COMMENTARY | 2016 may end up a lot like 1968, especially if the U.S. intervenes militarily in Syria, or anywhere in the Middle East, before then. As an American war wages abroad, creating controversy, a domestic battle at home occurs as prominent politicians split both the Democratic and Republican primaries.
In 1968, with incumbent president Lyndon B. Johnson deciding not to run for a second full term, both vice president Hubert Humphrey and New York senator Robert F. Kennedy vied for the Democratic nomination, splitting the Democratic Party. Blast-from-the-past Richard M. Nixon, the moderate Republican vice president who had lost the 1960 presidential election to John F. Kennedy, faced surprisingly strong opposition late in the GOP primaries from conservative California governor Ronald Reagan after defeating a string of quickly-fading challengers. Meanwhile, the nation struggled under the burden of tragedy and scandal, ranging from increasing quagmire in Vietnam to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Today, like in 1968, there is no incumbent in the race, there is scandal marring the incumbent administration (NSA, Benghazi) , and racial tensions are high (Trayvon Martin shooting). Two powerful Democrats with administration ties have both made overtures of running for president, reports CNN, while a slew of Republican candidates are descending on the Iowa state fair to lay the groundwork for 2016, says ABC. In 1968 the GOP was seething for a rematch after a bitter loss in 1964 where, for the first time since 1932, the two nominees were political polar opposites, reports Kennesaw State University. Like the 1964 election, the 2012 election saw more political polarization than its recent predecessors and featured a Republican nominee who was both gaffe-prone and derided as aloof.
Could Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden split the Democratic vote between themselves and allow a resurgent Republican Party, led by blast-from-the-past Mitt Romney, a moderate who, like Nixon in ’68, could defeat his more conservative colleagues for the nomination, to win the White House? It’s certainly a possibility. Out of government, like Nixon was before 1968, Romney can play the role of Republican Party sage and soothsayer, rising to prominence as a cheerleader while figuring out how to out-maneuver more conservative legislators like Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz. Meanwhile, Biden plays Hubert Humphrey to Clinton’s RFK, dividing the loyalties of Democratic voters. The struggle of having his two-term vice president facing off against his former secretary of state could make the incumbent president unsupportive and withdrawn, as academic David Milne alleges occurred in 1968 when Lyndon Johnson came to “tacitly accept” Nixon’s approaching victory.