Is the Keystone State doing what it did in 1980 — and is it alone?
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Richard Nixon — who lost Pennsylvania to John F. Kennedy in 1960 and to Hubert Humphrey in 1968 — accomplished a stunning feat in 1972. Nixon carried 66 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties — a feat that has not been replicated by any GOP nominee since. While doing this, Nixon also opened a sizable hole in the Democrats’ Philadelphia electoral firewall that Reagan enlarged. A hole that has also been blown in smaller firewalls in places like Northeastern Pennsylvania (Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton) and Western Pennsylvania.
Go through the 1972 Philadelphia results ward by ward and the damage inflicted by the nomination of George McGovern is quickly evident.
Here are once staunchly Democratic wards where Nixon trounces McGovern 61% to 38% (in South Philadelphia) or 56% to 43% (Grays Ferry) or again 61% to 38% (Manayunk) or 59% to 40% (Kensington). And so on.
Nixon didn’t win Philadelphia. But it is safe to say that George McGovern and the far-left politics he espoused — and that now hold the Democrats firmly in its grip — ruined the idea of Philadelphia as some sort of working class firewall protecting Democrats against a Republican Party dominated by the proverbial country club Republican. Philadelphia Democrats were having trouble carrying their own wards, much less serving as some sort of bulwark against the Nixon tide.
Nineteen seventy-two was arguably the moment the “Reagan Pivot” first showed itself on a considerable scale.
Aside from his isolationist pitch to “Come home America,” domestically McGovern had campaigned on the idea of giving a $1,000 to every single American. The “thousand dollar giveaway,” as it was quickly dubbed, was the 1972 version of Obamanomics. Redistribution of income. To McGovern’s shock, his pitch didn’t play in working class South Philly. This was the part of Philadelphia that a few years later would be identified with Sylvester Stallone’s iconic boxer Rocky — filled with blue collar workers who understood instinctively that such a redistribution of income would ultimately be aimed at them.
It didn’t work in blue collar Scranton, either. The very same Scranton that was the childhood home of Joe Biden. Scranton is at the center of Lackawanna County — and Lackawanna County, a smaller version of Philadelphia with its dominance by Democrats, went for Nixon.
On top of this the McGovern campaign began the emblematic branding of the modern Democrats as home to a far-left culture that one Nixon commercial tartly summed up as “amnesty, acid and abortion.” Which is to say, it took the party of America’s first Catholic president, JFK, and began re-branding it as anti-Catholic. At the time, an unidentified Democratic Senator told columnist Robert Novak:
“The people don’t know McGovern is for amnesty, abortion and legalization of pot. Once Middle America — Catholic Middle America, in particular — finds this out, he’s dead.”
The irony? That Senator was later revealed to be Missouri’s Thomas Eagleton — who was briefly McGovern’s running mate before being dumped because of his controversial medical history.
McGovernites took the party of Baptist Harry Truman and re-branded it as the cultural party of anything goes when it came to sex. They took the party of the strait-laced Hubert Humphrey and re-made it in the image of a party that winked at drug use.
By 1980, the collection of these issues took Nixon’s opening and made of his support from Democrats the “Reagan Democrat.” And the polls were somewhere short of blind and deaf to this new phenomenon. Why? Because in many cases the pollsters and most importantly the journalists doing the campaign reporting were themselves McGovernites, if not in a literal political sense then certainly in a cultural sense. As many in the base recoiled at McGovern — and later at Jimmy Carter in 1980 — journalists began defiantly taking the side of the far-left. Making it almost impossible for them to understand in an objective fashion what “Reagan Democrats” were communicating to them. Making them tone-deaf as they reported on polls or political data.
A telling example of this appeared at the very end of the New York Times October 10 story on the New York Times/CBS poll of Pennsylvania. The very poll that produced a 2 point Reagan lead, a lead that was pooh-pooed by the Times. What did the Times say at the end? This:
One negative reason [meaning an anti-Carter vote] that did not turn up in the telephone poll but came up repeatedly in door-to-door interviews was the hostage situation in Iran.
And how was the “hostage situation” in Iran seen by Americans in places like South Philly? These were people who are intensely patriotic. They fly flags. Stand at attention for the national anthem when the Phillies or the Eagles are having opening game ceremonies. These are people who not only have served in the military themselves — they are sending their own sons and daughters to do the same. And proudly. The day-in-day-out images of Americans being held hostage by Iranian Islamic radicals did not sit well.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?