By Steven Hayward at National Review
Steven Hayward is the Ronald Reagan Visiting Professor at Pepperdine University and the author of The Age of Reagan. We link to his The Week In Pictures post at Power Line each Saturday. Check Power Line throughout the week for other posts there by Mr. Hayward.
Conservatives looking for some bit of consolation in the prospect of a Donald Trump nomination have begun to suggest that Trump’s probable general-election defeat to Hillary Clinton, though a disappointment, might portend a new, invigorated conservatism — much like Barry Goldwater’s landslide defeat to Lyndon Johnson in 1964. If history doesn’t repeat itself, as the saying goes, perhaps it rhymes.
And, indeed, Goldwater’s crushing defeat is surely the most fruitful loss in American political history. His campaign galvanized the conservative movement and wrested the Republican party from the grip of its eastern moderate faction, setting the stage for the ascendance of, among others, Ronald Reagan. The chain of causation is straightforward: no Goldwater, no Reagan “Time for Choosing” speech; no “Time for Choosing” speech, no Governor or President Reagan. As George Will said at National Review’s 25th-anniversary celebration, which took place just after Reagan’s 1980 landslide: “Goldwater won the election of 1964; it just took 16 years to count all the votes.”
As historical analogies go, this one appears promising on the surface. The excitement surrounding Trump, the new or previously disengaged voters he is drawing out, and the disruption he is visiting upon the previous boundaries of “acceptable” political discourse might suggest that he offers a Goldwater-like opportunity to change the direction of American politics, even if he loses. Trump hasn’t just moved the Overton window on immigration, Islamism, and several other issues; he’s shattered the glass and torn out the frame. What conventional GOP candidate is capable of doing that?
But the proposition that Donald Trump is the second coming of Barry Goldwater overlooks crucial distinctions between 1964 and today. First, unlike 1964, this year’s election is winnable, and it’s perverse to suggest throwing away a winnable election. In the mid 1960s, with the exception of the fledgling American Enterprise Institute, there was almost none of the infrastructure that exists now — no Heritage Foundation, no Cato Institute, no Americans for Tax Reform, and few grassroots groups — and conservatives had almost no influence in Congress. A conservative candidate faced structural disadvantages that are unthinkable today.
And 1964 was particularly difficult. In fact, 1964 was an unwinnable election for any Republican presidential candidate. Barry Goldwater knew that his candidacy was doomed from the moment of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. As William F. Buckley wrote in National Review at the time, three presidents in 14 months is the kind of thing people go for in banana republics, not in the United States.
In those circumstances, it made sense to conduct a campaign to advance conservatism within the Republican party, which before Goldwater was still in the “me, too” mode of offering low-budget liberalism as an alternative to Democrats’ still regnant New Dealism. (In the 1960s, the “constructive Republican alternative program” was known on Capitol Hill by the obvious acronym “CRAP.”) Goldwater understood this. He would later say: “We knew that the only thing we could accomplish would be moving the Republican headquarters from New York to the West Coast, and we did that. We got it away from the money.”
Again, on the surface this sounds much like what Trump is doing. It is no doubt correct to interpret Trump’s support as a massive rejection of the Republican party’s current leadership. But does today’s Republican “establishment” have the same ideological character as the establishment of 1964? It is one thing to be out of touch or to have ineffectively opposed Barack Obama or to have badly misjudged a key issue (immigration). But it takes a whopping lack of perspective to conclude that today’s Republican “establishment” is liberal. (The many people who think Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are “RINO” collaborators with President Obama presumably will reconsider after a term under President Hillary Clinton, House speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer.)
Furthermore, in his resistance to the Republican establishment of 1964, Goldwater ran a campaign of true conservative principles, articulated in his 1960 best-seller Conscience of a Conservative, in which he laid out a conservatism that sought to contest, rather than compromise with, the order that had prevailed since the New Deal. Trump, by contrast, shows little acquaintance with the conservative movement or serious conservative thought. Whatever the virtues of The Art of the Deal, it is no Conscience of a Conservative.
It seems clear that, instead of besting a liberal establishment, the Trump campaign is fracturing the conservative movement.
Goldwater’s campaign prefigured the coalescence and ascendance of that movement. Goldwater was Moses to Reagan’s Joshua; Goldwater didn’t get us to the Promised Land, but he showed the way. Who would be Trump’s successors? Who might give a pro-Trump “Time for Choosing” speech in October? A Trump defeat would more likely mean an exile into the political wilderness for a now- fractured conservative movement, and it would be the Republican “establishment,” not the Tea Party, that would pick up the pieces of a shattered party. It is tempting to see a historical precedent in the election of 1912, when the GOP split in two and handed the White House to Woodrow Wilson, who won fewer popular votes than William Jennings Bryan had in 1908. But Republicans may do better to reflect on the election of 1860, when the Democratic party split in half over the unacceptability of Stephen Douglas to southerners. The Democratic party, on the presidential level, didn’t recover for 70 years.
