Fear and Loathing? The 2020 Election is a Repeat of 1972

“How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?”
― Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72

As one would probably expect from a man living in Las Vegas and dedicating his life to something as preposterous as writing about political betting , I’m a massive Hunter S. Thompson fan. “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72” is my favorite thing I’ve ever read.

It’s the perfect combination of hilarity, brilliant political insights via a sort of outsider perspective, and Thompson repeatedly sticking his thumb in the eye of the jackals who operate in the power circles of this lovely country of ours.

I’ve always hated the rule followers – the people who just shut up and “play the game.” The thought of creating controversy for one of them by labeling them an ibogaine junky makes me downright giddy. The book is an absolute masterpiece.

I wish political betting – real political betting, not the wagers Hunter was continually making with other reporters on the campaign trail – had been around when the good doctor was still in his prime. He often referred to himself as a handicapper – he would have loved it.

So, imagine my delight when I realized that the American people were about to be treated to an identical repeat of the 1972 storyline! The conditions are perfect. We’ve got a reviled president embroiled in impeachment hearings, a promising progressive outsider making a run, and a democratic party desperate to nominate one of their establishment insiders instead.

Seeing as how I’ll never be half the writer Hunter S Thompson was, I’ll have to settle for the next best thing (well, two things). 1) I’m going to record my predictions that things will play out identically through the primaries and 2020 presidential election, giving me “I told you so” rights in perpetuity, and 2) I’m going to use this advanced knowledge to wager on the festivities and make some money.

Repeating Storylines and a Belief in “The Simulation”

A reasonable person might notice that life here on Earth is relatively cyclical and that certain patterns repeat themselves throughout history because human nature is more or less human nature, regardless of the year. That another sitting president is facing impeachment while a progressive democratic Senator is one of the favorites emerging to challenge him is hardly evidence of some great existential force recycling old storyline. To most, it should probably be seen as a mild coincidence, at best.

That’s how I would have seen it, right up until November 18, 2018 – the day I became convinced we live in a simulation. I was writing about football betting back then. That was the day Washington Redskins QB Alex Smith received an identical leg injury to the one Joe Theismann had suffered exactly 33 years to the day before him.

Tell me these similarities are all “just a coincidence:

Similarities Joe Theismann Alex Smith
Date November 18, 1985 November 18, 2018
Injury Broken Right Tibia Broken Right Tibia
Yard Line 40-yard line 40-yard line
Tackler Lawrence Taylor (first three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year) JJ Watt (second, and only other, three-time Defensive Player of the Year)
Final Score 23-21 23-21
Opponent / Jersey Color NY Giants / Red, white, & blue Houston Texans / Red, white, and blue
Pro Bowl Left Tackle Joe Jacoby – Missing due to injury Trent Williams – Missing due to injury

Joe Theismann was sitting in the stands watching the game when Smith went down. He told TMZ, “It was I think 166th game for Alex. Mine was 167. Basically, the same place on the field. Heck, I have a nephew named Alex Smith who’s 33-years-old … the whole thing is crazy.”

I mean – that’s too weird to happen twice with so many similarities, right? Exactly 33 years apart, to the day?!

Anyway, I guess it’s too bad Nixon’s not around to observe the Trump administration. He’d probably get a kick out of it, and I bet by now he’d be a beloved figure in the Democratic party. People have already come around on George W. Bush, after all.

Whatever the case, my faith in the nature of reality is permanently shaken. And to whoever you are out there, writing these scripts – stop being lazy! Good God, write something with a happy ending for once!

The Participants

Now, to be clear – I assert that the main storyline or arc will be the same in 2020 as the 1972 presidential election; that doesn’t mean all of the details will be identical. There are a few modern candidates who share important qualities with more than one politician from the past.

For example, I’ve gone back and forth on whether Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton is this year’s Hubert Humphrey. Humphrey was a former Vice President and George McGovern’s main establishment rival in the DNC, which feels like Biden.

