Maurice Isserman

“There is rare agreement, on left and the right, that the 2016 presidential election season is looking to be a repeat of Democratic Party’s 1968 race,” began Maurice Isserman’s essay published by Reuters news service on March 7. Titled A campaign that makes the political turmoil of 1968 look good, the opinion piece pointed to the differences as well as the similarities between the two presidential campaigns.

The Publius Virgilius Rogers Professor of American History and co-author of America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s, Isserman observed, “This time around, however, it is Republicans who seem most vulnerable to splintering after a fevered primary season. The Donald Trump insurgency is defying the best efforts of the GOP establishment to steer primary voters to other candidates. This seems a dire threat to Trump’s adopted party’s prospects — not only in the November election, but potentially for decades to come.”

The nominating process differs from fifty years ago, Isserman pointed out and, “… the gap between party insiders and insurgent candidates in 1968, while wide in terms of specific issues, especially the Vietnam War, was far narrower in terms of the candidates’ experience and capabilities. Those candidates, ordinarily team players, had a lot in common, among themselves — and with their party’s elite. … Today, however, there is a profound disjunction in the Republican leading candidates’ experience, credentials and loyalties.”

Comparing levels of violence in 1968 to today’s campaigning, Isserman wrote, “The rancor displayed by Trump rally-goers, encouraged by the candidate and directed against protesters and press alike, bears some resemblance to the ‘old days’ of 1968 — especially the hate-filled gatherings for third party segregationist candidate Alabama Governor George Wallace — who once vowed to run over any protesters who sat-in in front of his limousine.”

“What happens if Trump is denied the Republican nomination in Cleveland in July?” Isserman asked. “Will his supporters, with his overt or implied approval, fill the streets outside the convention hall in violent protest? Or will some of them seek ‘second amendment solutions’ to their political frustrations?”

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