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Donald Trump, the New George Wallace? Head of Segregationist’s 1968 Bid on GOP Front-Runner’s Racism

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Critics have noted the similarities in rhetoric between Donald Trump and segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace’s 1968 presidential campaign. In November, a Black Lives Matter protester was kicked and punched by Trump supporters at a rally in Birmingham, Alabama, as Trump yelled, “Get him the hell out of here!” Trump later defended his supporters, saying “maybe [the protester] should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.” George Wallace’s daughter, Peggy Wallace Kennedy, has also compared the two campaigns, but says her father may have actually been less extreme. We speak with Tom Turnipseed, who served as the national director of George Wallace’s 1968 presidential campaign, but has since become a civil rights attorney and social justice activist. We are also joined by Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation magazine.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has been among those to note the similarities in rhetoric between Donald Trump and George Wallace’s 1968 presidential campaign. This clip is from her show. It begins with George Wallace.

GEORGE WALLACE: You know what you are? You’re a little punk. That’s all you are. You haven’t got any guts. You’ve got too much hair on your head, partner. You got a load on your mind. That’s right.

DONALD TRUMP: Boy, what a bunch of losers, I’ll tell you. You are a loser. You really are a loser. Get him out.

AMY GOODMAN: Presidential candidate Donald Trump. In November, a Black Lives Matter protester at a Trump rally in Birmingham, Alabama, was kicked and punched by Trump supporters as Trump yelled, “Get him the hell out of here!” Trump later defended his supporters, telling Fox News, quote, “maybe [the protester] should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.”

I want to turn to George Wallace’s daughter, Peggy Wallace Kennedy, who told BuzzFeed she compared her father to Donald Trump, saying, quote, “There are a great deal of similarities as it relates to their style and political strategies. The two of them, they have adopted the notion that fear and hate are the two greatest motivators of voters.” She went on to say, quote, “They both can draw a crowd and work up a crowd. My father was a very fiery and emotional speaker and was able to tap into the fears of the poor and working-class white people.”

But Peggy Wallace Kennedy said her father may have actually been less extreme than Trump in some respects. She said, quote, “I think my father had more self-restraint and respect for the institutions of government than Trump does,” she said, adding, quote, “I think my father understood the limitation of the executive branch of government, where I don’t think Trump does. And I think Daddy, even though he used coded language to use racial themes, he never attacked a culture based on their religion and race. He used coded language to suggest the racial themes. But he never specifically attacked a group of people based on their religion and [their] race.”

Still with us, Tom Turnipseed, the national director of Alabama Governor George Wallace’s presidential campaign in 1968, since become a civil rights attorney. Your thoughts on what Wallace’s daughter said, and your own feelings and transformation around George Wallace?

TOM TURNIPSEED: Well, I agree with her 100 percent. It’s real interesting. Governor Wallace’s number one media target, believe it or not, was The New York Times. And so, Donald Trump jumped on The New York Times last night. Did you notice that? “I don’t believe anything in The New York Times!”

But anyway, Governor Wallace was a poor kid, you know, middle-class kid from southeast Alabama. And he—at first, he was just a populist, you know, without racism. He ran for governor and was endorsed by, believe it or not, the NAACP. And his opponent, John Patterson, was endorsed by the Klan, the Ku Klux Klan, and Patterson won. And then, I understand—I wasn’t over there then—that Wallace told one of his confidants, one of his staff people, that “I’ll never be out-N-worded again.” And so, from then on, you know, he stood in the schoolhouse door and blah blah blah.

And, you know, he wasn’t—economically, even though what he did was just terrible, you know, as far as fighting about the separation of—you know, segregation, for that, and so forth, and making those speeches and standing in schoolhouse doors, he put more money into the poor school districts, which included African Americans, too, and community colleges than any other governor ever has. He was like an economic populist.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Tom Turnipseed, one of—

TOM TURNIPSEED: And I’m not saying that anything about him standing—yes, excuse me. Go ahead.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And also, one the things I’d like to note about him also, that he was a lot more qualified to run for president than Donald Trump was. He had—he was not only a governor. He had been a judge in Alabama. He had been an assistant attorney general.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: He had held public office and knew something about the runnings of government, whereas some critics, even within the Republican Party, have said of Trump he’s never held public office or served in the military or come up the military as some presidential—as some presidents have, from military commanders, to become president.


KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: I was going to say, I mean—

TOM TURNIPSEED: He was well qualified. Judge Chestnut—he was one of the best lawyers, he was an African-American guy from Selma—has said—and I was on TV with him a few years ago—said that Governor Wallace was the fairest judge that he’d ever been before. And this guy was an African American from Selma.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: To qualify—I mean, to have—

AMY GOODMAN: Katrina vanden Heuvel?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: The idea of government qualifications is a lofty one, Juan. I mean, it seems to me we’re living in a moment where—where Grover Norquist, the right-wing ideologue, said over a decade ago that the Republicans’ right wing wants to take government and strangle it, drown it in a bathtub—now they want to trash it. Doesn’t seem to me that Trump is hurting from his lack of government experience.

But back to what Mr. Turnipseed was saying, I mean, it seems—the struggle in this country over the last many decades has been one between fear and hope, between hate and justice. And what you saw last night, Donald Trump took on the mantle of hate, took on the mantle of grievance, took on the mantle of anger. And what does he do with it? He doesn’t talk to people about what could be. He trashes people around him. He foments division. And again, I would just say, I do think there are a few parallels between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. I could see Donald Trump heading into Ohio, for example, and talking about trade and really speaking to people whose lives have been dislocated and damaged by trade deals. But Bernie Sanders is not saying, “Turn on each other.” He’s saying, in a kind of old-fashioned solidarity, “Turn toward each other.” And I think that’s been lost in our politics on the Republican side.

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