However, he also played a key role in some serious shenanigans in the previous election cycle’s Democratic Convention, which is also reminiscent of Hillary. Similarly, Humphrey went on to lose the general election by an extremely narrow margin to Richard Nixon.

Then there’s the pesky fact that Clinton hasn’t announced that she’s running in 2020 yet, despite it feeling more like an inevitability by the day. And in that way, she more closely resembles Ted Kennedy – another member of a political dynasty whose influence and potential participation loomed over the primaries.

So, not all of the comparisons are 100% the same. That changes nothing – it’s going to be just as eerie and disappointing when they hit all of the key plot points.

Think of it like the Hangover sequel: same movie, but the guy gets a face tattoo instead of losing a tooth.

Donald Trump – Richard Nixon

The easiest comparison to make between 1972 and today is between the two incumbent presidents. However, that’s largely due to the historical lens through which we see Richard Nixon. At the time of the ‘72 democratic primaries and subsequent general election, Nixon was a popular president. And while he did go on to be impeached later, that didn’t happen until 1973 – a year into his second term.

Speaking of popularity – one of the challenges of highlighting the similarities of the two situations is how much the media has changed over these almost-50 years. Back then, journalists – for the most part – were still more concerned with getting their stories right than helping “their team.” You wouldn’t have had an MSNBC or Fox News dedicated to defending one party at all cost – or at least ignoring any negatives about them – while constantly attacking the other.

So, it may not be a stretch to say that Donald Trump is a popular president – at least within his own party. One of the reasons Dick Nixon gets that label is because of how easily he swept through the Republican primaries. Trump will not encounter a significant challenger to his GOP nomination in 2020.

The most glaring difference in the worlds these two presidencies – besides the functions of the media – is the public’s opinion of war. In 1972, one of the biggest issues hanging over Nixon’s possible second term was whether he’d pull our troops out of Vietnam. The American people desperately wanted to end.

This may be the result of our modern hyper-partisanship – fueled by our two dueling media “realities” — but the vocal public appears to despise Trump way more than they love the troops. Pundits and voters that otherwise consider themselves “left-wing” frequently become war hawks the minute he mentions pulling out of a foreign country.

Another interesting similarity between the two men involves their respective relationships with China. The trade war in which Donald is currently engaged is directly related to Richard Nixon’s efforts to open the then-isolationist nation to the West.

He made similar overtures to the USSR – but, for obvious reasons, such a move with modern-day Russia would not be celebrated as the foreign relations achievement it once was. Joseph McCarthy was out of office by 1957, and his special brand of paranoia wasn’t resurrected until recently.

Legend has it that McCarthy’s body was exhumed and thrown into a volcano in 2015 – just like evil Lord Xenu in Scientology mythology (allegedly! I don’t want to be sued or have my life ruined. I’m just joking, I promise; I’m sorry Tom Cruise). After the volcano erupted, his essence was scattered in a billion microscopic particles. Rachel Maddow inhaled 40% of them, but the rest were distributed evenly over the United States.

Bernie Sanders – George McGovern

“McGovern is the only major candidate—including Lindsay and Muskie—who invariably gives a straight answer when people raise these questions. He lines out the painful truth, and his reward has been just about the same as that of any other politician who insists on telling the truth: He is mocked, vilified, ignored, and abandoned as a hopeless loser by even his good old buddies like Harold Hughes.”

Our lovable protagonist in this story – from the perspective of Hunter S Thompson’s book – is Bernie Sanders. Senator McGovern was considered “far-left” in 1972 and rode a wave of support – the backbone of which was the “Youth Vote” — to a surprise nomination.

In a lot of ways, McGovern’s 1972 run in the Democratic primaries more closely resembles Bernie’s challenge to Hillary Clinton in 2016. The difference being, back then, the DNC had just adopted a new primary system and hadn’t figured out how to use Super Delegates and similar tricks to swindle away the win from non-establishment candidates yet.

Senator Sanders won’t be catching anyone off-guard as a top-tier contender for the nomination this year. There will still be quite a bit of shock, however. After 2016, even the staunchest Bernie supporters are at least half-expecting some shenanigans to cost their guy a chance at the White House.

