WASHINGTON – On the eve of what he hopes will be a pivotal victory – New York’s Republican primary election – Donald Trump is behaving like the Washington Irving character who woke up from a long sleep.
Trump thinks it’s 1968 again. He thinks – hopes? – there will be a riot at the Republican National Convention if he isn’t nominated. Trump has used his own translation of the Southern Strategy that brought victory to Richard Nixon.
Using different stereotypes, Trump has played the racist card to the hilt. But unlike Rip Van Winkle, Trump has failed to recognize America has turned upside down since the 1960s.
But first, let’s remember two Buffalo Democrats from an earlier time who had a dramatic effect on national politics.
First: Joseph F. Crangle, former Erie County and then New York State Democratic Party chairman. As young people were rioting and getting bloodied outside the disastrous 1968 Chicago convention, Crangle proposed and fought for a complete change in the way a presidential candidate gets nominated.
Sen. George McGovern, D-S.D., proposed similar reforms. But without Crangle’s efforts they might never have become the convention and party rules. They ended boss rule and the smoke-filled room at the convention. From the 1972 conclave onward, elected delegates controlled the Democratic conventions, and various affinity groups, including labor, gays and ethnic minorities, were guaranteed a voice. The changes helped Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter to nomination and victory.
The other influential Buffalo man is the late C. Victor Raiser II. An attorney and self-made millionaire, Raiser quickly segued from a Buffalo law practice to a place among Washington’s power brokers soon after moving here in the 1980s. He was a prodigious money raiser. Raiser had what seemed like a good idea at the time. He felt the liberal policies of the Eastern Establishment were discouraging what centrists said could be political contributions from the business community. And so the Democratic Leadership Council was born, with Raiser a senior policy adviser.
Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., who liked Raiser, nonetheless murmured to me that Raiser’s DLC could steal the party’s soul.
Raiser headed a number of groups that found new cash for the Democrats. For his first run for the White House, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton named Raiser as the presidential campaign’s top moneyman.
But in early August 1992, Raiser and his son, Montgomery, died in a plane crash while on fishing trip. His widow, Molly, later attained the rank of ambassador and chief of protocol under President Clinton.
It will be for history to judge which Buffalo politician had the most effect on history. Crangle’s modern rules and open primary contests made possible the presidential candidacy of Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Yet the millions of Wall Street cash that flooded Hillary Clinton’s treasury – donations that Raiser helped institutionalize 24 years ago – have become a burden to her.
This column votes that Crangle’s reforms are the more beneficial and lasting.
History has passed before Trump’s eyes without his having noticed.
It is true that Republicans, ranging from Barry Goldwater to Nixon to Ronald Reagan, used buzzwords to arouse white voters in the former Confederacy. The phrases they employed to signal opposition to black civil rights included “forced busing,” “welfare queen” and “states’ rights.” They built strong, new white Republican constituencies in the South.
What Trump failed to notice was a heightened political awareness and sophistication among blacks, a surging Hispanic bloc and, most of all, women. His ignorance of what now comprises modern America has made him all but unelectable in November, no matter what happens Tuesday.