by David Butler
A party is selecting a new leader and is using, for the first time, an open selection process. The early front-runners from the moderate wing of the party, who have dominated the party in the previous decades, have faltered and disappointed. Others, young and dynamic politicians, have refused to run for personal and political reasons. Instead, the insurgent, an outsider candidate from the left of the party is gaining momentum. He is backed by a wave of younger activists who are disappointed by the party’s previous period in government with its compromises and controversial war and are idealistic for a new settlement. As the campaign progressed, the moderates try to rally around a candidate, any candidate, to stop the insurgent left. However, it is too late. The insurgent suddenly finds himself party leader.
The year is 1972 and George McGovern has just become the Democratic nominee for President.
On his way to the nomination, McGovern defeated the combined talents of three leading party moderates, Senator Edmund Muskie, former Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson. George J. Mitchell, a Muskie staffer and later Muskie’s successor as Senator, reflected afterwards that “Muskie’s appeal was to reason, to legislative accomplishment, to sort of general policies in the best interest of the country. The primary electorate was interested in emotion, passion, strong views on every issue, and the general election candidate who tries to navigate a nomination process by not being clear on very hot button issues finds it difficult in the nominating process”.