‘Glorious’ Goldwater loss in ’64 gave rise to conservatism
In 1964, Republicans were on the losing end of one of the biggest landslides in American political history, as Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson beat Sen. Barry Goldwater by a margin of about 15 million votes. Many observers at the time thought the defeat marked the end of the conservative movement that supported Mr. Goldwater.
In his new book “A Glorious Disaster: Barry Goldwater’s PresidentialCampaignandtheOriginsofthe ConservativeMovement,”J.William MiddendorfIII,whowastreasurerof the Goldwater campaign, recounts how that 1964 debacle laid the groundwork for future success.
Mr. Middendorf, who later served as Navy secretary and as an ambassador in Republican administrations, is a member of the board of the Heritage Foundation and lives in Rhode Island. The following are excerpts of a recent interview:
Question: Several books have beenwrittenonthe1964Goldwater campaign. Do you feel that your book adds a new perspective to the story?
I think it probably does, because I suppose I had more to do with the campaign than just about anybody. [. . . ] The campaign really operated on cash money. [. . . ]
Curiously, our campaign was the first, and perhaps the last, to have a full audit. [. . . ] We were lauded for that, even by the liberal Democrats. Transparency was not something that is generally expected in a campaign.
We started in ‘62, decided to get an early jump. Nelson Rockefeller, our major adversary, was caught unawares. We knew we had to line up delegates early or we wouldn’t have a chance, because the prevailing mood in the Republican Party then [. . . ] Eisenhower, for example, called himself a “militant liberal.”
I was an economics student at Harvard under [free-market economist Joseph] Shumpeter and at NewYorkUniversityunderLudwig von Mises, and that’s what inspired me to join the Goldwater campaign. [. . . ]
Q:Manyyoungerreadersprobablycan’tunderstandhowdominant liberalismwasintheearly1960s.At the time of the Goldwater campaign,didn’talotofpeopleconsider theconservativemovementahopeless cause?
Not only hopeless, but even worse than that, heretical. [. . .] Everyone was a liberal, but the Republicans argued that [. . . ] they could run things more efficiently becausetheywenttoHarvardBusiness School. Everyone believed in big government — except Goldwater and the small band of conservatives who started the Goldwater movement,[including]BillBuckley and Cliff White. [. . . ]
Q:Inyourbook,youdiscusssome of the ways in which Nelson Rockefeller’s supporters undermined the Goldwater campaign. Are conservatives still bitter over some of those experiences?
Since then, the older conservatives have been kicked around by experts. [. . . ] They called us every name in the book. They called us irresponsible, radical, we were going to destroy the country. [. . . ] They believed elites could run the country better than the people. [. . . ] All that Johnson did was pick up on Rockefeller’s primary campaign themes. [. . . ] Not just Rockefeller, but [moderate Republican primary rivals Michigan Gov. George] Romney and [Pennsylvania Gov. William] Scranton. [. . . ] Lyndon Johnson had an easy job of it — all he had to do was to quote these guys. [. . . ] We were breaking the back of the Eastern liberals who had a stranglehold on the Republican Party, what we called the country club Republicans. [. . . ]
Q: Your book explains a lot of the behind-the-scenes decisions of the Goldwatercampaign—organizing, fundraising, press relations, advertising. Why is it important to un- derstand the basic mechanics of politics?
Physically,nocampaigncanbe run unless it is firmly rooted on three legs of a stool — the first leg is, of course, the candidate; the second leg is the campaign organization and issues; and the third leg has to be the finances. Too often, candidatesgetintotheseraceswithoutunderstandingtheimportanceofthefinances. Many candidates have a great message, but are fundamentally economically illiterate — at their peril. [. . . ]
Q: One of the most famous moments in the Goldwater campaign was Ronald Reagan’s televised speech,“ATimeforChoosing.”But you explain in the book that many Republicansdidn’twantthatspeech to be broadcast. Why?
Within the campaign, we had these individuals [. . . ] who felt that it might upstage Barry. [. . . ] I finally said, “All right, let’s show it to Barry.” [...]Barrytookalookatthefilmand said [. . . ] “What the hell’s wrong with this? Run it.” [. . . ]
Q:TheColdWarandthemenace of communist aggression were a central focus of the conservative movement for 40 years. Since the collapse of the Soviet empire, has it becomeharderforconservativesto unite the way they united behind Goldwater and Reagan?
We went for 10 years or so without a common enemy. [. . . ] Although there’s a developing enemy in terrorism [. . . ] that’s beginning to, in a sense, unite both parties. There’s very little temptation on the part of the incoming Democrats to cut off funding for the military. [. . . ]
Q: Like 1964, the 2006 election was a disaster for Republicans. Do you see any evidence that Republicans have learned the kind of lessonstheylearnedfromtheGoldwater campaign?
If they hear the message, they’ll learn. A lot of people elected to office are lawyers and don’t come fromaneconomicbackground,and don’t understand that all politics is economics. [. . . ]
The Republicans lost [Virginia Sen.] George Allen [who was defeated in his re-election bid], so we are now sort of a party adrift. The party is struggling to find the candidate who is most conservative.
Former Sen. Barry Goldwater, the party’s 1964 nominee for president, was feted at the 1988 Republican National Convention.