Just like McGovern, Sanders is already meeting resistance from the affluent Democratic elite who rule the party. The DNC is desperately searching for anyone who can mount a formidable opposition to the social democrat while maintaining a moderate platform.

More on how this story ends later.

Joe Biden – Ed Muskie

As we head into 2020, with the first primaries less than two months away, Joe Biden is considered the favorite to win the Democratic nomination. Like the former Vice President, Ed Muskie was the establishment favorite and a moderate. Polling had him as the frontrunner, and the candidate most likely to beat Nixon in late-1971.

Still, it’s hard to say whether Joe will end up playing the Muskie role or be 2020’s Hubert Humphrey when all is said and done. If the news headlines Biden has been racking up lately are any indication, it’s looking like the former.

Despite winning the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, Ed Muskie’s primary run was short-lived. A forged letter was printed in the Manchester Union-Leader claiming that the former Secretary of State made disparaging remarks about French-Canadians. The same paper printed another hit piece the next day accusing Muskie’s wife of being a racist drunk.

In response, the democratic favorite gave an impassioned defense in a press conference held outside of the offending newspaper’s offices. His speech – which was delivered during a snowstorm – came off as defensive, and he called the Manchester Union-Leader’s editor a “gutless coward.”

The media reported that the candidate had broken down crying , which Muskie contends was merely moisture from the snow. Whatever the case, his campaign was tanked, and “Big Ed” withdrew from the race soon after.

When I think of Ed Muskie crying in the rain, I can’t help but picture Joe Biden testifying before the Senate during Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. Just this week, an attendee at an Iowa town hall asked Joe a question about why a Ukrainian energy company would hire his son – who didn’t have any real background in the industry – unless they were hoping to benefit from the relationship in some way.

That line of questioning resulted in the former VP getting extremely defensive, calling the man “fat” and challenging him to a pushup contest . All of this just a week after a bizarre video was released of Biden “nibbling” on his wife’s fingers as she gave a stump speech at a rally. Oh, and let’s not forget about the lifeguarding speech that went viral at the same time as the creepy fingers incident.

(I’m going to be honest with you here, I haven’t been able to finish the lifeguarding clip. I start to watch, and I get so embarrassed I bail every time. It’s like that scene in Swingers when John Favreau leaves like 15 consecutive messages on the answering machine of a girl he just met that night.)

I can tell you this – at one point, he describes to the crowd of African-American children in attendance that “I got hairy legs that turn…blonde in the sun. And the kids used to come up and reach into the pool and rub my leg down, so it was straight and then watch the hair come back up again.” There was also an anecdote about an encounter with a gang leader named “ Corn Pop ,” at some point in the festivities.

My point being: if anyone is going to have a promising campaign end in shame and humiliation due to something they said publicly, it’s going to be Joe Biden. That he’s still in the race now – when, in 1972, a tearful defense of one’s wife’s honor was enough to be considered unelectable – shows how tolerant we’ve become as a nation.

If anything, this comparison isn’t fair to Ed Muskie. Nevertheless, the essential similarities are there: favorite to win the democratic nomination embarrasses himself and drops out of the race.

Hillary Clinton – Hubert Humphrey or Ted Kennedy

Hillary Clinton is the biggest wild card in the 2020 presidential election and the most significant threat to my theory. Hubert Humphrey pulled off a political coup of sorts in 1968 to steal the Democratic nomination in a way that’s vaguely familiar but even more blatant than what Clinton got away with against Bernie Sanders in 2016.

Humphrey was seen as the establishment stand-in, versus Eugene McCarthy, who was running an anti-war campaign. The former Vice President didn’t even participate in the primaries, but the delegates gave him the nomination regardless – despite the fact that 80% of the primary voters had backed anti-war candidates. The injustice of it all sparked the Chicago riots.

And like Hillary Clinton, Humphrey went on to lose to Richard Nixon by a narrow margin.

