. . . 1972, and Texas returned the favor, with 2.3 million votes for Richard Milhous Nixon and 1.2 for George Stanley McGovern, precursor of the progressivism of today's national party.
Yet Democrats, the traditional party of 20th-century one-party Texas, easily swept statewide elections. Uvalde rancher Dolph Briscoe was elected governor after having dispatched a red hot McGovernite progressive -- Frances "Sissy" Farenthold -- in the Democratic primary. This bit from his excellent 2008 memoir recalls the political dynamics of that volatile year.
I went to the national convention in Miami as an uncommitted delegate, but I also was a vigorous opponent of Senator McGovern's candidacy. I opposed McGovern for several reasons. I was upset by . . .
. . . his harsh and unfair criticism of former President Johnson, who I admired greatly even though he did not support my bid for the gubernatorial nomination. . . .
. . . .
I further thought that McGovern's work as chairman of the commission to reform the Democratic Party's structure and procedures did much to destroy the effectiveness of the Democratic Party as a campaign organization. I thought as well that there was absolutely no way George McGovern could win Texas as a presidential candidate. He was much too far to the left to carry this state. . . . I believed his election would have been nothing less than a national calamity. Obviously, I did not want him to be president. After all these years, I haven't changed my mind a bit about his candidacy. George McGovern's economic and foreign policies would have been a disaster for the country.
Most of McGovern's support among Democrats resulted from his pledge to withdraw the U.S. military from Vietnam. I understood why so many of our citizens wanted to pull out of Vietnam. It was an awful war. But I opposed unilateral withdrawal. . . . We ended up, of course, with a disgraceful pull-out. It was one of the saddest chapters in the history of the United States.
But that war should never have happened. One serious problem with our decision to get involved in Vietnam was that the decision-makers, Republican and Democratic, knew next to nothing about the history of the place. We didn't appreciate that the Vietnamese were fighting a civil war, and we had no business getting into the middle of it.
. . . .
So 1972 was a difficult time to be a candidate for governor or any prominent public office. It did not matter if the office you were running for had nothing to do with Vietnam. That war just stirred people up so much that it affected just about everything. Of course, George Wallace's candidacy for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination just shook up the already agitated situation even more. Because of his strength in my state, I decided to vote for him for the presidential nomination during the first ballot [at the 1972 Democratic convention]. To say my vote was controversial would be an understatement. I voted for Wallace for this reason: I thought that if the Democrats were going to have a chance of beating Richard Nixon, we needed a ticket that would challenge him in the South. My hope was that the convention would be deadlocked, and the delegates would turn to someone like Henry Jackson, who might have selected Wallace for his running mate as part of the deal to get the nomination. Wallace would have cut deeply into Nixon's strength in the South. That would have been a balanced ticket similar to the Franklin D. Roosevelt and John Nance Garner ticket in 1932 and 1936. It wouldn't have been dissimilar to the Kennedy-LBJ ticket in 1960.
I thought Wallace deserved a chance. There was no question that he had made his mistakes as governor, and I certainly did not approve of the stand he took against racial integration, but I believe he would have been a populist in national office in Washington. I believed then, and believe now, that he would have dropped his racial stance once he got away from the voters in Alabama. You know, when Lyndon Johnson was the senator from Texas, he had to talk and vote a certain way to get elected. But once he had a national constituency, his behavior changed. George Wallace eventually won the support of the African American people in Alabama because he admitted his mistakes and changed his ways. I think he was ready to do that in 1972.
I certainly didn't think a McGovern-Wallace ticket was possible. But I voted for Wallace because I thought it was a way to come out of that convention with a constructive ticket rather than the disaster we got. I wanted to send a message to the Wallace supporters back in Texas that I would listen to their concerns and that they should remain in the Democratic Party.
I also voted against the crazy platform that the McGovern supporters passed at the convention. The document was full of radical and harebrained proposals. I knew it would never be accepted in Texas, and I was not going to have it hung around my neck by Hank Grover, my Republican opponent.
Janey and I did vote for McGovern when it became obvious that he would receive the nomination. . . . We made the switch because of our belief in traditional party unity. My switch to McGovern, which was purely symbolic, outraged a number of Wallace delegates. So in the end, my attempt to unify this badly split delegation for the upcoming campaign in Texas really blew up in my face. By voting for Wallace on the first ballot, I unintentionally alienated some African American and Mexican American voters. But voting for McGovern at the end, I offended the Wallace vote.
Later, when Wallace's followers threatened to split from the Texas Democratic Party during the state convention in September, Wallace sent a telegram to his Texas leaders, declaring "Dolph Briscoe is a friend of mine." . . . .
I would have been better off politically if I hadn't been a delegate to the national convention in Miami. I should have just told them, "Y'all go on and have all the planks and arguments that you want and I'm going to run my own campaign. I'll run as a Democrat but I'm going to run my own campaign." . . .
After the national conventions, I announced that I would vote the straight Democratic Party ticket in the general election, as I always had in the past. I also announced that I would not actively campaign for the McGovern ticket . . . .
Miami was a disastrous convention, and the McGovern campaign was even more of a disaster. It was a complete catastrophe here in Texas. It was really the beginning of the downfall of our Democratic Party in Texas. After 1972, Jimmy Carter was the only Democratic candidate to carry Texas, and he barely won the state. It was easy to see in 1972 that the Texas Democratic Party was going downhill because of what was happening with the national party. Texas was then, and is today, very conservative, and national party moved too far to the left for most Texans. I had to be sure that whenever George McGovern was in Texas, I was at the opposite end of the state . . . .
Mr. Briscoe's political instincts were right. Mr. McGovern lost the 1972 presidential election to Mr. Nixon, 536 electoral votes to none. America in 1972 had no appetite for a far-left candidate. Here is Wikipedia's short summary of the 1972 platform:
Formed after "divisive platform battles", the 1972 Democratic National Convention's platform has been characterized as "probably the most liberal one ever adopted by a major party in the United States." It advocated immediate withdrawal from Vietnam, amnesty for war resisters [Unca D: meaning "draft dodgers"] , the abolition of the draft, a guaranteed job for all Americans (it offered to "make the government the employer of last resort"), and a guaranteed family income well above the poverty line.
The full Wikipedia entry tells about floor fights over social and cultural issues that were then barely thinkable, but have since prevailed. On economic issues, the platform was not quite socialism, Wikipedia says, though the platform "did pledge to eliminate -- through government guarantee and dicta -- any manifestation of free enterprise that could potentially produce inequality or failure."
Dicta sounds a lot like the way Mr. Obama now governs, by executive order and lawless regulations.
Thirty-six years after the 1972 disaster for Democrats, the nation had changed entirely. Mr. Obama won the presidency. He is far more radical than Mr. McGovern. To its eternal credit, Texas vote against him both times.
This year, things are even worse. Democrats are struggling with the decision whether to elect Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton to serve a third term for Mr. Obama. The alternative is to quit pretending that progressivism is something short of full socialism. Bernard Sanders is at least honest about it.
Meanwhile the progressive project continues in Texas. Just as it took more than three decades for leftist media, schools, and universities to turn a national anti-McGovern electorate toward someone like Obama, so it may take more years or decades to destroy the common sense of Texans. But they will never give up. Read your daily Houston Chronicle to watch it being done.