Lemay. Retired Air Force Gen. Curtis Lemay did everything to ensure the nickname would stick almost as soon as he started answering questions. Here’s a contemporary account from the L.A. Times:

“Lemay, joining Wallace’s campaign in Pittsburgh, said the world had a ‘phobia about nuclear weapons’ destroying the world.

To support his statement minimizing the effects of nuclear contamination, he talked extensively about a film made . . . at a U.S. nuclear testing site . . .

Lemay said the film showed that except for land crabs which were ‘still a little bit hot’ and rats that were ‘bigger, fatter and healthier than before,’  conditions had returned to ‘about the same’ on the ring of coral islands that were battered by 23 nuclear test explosions during the late 1940s and 1950s.”

Lemay went on to suggest he would favor using nuclear weapons rather than a “rusty knife” to end what seemed an endless war in Vietnam. Wallace’s eyes bugged out. He tried in vain to interrupt the general, then to explain and to deny. It is hard to talk when a general’s foot is in your mouth.

Gov. George Wallace can't believe what he's hearing as his running mate, retired Air Force Gen. Curtis Lemay, says people shouldn't be so scared of nuclear weapons.

Gov. George Wallace can’t believe what he’s hearing as his running mate, retired Air Force Gen. Curtis Lemay, says people shouldn’t be so scared of nuclear weapons.

After that, the campaign never moved beyond Wallace’s core supporters. All those who might have voted for Wallace because he seemed like he was one of them, now thought he was someone to keep away from the nuclear button.

It's February, 1968, in Pittsburgh. George Wallace, an ex-boxer, knows photographers like raised fists. He gives them what they want.

It’s February, 1968, in Pittsburgh. George Wallace, an ex-boxer, knows photographers like raised fists. He gives them what they want. See one of his campaign ads here.

Segregation Was the Goal

Unlike Trump, the straight-talking Southern segregationist did not expect to be elected President. He was a third party candidate, having created the American Independent Party. Wallace had every reason to think he could deny the Democrat and Republican candidates the electoral college votes needed for election.  He would force the House of Representatives to pick a President, and he would use his clout there to achieve his main goal: To end federal desegregation of the South. Before the Lemay debacle, things were going well for Wallace in the North and Midwest. An Associated Press account sounds very much like a day on the  Donald Trump’s campaign trail: “Wallace was given a screaming, foot-stomping reception by 8,000 supporters in Pittsburgh s Civic Arena, which borders on the city’s biggest Negro ghetto. A group of 200 hecklers in the balcony chanted ‘Wallace Go Home! Wallace Go Home!’ throughout the speech. Once, Wallace walked away from the rostrum, apparently disgusted, then turned around, smiled at the balcony and waved. ‘Why dont you go home?’ he asked. ‘I hired the hall.’ He said the reason there is lawlessness in America is that both the other national candidates have kow-towed to this group in the balcony. On another occasion, he stopped to listen to hecklers. He noted they knew a lot of four-letter words, but not W-O-R-K or S-O-A-P. The white working class liked him.

South Vietnamese forces follow after terrified children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc, center, as they run down Route 1 near Trang Bang after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places, June 8, 1972. A South Vietnamese plane accidentally dropped its flaming napalm on South Vietnamese troops and civilians. The terrified girl had ripped off her burning clothes while fleeing. The children from left to right are: Phan Thanh Tam, younger brother of Kim Phuc, who lost an eye, Phan Thanh Phouc, youngest brother of Kim Phuc, Kim Phuc, and Kim's cousins Ho Van Bon, and Ho Thi Ting. Behind them are soldiers of the Vietnam Army 25th Division. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

South Vietnamese forces follow after terrified children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc, center, as they run down Route 1 near Trang Bang after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places. A South Vietnamese plane accidentally dropped its flaming napalm on South Vietnamese troops and civilians. The terrified girl had ripped off her burning clothes while fleeing. The children from left to right are: Phan Thanh Tam, younger brother of Kim Phuc, who lost an eye, Phan Thanh Phouc, youngest brother of Kim Phuc, Kim Phuc, and Kim’s cousins Ho Van Bon, and Ho Thi Ting. Behind them are soldiers of the Vietnam Army 25th Division. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

All in One Year

It was 1968. So much was happening. Maybe that’s why reporters shortened everybody’s names to monograms. The President was LBJ, a Democrat. Lyndon Baines Johnson saw the Vietnam War expand under his watch. It took a massive toll in lives, American confidence and on his will to be President.  He had the job since 1963 when JFK, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was assassinated. RFK, Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy, JFK’s brother, jumped into the race as an anti-war candidate. That meant pulling out of Southeast Asia as soon as possible. LBJ, who had been overwhelmingly elected in 1964, announced he would not seek re-election. RFK joined Eugene McCarthy, a Minnesota senator and poet, in seeking the anti-war vote. He didn’t rate a monogram. Today, he would be EMac. All voters, by the way, were at least 21 years old.  The constitutional amendment lowering the voting age to 18 (If you’re old enough to die for your country, your old enough to vote) was ratified in 1971. The vice president was HHH, Hubert Horatio Humphrey. He picked up the “Establishment” mantle. That meant getting out of Vietnam only after ensuring that 282,000 Americans and allies had not died there in vain. Some 1.2 million people are estimated to have been killed in the Vietnam War. The Vietnamese call it America’s War.

LBJ-RFK-JFK

LBJ talks to JFK while RFK listens.

In April 1968, MLK, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was gunned down. That set off race riots in American cities (actually its ghettoes) which made Wallace all the more popular among many scared whites. In June, RFK was well on his way to wresting the Democratic nomination. Supporters affectionately called him Bobby. He was was gunned down while campaigning in California. Democrat Party delegates went to Chicago, followed by war protesters who marched outside. Inside, Democrats nominated HHH and outside police beat up protesters.  A new term became part of the national vocabulary,  “police brutality.” Ugly trials followed. So, it was HHH versus the Republican nominee RMN, or Richard Millhouse Nixon. Wallace’s campaign imploded after Pittsburgh. Nixon was not popular with the news media, so it ultimately just called him Nixon. He had been vice president under Ike, Dwight David Eisenhower. Nixon lost previously to JFK, and retired from public life saying the news media would not have him to kick around any more. He came back as a relaxed nice guy, promising to restore law and order and provide new leadership in the Vietnam War. Nixon targeted the “silent majority.”  A more accurate name for his support would have been “silent plurality” because he only got 43 percent of those voting. He won the popular vote by less than a percentage point over HHH,  but won easily in the Electoral College, 301-191. Wallace got 13.5 percent of the popular vote and 46 electoral votes from five Southern states. If Lemay had not said too much in Pittsburgh, Wallace just might have denied Nixon the 270 electoral college votes needed. And, Southern blacks and whites might still be legally separated.     EDITOR’S NOTES:

  • Wallace, governor of Alabama for a total of 16 years,  ran several times for President, usually as a Southern Democrat. He was running again in 1972 to “send a message” when a would-be assassin’s bullet paralyzed him. That didn’t stop his public life, although he lived in continual pain. He came to regret his segregationist past. “I was wrong. Those days are over, and they ought to be over.” He died in 1998.
  • Lemay directed the fire-bombing campaigns against Japanese cities during World War II and was involved in the nuclear weapon drops that ultimately led to Japan’s surrender. He believed all wars are horrible and the only way to make one less horrible is to shorten it.  He thought that was his job. Part of what he said in Pittsburgh is here. You may find yourself agreeing with much of what he says in this in depth interview.