There is a great legacy to protect from the incumbent Democratic president. A huge overhaul of the healthcare system, the largest in decades, stands in the balance. So too does the composition and leadership of the Supreme Court. War looms.
The Democratic establishment rallies behind a familiar figure, one with an impeccable resume who has been in the public eye for more than twenty years. A challenger, however, has arisen. He derides the perceived corruption among the Democrats, and challenges his hordes of young voters to embark upon a revolution. When he is unsuccessful, he does not stand down. Many of his followers, bitter, refuse to back the Democratic nominee.
So the Republican candidate, an inglorious, duplicitous con artist, is elected president. The hope of a better future are vanquished.
This isn't a hypothetical; it's 1968. And while there are very, very obvious differences, the Vietnam War and the assassinations chief among them, there are a lot of similarities to today.
Eugene McCarthy led his flock, mostly young, white men, to campaign throughout the country in the Democratic primaries. He railed against the system, much to the delight of his base. All throughout the primary, though, Hubert Humphrey won all the delegates. McCarthy may have packed stadiums full of energetic supporters, but their zeal did not translate into delegates. Humphrey ran away with the nomination, especially after his chief establishment rival Bobby Kennedy was assassinated.
And then there was the Democratic National Convention. McCarthyites, the Bernie Bros of yesteryear, showed up in force and rioted. McCarthy, petulant as a toddler, refused to endorse Humphrey at the convention, or at all until one week before the election. Too little. Too late.
Nixon won the popular vote by about half a million votes, or around 0.7 percent. He spearheaded the GOP's racist southern strategy (the same one, by coincidence, that has now lead to Trump's rise), started a secret war in Cambodia, ramped up the disastrous War on Drugs and forever tainted the integrity of the American presidency with the Watergate scandal. He also ended the progressive Warren era on the Supreme Court, and began shifting the court right, where it still lies.
When it comes to those, in 1968 or in 2016, who say that a presidential election represents two sides of the same coin, I am simply dumbfounded by their naivete.
McCarthy was all about McCarthy. He ran for president four more times, and even endorsed Ronald Reagan for president in 1980 after denigrating the two-party system. This, from the man who called Humphrey a conservative.
Humphrey, for his part, was no moderate. He and McCarthy had served together in Senate, both representing Minnesota. But Humphrey, as the vice president and as the senate majority leader, had a record that consisted of more than sound bites. He railed against Dixiecrats and segregation in the 1948 Democratic National Convention, and 16 years later personally shepherded the Civil Rights Act through Congress.
And yet, McCarthy depicted himself as the Great White Hope. He depicted Humphrey as a sham, a racist, a shill, every bad name in the book. And the attacks paid off, for Nixon.
Democrats would be wise to not repeat the same mistake. This time, the stakes are higher. Say what you want about Nixon, but Tricky Dick was never an actual existential threat to the Republic. Donald Trump, for all his thermonuclear jockeying, is. Fortunately for Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Senator and apparent runner in up this year's Democratic primaries, there is still time for him to not repeat the mistakes of another junior senator from a cold state.
Horwitz is a first year law student from Houston. Follow him on Twitter @NmHorwitz.