George McGovern: Still Backing Clinton, But Going Way Off Script
Former senator and Democratic presidential aspirant George McGovern says he sees some striking similarities when it comes to his run at the White House and that of Sen. Barack Obama. But ultimately, McGovern argues, Obama has organized a much wider political coalition and thus a greater chance of electoral success.
"I think that is his strength," McGovern told The Huffington Post. "He has very broad appeal. He certainly is going to galvanize the black vote. But he has strong appeal to voters of all kinds. Some of the old buckaroos out here in South Dakota are for him."
In recent days, following Obama's loss in the Pennsylvania primary, concern has been raised in Democratic circles that the Illinois Democrat could not expand his political base beyond African-Americans and college students -- a limitation that stunted McGovern's candidacy.
But McGovern, who lost the 1972 election to incumbent Richard Nixon by landslide margins, doesn't attribute his defeat to merely the contours of his political base. Indeed, he argues that his candidacy was damaged more by the infighting that occurred within the Democratic Party even after he had secured the nomination.
"After I had the nomination won and everything except the crowning at the convention, the other candidates that I had defeated in the primaries and the caucuses ganged up on me and spent the next month just bad mouthing me around the country," he said. "And, of course the Nixon people used some of the quotes and threw them back at me in the general election."
It is in this regard -- not necessarily his general election defeat -- that McGovern worries history could end up repeating itself. Noting that Obama seems poised to be the eventually nominee, though believing Sen. Hillary Clinton should stay in the race, he called for a more civil discourse between the two candidates.
"That is the one minus," he said. "I think there has been a little too much negative backbiting. And that is the one negative that concerns me because it is what happened to me in '72... I had to go into that convention exhausted, instead of spending the last few months carefully and systematically picking a running mate and getting my convention organized. We can't have that again."
This, however, is not the only similarity McGovern draws between his run for the White House and the current process. In '72, after he won the California primary and clinched the nomination, McGovern's Democratic opponents argued that the delegation should have been rewarded on a proportional basis, rather than winner-take-all. It was, McGovern says, a changing of the rules in mid-game that resulted both in the weakening of his campaign and his limping into the convention. Thirty-six years later, he sees parallels with the Clinton campaign's push to count the results of the non-DNC-sanctioned Florida and Michigan primaries.
"We can't overturn those rules now that the counting is over," he said. "I think Barack didn't even enter one contest [Michigan]. Those states knew what the rules were, all the candidates knew what the rules were, and to change it now I think is wrong."
It's not the only process issue on which McGovern, who has endorsed Clinton, finds himself at varying odds with the New York Democrat. On the topic of superdelegates, which were created as a concession to the primary reforms that McGovern initiated, the South Dakotan argues that these party insiders must take into strong consideration the pledged delegate tally.
"Yeah, I think that is important," he said. "It also reduces the frustration we would have if the candidate with the most pledged delegates was rejected. There is going to be some frustration anyway. There always is. I just hope it doesn't result in the kind of back-fighting I had to face after I secured the nomination."
Despite these differences, McGovern is not backing away from his support of Clinton. He deems her "one of the most talented, articulate and well-informed people in the country," whom he has known for 35 years, since she worked on his campaign in Texas. And he expects her to stay in the race at least until the last primary commences in his home state. But in the interim, he hopes, the tone and tenor of the campaign will be ratcheted down a notch,
"I don't want to see Hillary or Barack giving McCain ammunition in the general election," said McGovern. "It is more important that we not have another four years of Bush government."