That is likelier with Trump than with any other nominee Republicans could choose this cycle. And here one parallel with 1964 is appropriate. Prominent liberals — from Martin Luther King Jr. to California governor Pat Brown to reporters at CBS News — eagerly proclaimed Goldwater a “fascist” and said that the 1964 convention prefigured “Hitlerism.” About the vitriolic media coverage, Goldwater later remarked: “If I had had to go by the media reports alone, I’d have voted against the son-ofabitch, too.” It is not a stretch to expect this sort of rhetoric from the Left over the course of the general election — to the detriment not just of Trump but of conservatives down the ballot. And given the violence erupting at Trump rallies, his reflexive authoritarianism, and the nativist sympathies of his most ardent fans, this charge would be far more compelling than it was when directed at Goldwater.
In 1964, Goldwater was the only conservative candidate in a field of liberal Republicans. This election cycle featured many worthy conservative candidates, several of them with significant accomplishments (Governors Jindal, Perry, and Walker come to mind). It is a peculiarity of this cycle that Trump has won chiefly because the conservative vote has been divided; it is doubtful he’d have won head-to-head votes against most of the top tier of this field. For those looking for a conservative alternative, Ted Cruz is still standing. The knock on Cruz is that he’s unelectable, though most polls show him running more strongly against Hillary Clinton than would Trump. But even if you conclude that Cruz would face an uphill general-election fight, it is better to lose with Cruz, whose approach to the issues showcases clarity and depth, than with Trump, who is inconsistent, unprincipled, and opportunistic.
It is astonishing that after eight years of Obama, when the normal cycles of politics favor the out-party, the Republican party — which, as National Review’s late publisher William Rusher liked to point out, is merely a vessel for conservatism, as a bottle is for wine — is threatening to break apart. Goldwater didn’t break the conservative movement; he consolidated it. If the conservative movement is reconstituting itself, it would be better to do so with an authentic conservative candidacy. Harry Jaffa, the man who wrote Barry Goldwater’s famous line “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice,” also counseled, “To prefer noble failure to vulgar success is of the essence of moral freedom and human dignity.” If you want a noble conservative beacon who might herald, in 2016, what Goldwater did in 1964, the junior senator from Texas fills the order better than the vulgar populist from Manhattan.
A personal reflection on Goldwater’s candidacy in 1964
I have been interested in politics since my early childhood. As a 9 year-old in 1956, I watched as much as possible of both the Republican and Democrat National Conventions where President Eisenhower was re-nominated as the Republican candidate for President and where Adlai Stevenson was chosen by the Democrats for a second run against Ike. I liked Ike.
In 1964, I was a high school student at Monterey High School in Lubbock, Texas. I worked after school and on weekends at the Furr’s supermarket on 50th Street not far from the high school. I read historian J. Evetts Haley’s self-published book A Texan Looks at Lyndon, a book that confirmed many of my suspicions about the vain, crude, manipulative, corrupt Lyndon Johnson. I also read Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative. It was Goldwater’s book that jelled my thinking as a Conservative.
So, here I was, a high school kid, carrying on a quixotic campaign for Goldwater in Lubbock, Texas. I had “AuH2O” bumper stickers at all four corners of my car, a Dresden Blue 1957 Ford Custom Tudor sedan. I had a huge Goldwater roof sign on the car. I got boxes of Goldwater literature and went door-to-door campaigning for Barry. I took my earnings from Furr’s and went to radio station KFYO and bought air time and recorded my own radio spots for Goldwater.
Goldwater visited Lubbock during the campaign and I was able to meet him very briefly and got his autograph. He was astonished to learn that I had recorded my own radio spots for him.
I was furious at my parents when I learned that they voted for Johnson. For some two months after the election, I spoke to them as little as possible and avoided having any contact with them to the extent that I was able. Of course, I was crushed that Goldwater lost Lubbock. I knew he had a snow ball’s chance in hell of carrying Texas, but I thought he would at least carry Lubbock!
In 1968, I was living in Canyon, Texas and attending West Texas State University (now West Texas A&M). True to my Conservatism, I supported Reagan’s bid but when Nixon became the 1968 GOP nominee, I supported Nixon. Canyon is in Randall County. At the tender age of 21, I became chairman of the Nixon campaign in Randall County. I was able to meet Nixon, his wife Pat and their daughter Julie when they were on a campaign swing through the Texas Panhandle. Nixon carried Randall County in the ’68 election. Randall County was one of the first counties in Texas to begin moving away from the lock hold the Democrats had had on Texas since the Civil War Reconstruction. I was rewarded for my efforts in the campaign with an invitation to Nixon’s inauguration. I was able to go – and to this day I remember the hippies demonstrating against him, breaking glass in store fronts in Washington, D.C. and being tear gassed by the riot police. I was close enough that I got some tear gas in my eyes and I got out of the area as quickly as I could.
I was always disappointed in Nixon as a president, even before Watergate. He was a big government Republican and we can “thank” him for giving us the Environmental Protection Agency.
After Goldwater, I became a “Reagan man,” and supported Ronald Reagan in each of his bids for the presidency. For the 2016 election, I believe that Ted Cruz is the legitimate heir of Goldwater-Reagan Conservatism. I discount the suggestion that Cruz is unelectable. They said that about Reagan, too …
Here is Steven Hayward’s
The Week In Pictures
Meanwhile, at the
Stalinist Democrat Party:
Why John Kasich NEVER Should Be President:
(An Instant Classic for the You Can’t Make This Stuff Up File!)
And now, in closing: