By Joe Lowndes
The 2016 Republican National Convention began in the immediate shadow of a highly publicized death spiral involving police and black civilians in Dallas, Falcon Heights, and Baton Rouge. Against this backdrop, the Trump campaign seemed to choose the legacy of Richard Nixon rather than Ronald Reagan as the party’s patron saint. Indeed, 1968 has functioned as myth and symbol throughout the Trump campaign, as they have leaned on racially-charged Nixonian phrases like ‘law and order’, ‘Silent Majority’ and ‘forgotten Americans.’ It might be more accurate to say that Trump has bundled Nixon together with George Wallace, the segregationist Alabama governor whose independent campaign for president that year was more openly racist and confrontational, but who with Nixon defined the Republican Party’s white populist turn.
Going into the convention, top Trump campaign aide Paul Manafort shocked reporters by suggesting that the violent atmosphere of “lawlessness” surrounding the convention was welcome. Indeed, even Wallace had been more tactful in his approach. When asked by reporters about the riots that occurred in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968, Wallace told a reporter, “Of course, any breakdown in law and order is going to support the position of anybody like me who is against a break-down in law and order. Now I don’t want to be helped that way. All I say is they seem to be getting worse and nobody wants to try to stop it.”