In 1964 conservatives nominated Barry Goldwater as the first conservative candidate for president in the modern era, and the parallels between establishment efforts to derail Donald Trump today and what happened before and after Goldwater’s nomination are instructive.
Barry Goldwater, from Arizona had new ideas about what being a conservative meant, but when he was first elected to the Senate in 1952 he didn’t have a national reputation or following.
Goldwater developed that reputation and following by being the principled and consistent spokesman for conservative principles – even when it meant criticizing President Dwight Eisenhower’s “Modern Republicanism” as a “dime store New Deal.”
Throughout the 1960’s Goldwater and a group of mostly young conservative thinkers defined what became the modern conservative movement. The movement offered its most cogent expression in The Sharon Statement, written by the late M. Stanton Evans and had its arguments put forth in book length when, in 1960, Senator Barry Goldwater published The Conscience of a Conservative with the help of L. Brent Bozell, Jr. as his ghost writer.
The Republican establishment was thus on notice that conservatives intended to change the way things worked in Washington, and that change did not involve merely swapping who was going to collect taxes for the growing welfare state and handout the prizes to the lobbyists – it was going to be real and profound.
This scared the Devil out of establishment Republicans who had grown lazy and comfortable trading their votes for a couple of stop lights for their district as members of the near-permanent minority party in Congress.
And that’s where the parallels between Trump in 2016 and Goldwater in 1964 start to get very, very clear.
While “Trumpism” lacks (at least for now) the intellectual meat that conservatives put on their agenda it poses the same threat to the go-along-get-along DC Republican establishment.
In 1964, as Goldwater’s new ideas about conservative government began to sell, the GOP establishment launched a desperate “Stop Goldwater” campaign and anointed a variety of progressive Republicans as the official establishment favorite, but one after the other they flamed-out.
Goldwater’s acceptance speech at the 1964 Republican National Convention in San Francisco has become a classic of American political thought, but its most memorable line, “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue,” would be used against him, much as some of Trump’s most memorable and, we might add, most accurate lines, have been used against him.
Suddenly, liberal Republicans claimed to be shocked. The party they had controlled for so long had fallen into the hands of “extremists.” Political commentators were equally taken aback. After hearing the speech, one reporter expressed their collective opprobrium: “My God, he’s going to run as Barry Goldwater.”
They’ve said much the same thing about Trump.
Goldwater’s credo played into the hands of establishment Republicans eager to thwart the conservative takeover of the GOP, and Democrats eager to hold on to power in Washington, by allowing them to continue the drumbeat of criticism of him as an “extremist” that began during the Republican primaries.
After Goldwater won the nomination, the progressive Republican establishment did little to help him and much to hurt him. He was attacked on a personal level as an “extremist,” a “kook,” and a “crackpot” who had no hope of winning the general election.
Progressive establishment Republicans also labeled Goldwater a racist for opposing, on principled constitutional grounds, much of President Johnson’s civil rights legislation, and labeled him a warmonger for advocating a military build-up to not just counter, but to roll back the Soviets. Goldwater’s blunt and often profane, off-the-cuff comments seemed to confirm such charges when he joked that he would “lob” missiles “into the men’s room at the Kremlin.”
This year what you get is Speaker Paul Ryan saying he would sue if a President Donald Trump were to implement his proposed Muslim ban. And Wall Street Journal deputy editorial page editor Bret Stephens trashes Donald Trump and his voters by saying Trump needs to lose decisively to Hillary Clinton so that grassroots conservative Republican voters learn their lesson.
Stephens later told Hugh Hewitt, “I think a Donald Trump presidency raises a new kind of version of conservatism which more closely resembles a kind of Father Coughlin, America first populism and nativism and isolationism, than the confident, modern, cosmopolitan, thoughtful, engaged conservatism of Ronald Reagan and Paul Ryan.”
As Richard Viguerie observed in Takeover, the pattern set in the Eisenhower and Goldwater campaigns still holds true today. When a conservative loses, he is expected to campaign for the establishment Republican winner. When a conservative wins, the losing establishment candidate routinely undermines the conservative, as Rockefeller, Scranton, and Romney did to Goldwater in 1964 and Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney and their media acolytes are doing to Donald Trump today.
The closer we conservatives get to accomplishing the goal of making the Republican Party the vehicle to govern America according to conservative principles, the more desperately the Republican establishment is going to resist.
There are a lot of parallels between 1964 and 2016, but the most important one is this: By defeating Goldwater, establishment Republicans created the opportunity for Democrats and their progressive Republican allies to bankrupt the country in wars that lacked a strategy for victory and to enact the regulatory and welfare regime that continues to plague our economy and limit our liberty fifty years on.
If you want to keep the establishment Republicans who are ruining this country in power, and enrich the lobbyists and sycophants who are profiting from that ruin, by all means join the Ryan – Romney – Wall Street Journal cabal to stop Trump.
If you want to allow the Ryan-Obama tide of illegal aliens to continue to overrun our borders join the #NeverTrump gang. If you think the Ryan-Obama approach to fighting Muslim terrorism in America has made us safer, by all means join the #NeverTrump gang. If you want see your church lose their tax-exempt status, if you want your guns confiscated, by all means sit out the election and let Hillary Clinton win.