Toward the end of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, the governor of Georgia was a white trash dingbat named Lester Maddox – who is still with us, in one crude form or another – and when the curtain finally falls on George Wallace, he will probably go down in history as the Greatest Thief of them all. Wallace was the first Southern politician to understand that there are just as many mean, stupid bigots above the Mason-Dixon Line as there are below it, and when he made the shrewd decision to “go national”‘ in 1968, he created an Alabama-based industry that has since made very rich men of himself and a handful of cronies. For more than a decade, George Wallace has bamboozled the national press and terrified the ranking fixers in both major parties. In 1968, he took enough Democratic votes from Hubert Humphrey to elect Richard Nixon, and if he had bothered to understand the delegate selection process in 1972, he could have prevented McGovern’s nomination and muscled himself into the number two spot on a Humphrey-Wallace ticket.
McGovern could not have survived a second-ballot shortfall in Miami that year, and anybody who thinks the Happy Warrior would not have made that trade with Wallace is a fool. Hubert Humphrey would have traded anything, with anybody, to get the Democratic nomination for himself in 1972 …… and he’ll be ready to trade again, this year, if he sees the slightest chance.
And he does. He saw it on the morning after the New Hampshire primary, when five percent of the vote came in as “uncommitted.” That rotten, truthless old freak was on national TV at the crack of dawn, cackling like a hen full of amyls at the “wonderful news” from New Hampshire. After almost four years of relatively statesmanlike restraint and infrequent TV appearances that showed his gray hair and haggard jowls – four long and frantic years that saw the fall of Richard Nixon, the end of the war in Vietnam and a neo-collapse of the U.S. economy – after all that time and all those sober denials that he would never run for president, all it took to jerk Hubert out of his closet was the news from New Hampshire that five percent of the Democratic voters, less than 4,000 people, in that strange little state had cast their ballots for “uncommitted” delegates.
To Humphrey, who was not even entered in the New Hampshire primary, this meant five percent for him. Never mind that a completely unknown ex-governor of Georgia had won in New Hampshire with more than 30% of the vote; or that liberal Congressman Morris Udall had finished a solid but disappointing second with 24%; or that liberal Senator Birch Bayh ran third with 16%……. None of that mattered to Hubert, because he was privy to various rumors and force-fed press reports that many of the “uncommitted” delegates in New Hampshire were secret Humphrey supporters. There was no way to be sure, of course – but no reason to doubt it, either; at least not in the mushy mind of the Happy Warrior.
His first TV appearance of the ’76 campaign was a nasty shock to me. I had been up all night, tapping the glass and nursing my bets along (I had bet the quinella, taking Carter and Reagan against Udall and Ford) and when the sun came up on Wednesday I was slumped in front of a TV set in an ancient New England farmhouse on a hilltop near a hamlet called Contoocook. I had won early on Carter, but I had to wait for Hughes Rudd and the Morning News to learn that Ford had finally overtaken Reagan. The margin at dawn was less than one percent, but it was enough to blow my quinella and put Reagan back on Cheap Street, where he’s been ever since …… and I was brooding on this unexpected loss, sipping my coffee and tapping the glass once again, when all of a sudden I was smacked right straight in the eyes with the wild-eyed babbling spectacle of Hubert Horatio Humphrey. His hair was bright orange, his cheeks were rouged, his forehead was caked with Mantan, and his mouth was moving so fast that the words poured out in a high-pitched chattering whine …… “O my goodness, my gracious …… isn’t it wonderful? Yes, yes indeed……. O yes, it just goes to show…. I just can’t say enough…….”
No! I thought. This can’t be true! Not now! Not so soon! Here was this monster, this shameful electrified corpse – and raving and flapping his hands at the camera like he’d just been elected president. He looked like three iguanas in a feeding frenzy. I stood up and backed off from the TV set, but the view was no different from the other side of the room. I was seeing The Real Thing, and it stunned me……. Because I knew, in my heart, that he was real: that even with a five percent shadow vote in the year’s first primary, where his name was not on the ballot, and despite Jimmy Carter’s surprising victory and four other nationally known candidates finishing higher than “uncommitted,” that Hubert Humphrey had somehow emerged from the chaos of New Hampshire with yet another new life, and another serious shot at the presidency of the United States.
Hunter S. Thompson, “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’76: Third-rate romance, low-rent rendezvous — hanging with Ted Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and a bottle of Wild Turkey”, Rolling Stone, 1976-06-03.