Fred Grimm

Trump’s South Florida rally stirred up memories of George Wallace campaign

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Boca Raton on Sunday, March 13, 2016.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Boca Raton on Sunday, March 13, 2016. AP

No fist fights. No head knocking. No arrests. Not at this Trump rally. No days-of-rage style violence demonstrating that Donald Trump’s incendiary campaign has been leading us toward a 1968 redux.

Of course, the event was staged in the way-out reaches of Boca Raton, nine miles west of Interstate 95, amid meticulously landscaped gated communities nestled among so many man-made lakes and golf courses. (Such an incongruous setting for so much unhappy rhetoric.) A county park in West Boca was too far removed from the young, urban, angry lefties apt to disrupt Trump’s Sunday night festivities.

Only about 50 or so protesters showed. The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, mindful of the violence that burst out after a canceled Trump event in Chicago last week, preempted all the fun. The protesters were directed to a spot 100 yards away from the Sunset Cove Amphitheater where 6,000 sign-waving Trumpies had gathered to make America great again.

Plenty of officers, some on horseback, made sure that the hostile exchanges between the protesters and Trump supporters remained only verbal.

“Love trumps hate! Love trumps hate!” chanted the protesters.

“Build the wall! Build the wall!” shouted the counter-protesters, who police had herded to the other side of the street.

No one will be writing ’60s-style protest anthems based on the confrontation at Sunset Cove. (I did see a woman protester with a “Thug” sign escorted out of the amphitheater, but she was protected by a phalanx of cops. Nobody tried to slug her.)

The onstage rhetoric, however, was plenty reminiscent of the stuff coming out of George Wallace’s 1968 independent presidential campaign, back when he was the populist insurgent who scared the hell of the political establishment (and carried five states in the general election). Wallace, too, attracted large and rowdy crowds by appealing to white working-class discontent and simmering bigotry. His supporters embraced his combative, unfiltered Trumpesque language. Forty-eight years before Trump said, “I want to punch a protester in the face," Wallace had promised, “If any anarchists lie down in front of my automobile, it will be the last automobile they ever lie down in front of.”

Wallace exploited resentment against minorities, Washington bureaucrats and “pointy-headed intellectuals.” At the height of his campaign, the New Republic’s Richard Stout wrote that Wallace had become “ablest demagogue of our time, with a bugle voice of venom and a gut knowledge of the prejudices of the low-income class.”

Trump, surely the ablest demagogue of 2016, has built his own formidable insurgency by raging about Washington insiders, Muslims and undocumented immigrants. “The border is a disgrace, drugs are pouring in, people are pouring across,” he told the crowd Sunday. And the crowd answered, “Build the wall! Build the wall. Build the wall!”

The West Boca crowd, however, might want to make a distinction between the illegal immigrants Trump intends to deport and the hard-working folks who keep the lawns and putting greens thereabouts so damned immaculate.