However, Hillary hasn’t announced that she’s running again in 2020 – which Hubert had by this time in 1971. She’s given some pretty clear indications, but nothing has been made official.

If she does join, can we be sure that she’ll be defeated by a wave of progressive voters the way Humphrey was? Would she even step in without being guaranteed another shot at the Oval Office?

Maybe she’s 2020’s Ted Kennedy instead – someone who appears to be continually dipping their toe in the water, but never ultimately jumps all the way in.

Mayor Pete – Eugene McCarthy / Sam Yorty

Admittedly, this is one of my flimsier connections, but there were a few moments in the book in which something relating to Eugene McCarthy reminded me of Pete Buttigieg.

Like the Mayor, McCarthy received an elite education before joining military intelligence. Eugene served as a code breaker in WW2, while Pete did whatever the hell he did for McKinsey and the CIA **AHEM** I mean, whatever he did for Navy Intelligence while deployed over in Afghanistan.

There was also something about Senator McCarthy that stood out to me when I was reading up on him concerning what a nasty guy he could be behind the scenes. Despite being known as a relatively “clean” politician, he had a sharp tongue and could be mean and vindictive.

In the fifth Democratic debate, I saw flashes of those same qualities. There was something in the way he responded to Tulsi Gabbard’s initial challenge — something behind his eyes — that seemed to barely conceal a cold murderous rage. He continued on in the calculated, clinical way psychopathic serial killers work to then follow up his counterpunch with another strike questioning the Congresswoman’s now famed meeting with Assad.

Those moments are what I was reminded of when reading about Gene McCarthy’s complaints about Bobby Kennedy’s supporters being “less intelligent” when the latter was challenging for the 1968 democratic nomination. After Kennedy was assassinated , McCarthy is quoted as saying that he “brought it on himself.”

Again, I have no proof that Pete Buttigieg operates in this fashion. I just know that he worked for McKinsey — a notoriously evil “strategic consulting company” with CIA ties — and how he’s run his campaign thus far. Also, how he makes me feel when I’m watching him communicate. There’s a lot of darkness in that little Whovian.

Oh yeah…I threw in Sam Yorty because he was a Mayor – albeit of Los Angeles, a much more important city than South Bend, Indiana (sorry Notre Dame fans).

Betting the Democratic Primaries

“There is a sense of muted desperation in Democratic ranks at the prospect of getting stuck—and beaten once again—with some tried and half-true hack like Humphrey, Jackson, or Muskie… and George McGovern, the only candidate in either party worth voting for, is hung in a frustrated limbo created mainly by the gross cynicism of the Washington Press Corps. “He’d be a fine President,” they say, “but of course he can’t possibly win.” Why not? Well”

Bernie Sanders to Win the DNC Nomination (+450)

In terms of betting odds, Bovada has Bernie Sanders listed as the fourth favorite to win the Democratic nomination – behind Elizabeth Warren (+425), Pete Buttigieg (+300), and Joe Biden (+280). That’s excellent value for the candidate raising the most money, with the largest number of individual donations, and the most substantial crowds showing up to rallies.

If you’re one of the few people left that’s able to see the world even somewhat objectively, political betting will be very kind to you this year. The only reason Bernie Sanders appears to have legitimate competition is that the media and Washington DC elite are doing everything in their power to marginalize the man — all while reporting the reality that they’d like to see – like someone who’s read The Secret too many times.

Fortunately, we have the benefit of hindsight this time, so we know they won’t be able to stop Bernie’s momentum two elections in a row. Plus, with Biden inevitably melting down, they won’t have a powerful establishment candidate with which to replace him while maintaining some plausible deniability that it was done fairly.

Who’s Our Thomas Eagleton?

