Democrats led the way in breaking America’s political nominating process two generations ago. Can they lead the country back out of the mess today? Much of our current political bellyache traces its beginnings to the undigested bits of the 1968 election. That was the one when Democrats went completely crackers over the Vietnam War and managed to follow the party’s 1964 landslide victory – it’s biggest since FDR’s first re-election – with a 37-state wipeout.

The party’s 1968 debacle is most vividly remembered for the melee outside its Chicago convention when the forces of the old Democratic machine, in the persons of the members of Mayor Richard Daley’s brute squad, physically crushed the protestors from the party’s growing anti-war wing.

But the other big revolt was coming out of Alabama and across the Deep South, where pro-segregation Democrats had been in rebellion for 20 years over the party’s move away from Jim Crow. With the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the revolt broke into the open with the culture war candidacy of former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who left his party to launch an independent candidacy.

Aside from unrest over Vietnam and race relations, the party had another problem: It had no leader. The once-mighty President Lyndon Johnson had been pushed out of his own re-election bid by a weak win in New Hampshire against anti-war radical Sen. Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota. Johnson’s health was a wreck and his confidence was badly rattled, so he dropped out in dramatic fashion with a national television address.

That left party leaders with McCarthy’s fellow Minnesotan, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who was hardly a heartthrob of the left wing. Johnson’s departure had also kicked the door open for his chief rival in the party, Sen. Robert Kennedy, who jumped into the race in mid-March.

In those days only 14 states held presidential primary elections, which limited the degree to which Kennedy could gain traction against the incumbent vice president. But he could use the contests to consolidate the left-wing vote by beating McCarthy. But after his June 4 victory in California, Kennedy was murdered by Palestinian gunman Sirhan Sirhan over Kennedy’s support for Israel.

While Kennedy and McGovern had been struggling over the left wing in the primaries, Humphrey had been focused on the majority of states that used a convention system to select their delegates. The party machine delivered, and Humphrey went to Chicago as the prohibitive favorite and easily beat McGovern. But the story was the riots outside, not the balloons and bunting inside.

We know how it ended up: Rebel Democrats in the South and a northern party bitterly divided over the war were no match for former Vice President Richard Nixon who promised to get the U.S. out of Vietnam in some dignified way and who also had learned to exploit the same cultural anxieties that propelled Wallace’s surprising success among northern blue-collar whites.

The good news for Americans today is that things are hardly as chaotic or violent as they were back then. The bad news is that the solutions Democrats sought for their misery 52 years ago are drivers of our current bipartisan dysfunction.

The answer Democrats settled on was, not surprisingly, more democracy. Humphrey had won the nomination without winning a single primary because so few states had such contests. In 1972, Democrats in 32 states held primaries or caucuses. By 1976 just a few states were holding on to the old convention system.

Though Republicans had initially resisted the move toward direct Democracy, they were eventually pulled along into the new system – especially after Nixon’s corruption and resignation made party bossing and closed doors extremely unpopular.

For many years, this more open approach worked pretty well. It accommodated the demands of insurgence for a way into the process – Jimmy Carter’s 1976 nomination seemed to prove the point – but also preserved a way for the party establishment to prevent pandemonium.

THE RULEBOOK: PROCEED WITH CAUTION

“Wise politicians will be cautious about fettering the government with restrictions that cannot be observed, because they know that every breach of the fundamental laws, though dictated by necessity, impairs that sacred reverence which ought to be maintained in the breast of rulers towards the constitution of a country, and forms a precedent for other breaches where the same plea of necessity does not exist at all, or is less urgent and palpable.”

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SANDERS LOOKS FOR KNOCKOUT WIN IN SOUTH CAROLINA

The self-described Democratic socialist swept to a huge Nevada victory over the weekend and polls indicate he now has a shot at even winning South Carolina’s primary this Saturday—a contest that once was seen as former Vice President Joe Biden’s firewall. The latest RealClearPolitics average for the state reflects a very tight race between the two. Biden remains in the lead with 24.5 percent of the vote, but Sanders is nipping at his heels with 21.5 percent, as the former vice president’s support has declined in the state. If Sanders is able to secure yet another primary victory with South Carolina, it would mark at least a three-state sweep out of the 2020 gate heading into Super Tuesday. Such an accomplishment, boosted by an enthusiastic base that turns out to vote and donates in big numbers, could render him just what party elders and members of the Democratic establishment fear—unstoppable.”

A very Vegas tie-breaker strategy

“It was the luck of the draw for Pete Buttigieg at a Nevada caucus on Saturday. Literally. At the North Valleys High School caucus site in Reno, Buttigieg’s supporters drew from a card deck the number 3, while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ backers picked a 2, breaking a delegate tie between the candidates and making the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor the winner of this caucus location. The Nevada Democratic Party has used a deck of cards to break ties since 2008. Per party rules, if two caucus groups are tied, then representatives from each candidate draws a single card from a deck in order to break the tie. The winner is the high card, with aces the highest. If both candidates draw the same card, then the winner is determined by the suit of the card. Spades are the highest suit, followed by hearts, diamonds and clubs.”

Sanders defends Fidel Castro

Bernie Sanders, the frontrunner for the Democrats’ presidential nomination, doubled down on his support for some of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s policies, saying in an interview that aired Sunday, ‘it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad.’ Speaking to CBS News’ ‘60 Minutes,’ Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, pointed to social welfare programs introduced under Castro’s regime that he described as redeeming, despite the communist dictator’s often repressive human-rights violations against Cubans. ‘We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba but you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad. You know? When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?’ Sanders told Anderson Cooper. … In a resurfaced speech given at the University of Vermont in 1986, Sanders praised the socialist policies implemented in Cuba by the Castro regime…”

Pro-Israel group blasts Sanders

“The American Israel Public Affairs Committee late Sunday called out Sen. Bernie Sanders over his decision to skip its conference next month in Washington and blaming his decision on his concern that the group provides a platform for leaders to ‘express bigotry’ and oppose basic Palestinian rights. Sanders, who is on the heels of an emphatic win in the Nevada Caucuses, took to Twitter on Sunday to voice his concern about the influential lobby. The Vermont senator vowed that if elected president he would work with both Israelis and Palestinians to bring peace and stability to the region. AIPAC wasted little time to respond to the public rebuke and called his comments an ill-informed and an ‘odious attack.’ The pro-Israel lobby said Sanders never attended a conference, which is ‘evident in the outrageous comment.’”

Minnesota poll shows Klobuchar holding on at home

Amy Klobuchar leads Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in a new Star Tribune/MPR News Minnesota Poll as the state’s March 3 presidential primary nears, with both well ahead of their nearest Democratic rivals. But many Minnesota Democrats say they are still undecided in a contest that has become increasingly muddled as it spreads to more U.S. states. Minnesota’s primary is on Super Tuesday, when 14 states will award a third of all the delegates in the race. … Trailing Klobuchar and Sanders were Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden, statistically tied for third. The rest of the field, including former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, polled in the low single digits.”

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