Barry Goldwater versus the RINOs

Gloomy folks today who mistrust the Republican Party should look back fifty years to March 1964, when RINOs ruled the Republican Party with an iron hand, and appreciate the miraculous campaign of grassroots conservatives who succeeded in nominating Barry Goldwater.  This man was the first conservative in forty years (and the only conservative prior to Reagan in 1980) to actually fight big government, federal overreach, global government acolytes, and all the other scurrying varmints connected with the odious secular faith of leftism.

Consider just how low the Republican Party had fallen before Goldwater.  Calvin Coolidge, brilliant, principled and successful as president, was the only conservative prior to Goldwater in the twentieth century.  Hoover was the most popular man alive in 1920, because of his work to feed the children of Europe, but he had been so nonpolitical that both Democrats and Republicans wanted him to be their nominee.  In 1952, Eisenhower would also be courted by both political parties, which spoke well of his wartime achievements but also spoke volumes about his ideological indifference.

Landon in 1936 ran as an efficient governor, rather like Hughes had run in 1916 as an honorable judge or Taft had run in 1908 and 1912 as an effective administrator.  These men were hardly leftists – indeed, they were good Americans in the general sense of the term – but they spoke and behaved as if the enemy of good government was not the moral pox of leftism, but rather poor management or dishonest government.

Nixon, who carried the Republican banner three times – 1960, 1968, and 1972 – was an opportunistic politician and not a principled conservative.  Those who think today that conservatives in 1968 and in 1972 rolled over for Nixon are wrong.  Reagan was an unofficial candidate at the Republican Convention in 1968, but with only two years as governor of California and Nixon’s muscle with career politicians, Reagan could not win. 

In 1972, National Review declined to support Nixon for re-nomination, supporting instead Congressman John Ashcroft.  In the general election, many conservative organizations supported Congressman Schmidt, the American Party nominee.  Conservatives understood that Nixon was the man who federalized environmentalism with his creation of the EPA, that Nixon in “Revenue Sharing” gave states a vested interest in federal tax and spending policies, and that Nixon’s tepid appointments to the Supreme Court abandoned the needed purging of Warren Court activism.

Reagan in 1976 would challenge President Gerald Ford for the nomination and almost win it, and Reagan would coast to the nomination in 1980, as well as the first of his two landslide wins in the general election.

Conservatives were loud and angry voices against RINOs from 1968 onward, but what had been the success of conservatives in Republican national politics before that? 

Consider the very nadir of Republican acquiescence to the left, the 1940 Republican Convention.  Wendell Willkie, the nominee that year, was not even a registered Republican.  His political career, which was very brief, was as an elected member of the New York Democratic Committee.  When Willkie attended the University of Indiana, he belonged to the Socialist Club.  After he lost the presidential election – a campaign in which he seemed to have hardly tried to win – Willkie “wrote” the book One World, which is just as ghastly as its title suggests.

The candidate in the next two presidential elections, Tom Dewey, was governor of New York and had slavishly fallen in line with the rest of the Republican Establishment in letting Willkie be the 1940 nominee without screaming about the manifest problems of having a former socialist and current Democrat be the one to fight Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Alone – all alone in the years between 1928 and 1976 – is the Republican nomination of Barry Goldwater.  It would have been hard to pick a more principled man.  Although excoriated for not supporting the 1964 Civil Rights Law, leftists conveniently ignored his sponsorships of civil rights bills for a decade before that bill, and his correct objection that government banning private decisions regarding race was fundamentally different from government banning state decisions based upon race.  These leftists also conveniently forgot that while Goldwater was founding the Arizona NAACP Chapter, LBJ was running in the Democratic Party’s “whites only” primary for the Senate.

When Goldwater was nominated in 1964, the whole Republican Party establishment abandoned him.  Goldwater’s defeat was used to scare Republicans from nominating in the next four conventions what Phyllis Schlafly in her 1964 book called A Choice Not An Echo.

But 1964 was the last Republican convention in which conservatives were attacked, per se, for their political philosophy.  Today RINOs feign conservatism; fifty years ago the same Establishment Republicans decried conservatism itself as a quasi-fascist creed.  Those immune to optimism will always see now as worse than yesterday, but the Goldwater Revolution of 1964 was dramatic and wonderful then – and similar sentiments are making for a similarly wonderful revolution today.

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