Segregationist presidential candidate George Wallace’s daughter and two of his former top aides said in interviews this week that candidate Donald Trump is squarely in Wallace’s racist, populist tradition.
“There are a great deal of similarities as it relates to their style and political strategies,” said Wallace’s daughter, Peggy Wallace Kennedy. “The two of them, they have adopted the notion that fear and hate are the two greatest motivators of voters. Those voters that feel alienated from the government. Those voters tend to make decisions based on an emotional level rather than intellectual.”
“They both understood, my father and Donald Trump, that low-information voters, they tend to feed off of the threats to their livelihood and safety without really considering what that threat really is, or even if it’s real,” she continued. “So daddy and Trump have this magnificent personality, a brave put-ons that the average American wants in a leader.
Wallace, who served four terms as governor of Alabama, is probably best remembered for his attempt to physically block black students from enrolling at the University of Alabama. He ran for president four times (three as a Democrat) in 1964, 1968, 1972, and 1976, galvanizing white, southern voters behind his opposition to integration and his attacks on blacks and the student protest movement. His 1972 campaign was cut short when he was gunned down at a shopping mall in Laurel, Maryland.
In the 1980s, Wallace admitted to being wrong about race, and during his last run for Alabama governor, appealed to and won the support of some black voters. Wallace appointed many black leaders to political positions in his administration and personally apologized to James Hood and Vivian Malone, the pair he had once blocked from entering the University of Alabama.
Still, many remember most Wallace’s legacy during the ‘60s and ‘70s.
“He’s very similar to George Wallace in a lot of ways,” said Wallace’s 1968 campaign executive director Tom Turnipseed. “Both of them use a lot of the same kind of scare tactics and fear.”
“He appeals to the fear,” continued Turnipseed, who describes himself as a “reformed racist" (he became a civil rights lawyer and, at one point, sued the Ku Klux Klan). “That’s why he pushed the Mexican thing, and now he’s throwing the Chinese in there too. He uses that same kind of thing, that fear thing that Wallace did…. As far as the tactics they use, the scare thing, is a lot alike to be honest with you. The way they use the scare thing. In Trump’s thing it’s the Mexicans, the wetbacks that we used to call them, the Chinese too a little bit. Back in Wallace’s time it was African-American people.”
Turnipseed’s wife, Judy, who also worked for Wallace noted the similarity in his and Trump’s presentation.
“Their style is a lot alike,” she said. “They’re both very charismatic. Their rhetoric is really powerful, and they don’t really talk that much about solutions, but the fear and anxiety.”
Trump and Wallace share a flair for the flamboyant. During campaign appearances, Trump, like Wallace, uses tough language on those who interrupt his events.
“I love you too, I sure do,” Wallace said to one protester. “Oh I thought you were a she, you a he. Oh my goodness.”
In another instance, Wallace said he’d run over a group of anarchists.
“And when he was in California, a group of anarchists lay down in front of his automobile and threatened his personal safety. The president of the United States,” he said of another protester. “Well I wanna tell you, if you elect me president of the United States and I go to California, or I come to Arkansas, and some of them lie down in front of my automobile it’ll be the last one they ever want to lie down in front of.”
“Come up here after I’ve completed my speech and I’ll autograph your sandals for you,” Wallace once said to another protestors.
“I don’t know that Wallace ever had much to say what he was gonna do about things,” she continued. “Just, ‘the federal government,’ ‘the pointy headed liberals’ were trying to tell us what to do, and we were gonna stand up for ourselves and stand up for America. That kind of thing.”
“Another thing that I think is similar is that, a lot of people are saying that Trump is saying out loud what people are thinking,” she added. “They really said that about Wallace. That he articulated what people were thinking. And a lot of people are saying that’s what they like about Trump. That Trump says out loud what lots of people are thinking and don’t have enough courage to say. I’ve heard that a lot of times and that’s one of the common things that people said about Wallace.”
Peggy Wallace Kennedy, who has been vocal in her calls for "racial healing" and was an early endorser of Barack Obama's candidacy in 2008, made a similar comparison.
“They both can draw a crowd and work up a crowd,” she said. “My father was a very fiery and emotional speaker and was able to tap into the fears of the poor and working-class white people. American voters are looking for a leader who can fight first, rather fight first then seek rational solutions.
For her, the similarities even extended to campaign themes.
“One of my father’s presidential campaign themes was ‘Stand up for America’, and Trump’s is ‘Make America Great Again.’ Well the message does not suggest how you do that. It just reminds us that the average Joe who thinks America is in the dumpster, which I feel it is not. But they make you think that it is,” she said.
And for her, there was one main difference between the two men: Wallace, she said, did not go as far as Trump with personal attacks.
“I think my father had more self-restraint and respect for the institutions of government than Trump does,” she said. “I think my father understood the limitation of the executive branch of government, where I don’t think Trump does. And I think Daddy, even though he used coded language to use racial themes, he never attacked a culture based on their religion and race. He used coded language to suggest the racial themes. But he never specifically attacked a group of people based on their religion and their race. And I think Daddy had a respect for the process and the candidates. A great respect for the process and especially the process. He would have never leveled vicious attacks on the other candidates, especially those have been so personal. Daddy never would have done that.”