Civil rights veteran Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) compared Republican frontrunner Donald J. Trump to segregationist George Wallace in an interview with the Los Angeles Times on Saturday.
“I’ve been around a while and Trump reminds me so much of a lot of the things that George Wallace said and did,” Lewis told the Times after speaking in L.A. “I think demagogues are pretty dangerous, really….We shouldn’t divide people, we shouldn’t separate people.”
Lewis has made the same claim about previous Republican frontrunners. In 2008, for example, he said it of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a longtime friend and admirer of the Georgia congressman: “What I am seeing reminds me too much of another destructive period in American history. Sen. McCain and Gov. [Sarah] Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse,” he said.
McCain demanded that then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) repudiate Lewis’s comments, which had seized on a few reported outbursts by attendees at McCain’s campaign rallies. “Congressman John Lewis’ comments represent a character attack against Governor Sarah Palin and me that is shocking and beyond the pale…The notion that legitimate criticism of Senator Obama’s record and positions could be compared to Governor George Wallace, his segregationist policies and the violence he provoked is unacceptable and has no place in this campaign.”
The Obama campaign distanced itself from Lewis’s remarks–partially: “Senator Obama does not believe that John McCain or his policy criticism is in any way comparable to George Wallace or his segregationist policies. But John Lewis was right to condemn some of the hateful rhetoric that John McCain himself personally rebuked just last night.”
In 2012, Lewis also implied that Obama’s Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, wanted “to take us back” to the Jim Crow era. The remark came in the context of criticizing voter ID laws (though they are favored by a majority of black voters).
Lewis frequently invokes the civil rights struggle for political purposes, often casting Republicans as racists and would-be segregationists. In 2010, he also claimed Tea Party demonstrators on Capitol Hill had used the “N-word.” No proof was ever produced, despite the presence of hundreds of video cameras. Other Democrats echo Lewis’s claims–though few seem to be aware that George Wallace was a Democrat.
On Saturday, Lewis told the Times that the Trump campaign brought back bad memories: “Sometimes I feel like I am reliving part of my past. I heard it so much growing up in the South…I heard it so much during the days of the civil rights movement. As a people, I just think we could do much better.”
Last week, Politico reported that Trump could win more black votes than any Republican since Ronald Reagan, and could depend on black votes to win.