Hit & Run

One Candidate Had a Foreign Policy That Anticipated Trump's

From George Wallace to Donald Trump

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Walt Kelly

For doves, Donald Trump's campaign may be the most mixed bag in recent political history. He can speak movingly about the damage done by the Iraq war, and he can float wild notions about seizing Iraq's oil. He has condemned the American intervention in Libya, and he has suggested a more "surgical" war there would have worked. He's an Iran hawk and a Russia dove. He attacks NATO and defends torture. Ultimately he's a nationalist, and his mix of militaristic and anti-interventionist opinions is as good a demonstration as you can find of the ways nationalism can be pulled in different directions.

So Trump is not a Ron Paul, or even a Pat Buchanan. But there is one significant presidential candidate of the last half-century whose approach to foreign policy resembles the current Republican nominee's. It's George Wallace, who ran four times for the White House, most notably as the American Independent Party candidate in 1968. Trump/Wallace comparisons are a dime a dozen these days, but they rarely if ever include the two men's thoughts on global affairs. They should.

In public memory, Wallace's foreign-policy views have been overshadowed by those of Curtis LeMay, the hawk he picked as his running mate in '68. In their first press conference after he got Wallace's nod, LeMay launched into a lecture bemoaning America's "phobia about nuclear weapons." ("I think there are many times when it would be most efficient to use nuclear weapons," he announced earnestly. "However, the public opinion in this country and throughout the world throw up their hands in horror when you mention nuclear weapons, just because of the propaganda that's been fed to them.") Wallace, who knew political poison when he heard it, kept breaking in to assure everyone that LeMay did not actually mean what he seemed to be saying, and LeMay kept piping up with yet more comments that undermined the man at the top of the ticket. It was a disaster, and Wallace probably came away from the event wishing he'd managed to nab one of the other choices he'd considered for the veep job, like J. Edgar Hoover or Col. Sanders.

Yet when Wallace himself discussed foreign policy, he didn't sound like Dr. Strangelove. Accent aside, he sounded like Donald Trump. When Pete Hamill covered Wallace's '68 campaign for the New Left magazine Ramparts, he quoted the candidate's attack on Ho Chi Minh's American sympathizers: "I promise you when I'm elected President and someone waves a Viet Cong flag or raises blood, money or other things for the enemy, we're gonna throw him under a good jail someplace!" Then he got to Wallace's views on the war itself:

To visitors freshly arrived, his views on Viet-Nam seem surprising; the popular image of Wallace, at least in the east, would lead him to believe that he is a Super-Hawk who is fully prepared to unload the hydrogen bomb on the yellow vermin of Southeast Asia. But he actually says something quite different.

"Now about Viet-Nam," he says. "I don't think we should have gone in there alone in the first place. I think we should have gone to our Western European allies and the noncommunist nations of Southeast Asia, and if we decided to go in there at all, we should have told them we would not carry the military and economic burden alone. That they would have to share equally, and if they were not interested, I would cut off every dime of foreign aid and make them pay back every cent they owe us datin' back to World War One. [Big Applause] So I would go to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and I would ask them, 'Can we win this war with conventional weapons?' And if they said yes, I would make full use of the country's conventional weapons to quickly end this war and bring our boys home." This always brings a roar from the crowd. Wallace never says what he would do if the Joint Chiefs told him the war was not winnable with conventional weapons. Some of his aides say that he would pull out "and to hell with it."

That sure sounds like the Trump of 2016, doesn't it? There's the declaration that he wouldn't have gotten us into this mess in the first place. There's the focus on foreign aid, and there's the idea that the U.S. is being ripped off by its alleged allies. There's the hand-waving promise to consult the best experts. There's the double reference to flexing Washington's military muscle ("make full use of the country's conventional weapons") and achieving peace ("to quickly end this war and bring our boys home"). And of course, there's the disdain for radical protesters. There were reasons here to believe the speaker might be more dovish in practice than his internationalist opponents, and there were reasons not to be sure. It wasn't a speech for doves, and it wasn't a speech for global crusaders either. It was a speech for nationalists.

The remnants of Wallace's third party still exist in several states. And this month in California, the state's American Independent Party—founded way back in 1967—endorsed a candidate for president. For the first time in its history, it backed the nominee of one of the two major political parties: Donald Trump.

Bonus video: I can't find the full Wallace/LeMay press conference online, but this brief video features a couple of moments from it: