By Newt Gingrich
If you want to get a feel for the probable shape of 2020, there is no single book that will help more than Theodore H. White’s The Making of the President 1972.
You might be surprised that an election that happened nearly a half century ago could be the best forerunner for next year’s historic collision between the news media and Left on one side and President Trump and his grassroots enthusiasm on the other.
Yet, the more I have watched and analyzed what is going on, the more convinced I am that 2020 is becoming a referendum almost exactly like 1972 was.
To better understand this, it is essential to read White’s book. White was the greatest chronicler of American presidential campaigns (and before that a brilliant reporter about China). He puts the 1972 campaign into a context which is eerily parallel to today.
Remember, White is writing some 47 years ago. Yet, across that nearly half century the basic stories are the same.
What makes The Making of the President 1972 so remarkable is the degree to which it is a cultural and historical book rather than a political book – and the degree to which America has been caught in patterns and conflicts that clearly have their roots in over a half-century of struggle.
Rereading White’s book reminded me that the background for virtually every fight we are now in can be found in the late 1960s. The modern Left has simply metastasized and grown more aggressive, intolerant, and totalitarian. The elite media has grown further apart from the average American, and the reporting standards of an earlier generation have been replaced by advocacy standards.
Amazingly, many of our worst problems can be found described in the politics of 1972 including quotas, the destruction of the cities, dramatic increases in crime and violence, anti-American attitudes, and new cultural standards on abortion, sexual redefinition, and the rise of identity politics as an unchallengeable force on the Left.
White puts in context the great changes which were reshaping America and American politics. His analysis is so profound – and his language relates so much to today – that I am going to continually refer to it while outlining 2020 and beyond.
The radicalism of George McGovern ultimately cost him one of the worst defeats in Presidential history. President Nixon won in a landslide with 61 percent of the vote.
White points out that the elite media and the Left did everything they could to undermine and isolate Nixon, but he kept reaching beyond them to the American people. White contrasts the New York-Boston-Washington-Los Angeles crowd with “out there.” He argues Nixon knew he could never break through with the establishment, so he simply ignored them and reached beyond them.
When the election results came in, it was clear that Nixon understood America better than his left-wing opponents.
The big difference between 1972 and 2020 is that McGovern was an outlier. He was the lone radical in a party that still had deep roots in traditional America.
McGovern was ultimately repudiated by most Democrats – and in the end the Democratic Congress survived because they could all say, “I am not as radical as George McGovern.”
What is fascinating about the current campaign is the degree to which all the Democratic presidential candidates who are going to survive are to the left of McGovern. Every moderate Democratic candidate is going to be squeezed out of the race.
The pictures of all the presidential candidates raising their hands in support of radical positions indicates the danger for the Democrats. Their entire party will have left the American people behind by the time of the convention next summer.
The fate of McGovern in 1972 may well be the fate of the entire Democratic Party in 2020.
The parallels between 1972 and 2020 are real. White described 1972 in terms of:
1. The power of the media;
2. The rise of the movement of hard-Left true believers who crowded out the traditional liberals – he characterizes it as the liberal theology replacing the liberal idea;
3. The stunning and decisive failures of the Great Society, which were vividly obvious by 1972 but still trap us in terrible policies with devastating human consequences.
I will write more on each of these key, half-century-old patterns. Despite White writing about them in 1972, they still define our times.