Donald Trump understands which way the wind is blowing.
It all started with George Corley Wallace of Alabama and Mr. Trump can thank his memory, if Mr. Trump knows who Wallace was.
In the early 1960s, George Wallace learned that he could win elections in Alabama and become governor by adopting a strict segregationist line. He stood in the school house door at the University of Alabama and blocked the entry of a lovely black woman. He did that for about half an hour and then he stepped aside under a federal court order.
To some, he was a hateful pariah for this kind of behavior. But for many whites in the Civil Rights era, seeing their schools and their neighborhoods and their way of life turned upside down by forced racial integration, Wallace became a hero.
Wallace, a flyer in World War II and a highly regarded prize fighter, became a hero to working class whites nationwide, who felt they had been abandoned by the liberals and “pointy headed intellectuals” in the Democratic Party.
In 1964, Wallace ran in the Democrat presidential primaries in Maryland, where he came close to winning, in Wisconsin, where he did amazingly well, in Oregon, also running well, and across the south.
He terrified Lyndon Johnson and he taught the GOP a lesson: the white southerners and white working class voters across the country were up for grabs. Barry Goldwater was a bit too idiosyncratic and braino to take advantage of the lesson, but Richard Nixon was not.
“The Southern Strategy” became the bedrock principle of the GOP in the years of Nixon and he did beautifully with it. A real southerner, Jimmy Carter, was able to foil it. But Ronald Reagan, who started his 1980 campaign in Mississippi and made no bones about his love of states’ rights, and Bush 41 and his potent Willie Horton commercials, tapped into the vein strongly and successfully.
So did Bush 43. None of these people was racist at all like Wallace, but they all communicated that in the massive struggle between liberal, school-busing, block-busting bureaucrats and the white mill workers, they were on the mill workers’ side.
They all said, “We’re for the white man whom the big shots and the bureaucrats and journalists and Hollywood snobs sneer at. We are against the ‘effete corps of impudent snobs’ [great Ted Agnew phrase], and for the man with the callused hands and a union job and a truck.”
And now those people with trucks and guns and anger because they feel as if their President favors the black criminals as against the white cops — and they all have cousins who are cops — are on the march for Trump.
Trump never says an anti-black word and I suspect he is no racist at all. But when he calls for a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and for a ban on Muslims coming into America, the message is clear. He’s for America for Americans. Tens of millions of Americans see a changed nation where the white working man and woman are threatened by what they see as a barbarian invasion. They know for sure that Hillary is for the invaders and against the police. They know that Trump is for law and order and America First.
Trump never has to use the N-word and I don’t think he feels the N-word. After 1964, Wallace never used the N-word and he still polled powerfully on his own ticket in ’68 and in the Democrat primaries in ’72 until he was shot and paralyzed in Laurel, Maryland.
It didn’t matter. Whites knew where he stood. For law and order and — again — America for Americans.
The Democrats spit on those people. Trump calls them brothers and sisters. He’s far behind Hillary in the polls now. But this is still a mostly white country with a lot of people with calluses and trucks. And Trump has made a habit of smashing those who sneer at him. He has totally nailed Hillary by saying, “She has the woman card and that’s her only card.” It’s hard to argue with that because it’s true.
Let’s see where the path that Wallace blazed leads — and by the way, Wallace became a devout supporter of black rights later in his life and was beloved by many blacks in Alabama. A good politician knows which way the wind is blowing — and when. Trump is a phenomenon.
We’ll get to whether he’s qualified to lead later on. For right now, voters want a leader to take them somewhere. The scary question is, “Where?” and I don’t think Trump knows the answer himself.