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Is Gary Hart Responsible for Trump?

An interesting opinion piece in Politico Magazine by journalist Tom McGrath suggests that the rise of Donald Trump would never have happened without former Colorado senator Gary Hart in 1984.

Until 1984, the Democrats were largely the party of the working class. Also by then, Black voters had massively migrated from the party that freed the slaves to the Democrats (largely due to Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society and Richard Nixon's "Southern strategy" of not-terribly-coded racism). Well-educated, affluent people were Republicans, the party with class. Ronald Reagan was running for reelection in 1984.

The establishment Democratic candidate was Walter Mondale, an old-style FDR Democrat. He was challenged by Black activist Jesse Jackson, who soon shot himself in the foot by making an antisemitic remark. There were also half a dozen other candidates, including then-Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado. Although Hart was only 8 years younger than Mondale, he gave off the vibe of someone being a generation younger. More importantly, he was not a machine politician like Mondale and attracted a very different kind of supporter than Mondale. His support came from a demographic then called "yuppies"—Young Urban Professionals."

Hart started off with a bang, coming in second in the Iowa caucuses, making him a serious challenger to Mondale. When Hart won New Hampshire a week later, it was instantly a two-man race. Hart went on to win 26 primaries and caucuses, more than Mondale's 22. He ended up winning every state west of Missouri except Kansas and Texas (which Mondale won) and Montana (which sent unpledged delegates to the DNC).

In the end, Mondale got the nomination due to his massive support from the superdelegates. But Hart started to change the Democratic Party. All of a sudden, affluent, educated people, who had been Republicans since birth, became Democrats to support him. It was unprecedented. People who yearned for tax cuts were becoming Democrats in droves?

After Mondale was crushed, losing every state except his home state of Minnesota and getting 41% of the popular vote (to Reagan's 59%) and a grand total of 13 electoral votes, Mondale snuck off stage left with his tail between his legs. Hart was the immediate frontrunner in 1988 and could have gotten the nomination and beaten George H.W. Bush, rather than getting crushed like the hapless Mike Dukakis, who won 10 states and got 111 EVs. What stopped Hart was not Dukakis, but a rumor that he was having an affair (which he denied). When the Pre-Pecker National Enquirer published a front-page photo of model Donna Rice sitting on Hart's lap on a boat appropriately named the "Monkey Business" on June 2, 1987, Hart dropped out. There are rumors that infamous dirty-pool player Lee Atwater was the one who arranged the photo and gave it to the Enquirer.

Nevertheless, Hart had a huge impact on the Democratic Party. He brought in millions of affluent, highly educated people who had previously been Republicans. This made the Democrats start to change their focus from the lunch-bucket issues that blue-collar voters cared about to things that the yuppies cared about, like the environment, women's rights, gay rights, diversity, etc., most of which were not of interest to their former supporters. Donald Trump realized that these cultural issues could be the key to a political realignment in a way that the Bushes, Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney did not. This accelerated the movement of blue-collar voters repelled by the Democrats' new positions on cultural issues to the Republicans. Trump exploited these wedge issues successfully in 2016, but without Hart attracting the highly educated yuppies in the 1984-1987 period, which set off the chain of events that realigned the parties, the Democrats would probably still have FDR's coalition (plus Black voters driven away by Nixon). (V)

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