What do you get when you cross a recurring nightmare and déjà vu?
Lester Trump? Donald Maddox?
TV news features Triumphant Trump , GOP’s #NeverTrump, and smirks about Trump the Chump in November.
Watching one night, I got a freaky feeling of familiarity. I said out loud, “1966. It’s 1966 all over again.”
I was in Georgia that year, when stars crossed and uncrossed in the race for governor. It was something unique in our history – so far.
Candidates in the 1966 Democratic primary were former governor Ellis Anall, segregationist Lester Maddox and an obscure state senator named Jimmy Carter. Arnall was the strong favorite.
Maddox was famous for defying federal courts, turning away blacks from his Pickrick Restaurant. One time, with customers and employees, he chased blacks away with ax handles. Atlanta newspapers caricatured him as a buffoon. In national media, he was “a backwoods demagogue out in the boondocks” (Newsweek).
Republicans had a strong candidate in U.S. Representative Howard “Bo” Callaway. They had no primary, so thousands of Republicans crossed over to the open Democratic primary and voted for Maddox, whom they saw as a pushover opponent for Callaway.
In the primary, Arnall got 30 percent; Maddox, 24 percent; Carter, 21 percent. The Republican pick-our-opponent tactic gave Maddox the edge over Carter. Nobody got the required 40 percent, so Arnall and Maddox met in a runoff. Arnall was so confident he didn’t campaign ahead of the runoff. And once again, Republicans crossed over to vote for Maddox.
Maddox didn’t need the GOP this time. He crushed Arnall, 54 percent to 46 percent. He was the Democratic nominee for governor.
In victory, Maddox said that President Johnson had been “the best campaign manager I’ve got,” referring to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Moderate Democrats reacted to Arnall’s defeat by launching a write-in campaign for him in the general election. It was a full-scale effort, equivalent to a third-party campaign.
In the campaign that followed, Maddox trashed the federal government and ridiculed Republican U.S. Congressman Callaway as a modern-day General Sherman.
In the general election, Callaway topped Maddox in the popular vote but lacked a majority, thanks to 52,000 write-ins for Arnall. Under Georgia law, the state legislature decided between the top two candidates. Arnall was excluded, and the legislature was almost entirely Democrat. Maddox became governor.
Nobody took Lester Maddox seriously – except the voters.
Were voters aware that Maddox could in fact do nothing about racial integration? It didn’t matter, did it? He was their strong man, their fighter, their hero.
As I talk to Trump supporters, there’s an echo of 1966. He’s “The Man!”
Hillary, oh Hillary, can you hear me? Respect Donald Trump. He’s no buffoon. Remember 1966 in Georgia.