In any other moment in history, Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign probably would have ended on the same footnote as it began. But the unusual conditions that gave rise to that massive roster of candidates also ended up powering Carter’s candidacy in a way that defied all expectations.
Times are different now, of course, and the Democratic Party has changed — more coastal, more upscale, more diverse. It’s also much harder in our interconnected world to hide in plain sight as Carter did. Still, come 2020, there may be more than a whiff of ’76 in the air. Right now, it’s the usual suspects — Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and the rest — who get most of the attention, but is there another man (or woman) from a place like Plains who might capture the moment and catch fire?
In the same way Carter made a socially acceptable outsider’s pitch to the Wallace crowd, perhaps there’s a Democrat from Trump Country who could do the same with the voters Hillary Clinton dismissed as “deplorables.” The two-term governor of Montana, Steve Bullock, enjoys roughly the same national profile Carter did in 1976. Or what about another Georgian — say Sally Yates, the former deputy attorney general, who might connect with the wave of feminist activism unleashed by Trump’s presidency?