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Column

2020 election might be Nixon-McGovern 2.0

Dems might lose majorly if they choose the wrong candidate

Scott Reeder
Scott Reeder

SPRINGFIELD — Back in 1972, I was in the second-grade at Bateman Elementary School in Galesburg, and our teacher, Mrs. Turner, had us studying that year’s presidential election.

One student from a Democratic family was assigned to bring in a poster of the Democratic nominee, and one from a Republican family had to bring in a poster of the GOP candidate.

A classmate taped George McGovern’s picture on the classroom wall. And I brought in a giant poster of Richard Nixon.

George and Dick’s images stared down on the class of 7- and 8-year-olds for weeks as we polished our reading skills and learned to add and subtract. And on Nov. 8, our teacher pasted “winner” on Nixon’s face.

Of course, we know how the story ended, Nixon resigned in disgrace two years later.

When you think about it, the 1972 election was one for Democrats to lose. Nixon barely won the office in 1968 when running against Hubert Humphrey, an establishment Democrat. His time in office was marred by an ugly, unpopular war in Vietnam, there were riots in the streets and, let’s face it, Nixon wasn’t a particularly likable person.

He was a polarizing figure hated by many Democrats, prone to paranoia and not above lying to further his political ambitions. He earned the moniker “Tricky Dick” all on his own.

So how could Nixon, with all of those liabilities, carry 49 states in 1972?

Well, Democratic primary voters chose a candidate who was perceived by many voters as being out of the mainstream.

McGovern advocated the federal government giving every American $1,000 (about $6,000 in today’s dollars.) He also was one of only a dozen members of Congress who opposed American military involvement in Vietnam from the beginning. While today we might view his position as prophetic, in 1972 he was still viewed as too dovish to be commander in chief.

His nomination resulted in a landslide victory for Nixon.

As regular readers of this column know, I’m an advocate for lower taxes, less regulation and fewer barriers to trade. And I’d also like the idea of less government.

Most folks would call that conservative. But I won’t support someone of any political stripe who fails to display integrity.

And I can say with near certainty that Trump will not receive my vote next year. Why? I don’t view him as an honorable man. Honorable men don’t cheat on their wives, lie with daily regularity or chose vulgar discourse over constructive debate.

As regular readers of this column know, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton received my vote in 2016. Instead, I voted for a third-party candidate.

I am hoping that Democrats nominate a moderate candidate of integrity, who can appeal to a broad ideological spectrum of voters. Otherwise, we should expect a repeat of 1972.

Without a palatable choice from Democrats, disaffected voters will likely gravitate to third-party candidates such as Starbucks founder Howard Schultz. Or they may just not vote.

Either scenario bodes well for the incumbent.

And like 1972, it could mean the re-election of a deeply flawed man, who is far from guaranteed to have a scandal-free second term.

Note to readers: Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist and a freelance reporter. His email address is ScottReeder1965@gmail.com.

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