McGovern’s Past Guides His Future

The foundation of Hillary Clinton’s support is beginning to crack. George McGovern, whom you may remember from his starring role in the 1972 election, has called for Clinton to drop out of the race and says he is now endorsing Barack Obama. He’s the first—and, thus far, only—Clinton supporter who has jumped ship since last night’s results*, but he still makes quite a splash.  

Guiding his decision may be his own tortured history with drawn-out delegate fights and backroom deals at the 1972 convention. To win the nomination in 1972 he had to fight through several delegate challenges , the most serious of which was about the way California’s delegates would be allocated. There’s a lot of nuance involved—including credentials committee, the Supreme Court, and conventionwide votes, but here’s the gist: The California Democratic Party decided the state would use a winner-take-all system to allot its delegates. McGovern won the state by 5 percent, so he earned all 271 of the California’s delegates. Later, the DNC adopted a proportional allocation system, and McGovern’s opponents wanted to stop California from earning a grandfather-clause reprieve. Essentially, McGovern thought his opponents were changing the rules of the game as time was winding down. Sound familiar?

Per Hunter S. Thompson , here’s what McGovern said after the credentials fight was over:  

The confrontations with the Old Guard seldom come in public. There are conversations on the telephone, plans are laid, people are put to work, and it’s done quietly. California is a classic. There will never be a case in American politics of such a naked power grab—straight power, no principle, straight opportunism. I wasn’t aware of it. … We were naïve. … [W]e really got scared when we saw the ferocity of their attack.

Personal experience has soured McGovern on naked power grabs, straight power, a dearth of principle, and straight opportunism. Personal experience has told him he can no longer support Hillary Clinton for president.

* UPDATE 2:10 p.m.: Originally, I neglected to make clear that McGovern is the first to change sides since Clinton’s defeat in North Carolina and narrow win in Indiana.