Hillary Clinton has been the target of a lot of feigned outrage this week for stating the self-evident: Half of Trump's supporters are attracted to him because of his racism, sexism and many other "isms" that our better angels have rejected as "deplorable."
While the characterization of Clinton’s comment as a gross political misstep may or may not prove to be correct, it's always illuminating to look back at previous elections, and there is no election that is more similar to this one than Lyndon Johnson's 1964 duel with Barry Goldwater.
In July of 1964, President Johnson signed the most racially polarizing law of his generation: The Civil Rights Act. Goldwater was one of twenty-seven Senators to vote against it. Even though Goldwater had a history of opposing segregation and was arguably not a racist, he was the candidate of choice to racists who opposed the goals of desegregation and other equality measures codified by the Civil Rights Act.
Currently, reality TV star Donald Trump has won the Republican nomination largely on the support of a similar coalition of racists, a.k.a. the deplorables. Except that Trump has come at this much differently: He sought out the deplorable community by questioning whether the first black president was really born in the United States, then cemented himself as their leader by broad-brushing Mexican immigrants as "criminals, drug dealers and rapists," and calling for a ban on all Muslims from entering the United States. And all the while he has been repeatedly suggesting that our first black president is somehow in cahoots with our top enemy, ISIS.
Goldwater and Trump are similar in that they were both not only the candidate of choice of the deplorable community, but because this "basket of deplorables" delivered their respective nominations.
The big difference, though, is that in 1964 calling Goldwater's supporters "deplorables" wouldn't have been out of step with the mainstream criticisms fired at the Republican nominee's supporters.
In the Johnson campaign's famous ad, "Confessions of a Republican," the focus is on the deplorables backing Goldwater. A bewildered mainstream Republican looks into the camera and bemoans, "I tell you, those people who got control of that convention: Who are they? I mean, when the head of the Ku Klux Klan, when all these weird groups come out in favor of the candidate of my party — either they're not Republicans or I'm not."
"Those people" that got control of the convention were the same ones that chanted Republican New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller off the stage when he condemned them as “people who have nothing in common with Americanism” and the ones who “the Republican Party must repudiate."
Members of Goldwater's own church were so dismayed by his adoration by racists that more than 700 prominent Episcopalians—including ten bishops—issued a "statement on conscience on racism in the presidential election" condemning the "transparent exploitation of racism among white citizens."
A New York Post editorial said of Goldwater’s nomination:
"Racists have never before enjoyed so big a night."
Martin Luther King, Jr., said that the biggest threat was not so much Goldwater, but his deplorable backers.
"While not himself a racist, Mr. Goldwater articulates a philosophy which gives aid and comfort to the racists. His candidacy and philosophy would serve as an umbrella under which extremists of all stripes would stand."
Roy Wilkins, then head of the NAACP, said that "Senator Goldwater himself is not regarded as a racist," but that "his supporters are some of the most outspoken racists in America."
AFL-CIO President George Meany compared Goldwater drumming up support among racists to Hitler's rise in the 1930s and baseball icon Jackie Robinson echoed the same sentiment: "A new breed of Republicans has taken over the GOP. It is a new breed which is seeking to sell to Americans a doctrine which is as old as mankind—the doctrine of racial division, the doctrine of racial prejudice, the doctrine of white supremacy. If I could couch in one single sentence the way I felt, watching this controlled steam-roller operation roll into high gear, I would put it this way, I would say that I now believe I know how it felt to be a Jew in Hitler’s Germany."
NBC anchor Chet Huntley said that Goldwater supporters were a mix of "classic Republicans, segregationists, 'Johnson-phobes,' desperate conservatives, and radical nuts."
Current polling suggests that, just as in 1964, at least half of Trump's supporters are indeed attracted to him for racist, sexist and other deplorable reasons. To put a number on it only 12 percent of Trump's supporters believe that Obama is really a Christian and only 21 percent believe he was born in the United States.
The big difference, though, is that today when a candidate not known for “saying like it is" says it like it actually is, she gets derided for being insensitive to the (ironically) hyper-insensitive deplorable community.