#1: ”How could Nixon have beaten McGovern so badly? Everyone I know voted for McGovern!”
(I suspect that this was was never said seriously, and was that case of the “liberal coastal / campus elites” mocking their cultural isolation.)
#2: How did McGovern win in South Dakota anyway? He supported Henry Wallce in 1948 — that alone feels like it should be a deal-breaker. Though, maybe the answer lies in how Bill Clinton won in Arkansas after having lead the (fruitless) effort to convince Texas to vote George McGovern in 1972.
#3: Forever connected to Goldwater in the “Landslide Losers” with the winner leaving office in a sense of disgrace. Goldwater “won” three election cycles later. Did McGovern ever pull that feat? It is hard to tell… we have murmurs about that Carter did it, and that Obama did it — in two different respects.
#4: There are two competing gambits at work in 1972. One was that McGovern counted on the third party candidacy of George Wallace. Two was that once Wallace went down, McGovern would work a “two sides against the Corruptible Center” campaign that would pull in the Wallacites — a run against Big — Big Corporations, Big Government (if largely the Military part of it), even Big Labor. This, of course, would not work out — Wallace voters may have edged to McGovern in some remaining primaries, but they trecked over to Nixon in the General election.
#5: Lyndon Johnson more or less threw sly support to Nixon — more or less both in 1968 and in 1972. And the “boy howdy” phone call between Nixon and Humphrey in 1972, with Humphrey apologizing to Nixon saying “I had to support McGovern” even if he didn’t really want to — says what shall be said.
#6: It’d be interesting to know how this election might have gone differently had McGovern not botched his vice presidential pick. Could he have at least won a few states?
#7: Walter Karp’s “Indispensable Enemies” fits McGovern as a fake reformer, put up to stop the Real Reformer of Eugene McCarthy, then to be summarily dumped by “The Machine”. Curiously, the lineal descendant — John MacArthur’s “You Can’t Be President” — which liberally quotes Karp’s book even includes a blurb from the “Not President” McGovern. Things get a little more complex for the cynical Harpers editors in the guise of Carter — sympathetically portrayed in Karp’s 1988 “Liberty Under Siege” though McGovern wrote an editorial early in Carter’s term castigating Carter as going against Democratic Party and Liberal principles.
#8: Pat Caddell was doing some poll work for the Democratic Party for the 1974 midterms. He found a curious poll result: McGovern apparently won the presidential election. At least as much as a huge slice of the electorate was now unable to admit that they voted for Nixon.
#9: McGovern’s final primary endorsements went to the (Clinton stalking horse) Wesley Clarke and then to Hillary Clinton. He was also the “Even Liberal Icon George McGovern” spokesperson for the anti-Union Card Check cause.