Back to the Future?

By Dave Smith, Senior Contributor, USDR.

“Someone once told me, ‘Time is a flat circle.’ Everything we’ve ever done or will do, we’re gonna do over and over and over again.” – Rust Cohle, in True Detective

With a Presidential election only one year away, an embattled, controversial Republican President with a contentious relationship with the press gears up for the campaign while trying to extricate the American military from war in Asia – war he had promised to end during his winning campaign. While no serious primary opposition in his own party is expected (although an Ohio politician is making waves), a long list of Democratic candidates is lining up to challenge the President: multiple Senators, a former Vice President and Senator, a Congresswoman from Hawaii, the Mayor of New York City, and even the previous nominee are either declared already or considering the race. Perhaps the candidate with most star power and charisma, a scion of a wealthy family, is the subject of much speculation – will he run, or won’t he?

The issues will seem well defined – the economy, as always, will be front and center, and while there has been growth, there’s also been an increase in the budget deficit. An electorate weary of war is ready to bring troops home and end the war, although the US-supported government is corrupt and seems ready to fall if the American military were to leave. Conflict between Israel and its neighbors is having a negative impact on Middle East stability. Partisan rhetoric is rancorous and the division between the left and the right seems unbridgeable.

Such is the state of the Union in 2019, right?

Except that description is not of the scene in 2019, it’s a description of the state of America in 1971. The upcoming election being described isn’t the 2020 election, but rather the 1972 election. The parallels are legion.

Of course, the Republican President described above is Richard Nixon. While not yet tainted by Watergate, he had been in the public eye for decades and was a lightning rod for controversy. He, like Donald Trump in 2016, had campaigned on having a plan for bringing home the troops – “victory with honor”. While the Vietnam War was much more violent than the current conflicts still going in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, our overseas entanglements will still be an issue in 2020. A pull out of Afghanistan will almost surely lead to the Taliban retaking control of the country, but public opinion polls show that option to have at least a plurality of support.

Ultimately, as expected, Nixon faced minimal opposition for the nomination: two Congressmen (including one from Ohio) challenged the President but made no headway. On the Democratic side, however, 15 candidates ended up seeking the nomination. Hubert Humphrey had been Vice President under Johnson – the Joe Biden of 1972. Several Senators competed, with the Progressive favorite, George McGovern, winning the contest – the 2020 race already has seen Senators Bernie Sanders (a Progressive favorite), Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, and Kamala Harris announce their candidacy. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, like John Lindsay in 1972, is eying the race, although he has not yet decided. Tulsi Gabbard is a Representative from Hawaii who will potentially follow in the footsteps of Patsy Mink. While nowhere near as controversial as the firebrand Alabama Governor George Wallace, Governors Jay Inslee and Colorado’s John Hickenlooper are in the race.

Perhaps the most intriguing candidate is the one with the questions surrounding his run. In 1972, speculation centered around Ted Kennedy. The charismatic young Senator evoked the image of his brother, President John F. Kennedy and caught the imagination of many Democratic voters. In his unsuccessful campaign for the US Senate in Texas, Beto O’Rourke himself drew comparisons with JFK, garnering campaign donations and drawing supporters from throughout the country; while in a losing effort, O’Rourke excited many voters and gave Senator Ted Cruz a tough contest in a heavily Republican state. He pondered his options for a long time before finally announcing his own campaign on March 14.

Nixon was polling much better in 1971 than Trump is in 2019 – he was coming off a historic visit to China, and while unemployment was higher (just under 6%, compared to 3.8% today), GDP growth was higher. The Democratic nomination of George McGovern and Thomas Eagleton (D-MO) proved to be a disaster – Eagleton had to be dropped from the ticket in favor of Sargent Shriver over mental health issues – and Nixon rolled to a 49-state landslide victory. Polling shows a much tighter race in 2020, with President Trump hurting in states he unexpectedly won in 2016.

The parallels remain interesting, however: proof that politics is cyclical, even when a particular time seems uniquely turbulent or bizarre.

Born in the same county as Davy Crockett in East Tennessee, Dave found his way to Texas where he works in the petrochemical industry. He’s written and spoken about politics on various media outlets including Fox, ABC, and Townhall. He is a graduate of Tennessee Tech with a degree in chemical engineering. Make sure to check out Dave’s popular series, “Profiles in Liberty” at USA Daily Chronicles. Follow Dave on Twitter: @semperlibertas.

All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.