But just because they won’t steal the nomination from Senator Sanders again doesn’t mean they won’t sabotage him! Eventually, a deal will be made, and the Democratic Party will reluctantly agree to get behind their candidate – just like those evil “Bernie Bros” wouldn’t do in 2016. **shakes fist in the air**

As a concession, he’ll be asked to choose a Vice President with centrist/moderate politics – you know, to “widen the appeal” of the ticket. This person will inevitably do something that destroys Sanders’s campaign from the inside. Either they’ll have skeletons like Eagleton’s drinking and shock therapy, or they’ll do and say things to alienate the progressives that delivered Bernie’s nomination in the first place.

Some early guesses – just off the top of my head – as to who the 2020 Thomas Eagleton will be:

  • Cory Booker
  • Julian Castro
  • Tammy Duckworth
  • Amy Klobuchar
  • Kamala Harris
Best Bets
Bernie Sanders to win the Democratic nomination

Betting the General Election

“How many more of these stinking, double-downer sideshows will we have to go through before we can get ourselves straight enough to put together some kind of national election that will give me and the at least 20 million people I tend to agree with a chance to vote FOR something, instead of always being faced with that old familiar choice between the lesser of two evils?”

Donald Trump to Win the Presidential Election (+125)

The Democratic primaries end with an enthusiastic horde of young voters and previously-disenfranchised progressives with a newfound faith in the system that they never believed would give them the candidate for whom they’ve been asking since 2016.

And naturally, the establishment machine does everything in their power to gradually squash that momentum and crush Bernie’s chances. One of the billionaire Democrats will run a third-party spoiler campaign, Barak Obama will publicly criticize Senator Sanders’ progressive ideals as “unrealistic and stubborn,” and the goofy VP pick will screw up over and over again.

In the end, Bernie Sanders loses in a monumental landslide. The establishment elite then points to the loss as “proof” that the American people don’t want to tax billionaires or enjoy free health care and college tuition. The 2020 presidential election is used against progressives as an example in “electability” arguments for the next 20 years.

If you needed any more proof…
…that the elections mirror each other, here’s a conversation Hunter has with the President of the Washington Redskins during a flight:

“Ed’s a good man,” he said. “He’s honest. I respect the guy.” Then he stabbed the padded seat arm between us two or three times with his forefinger. “But the main reason I’m working for him,” he said, “is that he’s the only guy we have who can beat Nixon.” He stabbed the arm again. “If Nixon wins again, we’re in real trouble.” He picked up his drink, then saw it was empty and put it down again. “That’s the real issue this time,” he said. “Beating Nixon. It’s hard to even guess how much damage those bastards will do if they get in for another four years.”

Sound familiar?

That’s what makes this Bernie Sanders-George McGovern comparison so sad – because while I’m cynical enough to know better, he still believes. Even after leaked emails definitively proved that the Democratic party conspired against him in 2016, he still truly believes that if he just campaigns well enough, builds up enough support, and gets the required votes, they’ll actually allow him to become President.

I wished I shared his optimism. Although, to be honest, I’m glad the 2020 election is just going to be a repeat of Richard Nixon’s landslide victory in 1972. I’d rather see “them” — the all-powerful billionaire class and their friends in the intelligence community – screw him out of the White House than see them kill him.

On that note, I’ll leave you with one last Hunter S Thompson quote:

“Even now, before I’ve even finished this article, I can already feel the compulsion to start handicapping politics and primaries like it was all just another fat Sunday of pro football…

There is something perverse and perverted about dealing with life on this level. But on the other hand, it gets harder to convince yourself, once you start to think about it, that it could possibly make any real difference to you if the 49ers win or lose…”

Amen to that.

Best Bets
Donald Trump to win reelection
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Will Cormier / Author

Will Cormier is a sports and political betting writer living in downtown Las Vegas, Nevada. When he’s not wandering around the streets of the Arts District aimlessly, a lifetime of pessimism and paranoia has made Will perfectly suited for handicapping politics. Cormier tries to analyze current events as objectively as possible – a strategy that often enrages loyalists on both the right and the left. When he’s not covering major upcoming elections, Will enjoys writing about basketball, football, and MMA from a betting perspective. He also loves dogs, ice cream sundaes, the movie “Stomp the Yard,” and long walks on the beach.

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