Goldwater and Trump: A Much Abused Comparison

What really lies behind the mask of #NeverTrump.

A comparison that is repeatedly made by Democrats and establishment Republicans concerns Trump’s campaign and the disastrous defeat of GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964. This comparison is unfortunately more often than not abused. For example, Shermichael Singleton, a Republican consultant, in The Hill (June 7) faults Trump for replicating Goldwater’s “alienation of minority voters” from the GOP. This estrangement allegedly began when Goldwater took issue with the Public Accommodations Clause of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Yet the black vote for Republican presidential candidates had been declining for decades before Goldwater became a presidential candidate, going all the way back to the electoral victory of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932.

Further, despite Eisenhower’s success in winning almost 40% of black voters in 1952, running, incidentally, against a Democratic ticket with a Southern segregationist vice presidential candidate, the black vote had moved dramatically into the Democratic column before Goldwater’s crack-up. Finally, there is no evidence that Trump is doing worse among minorities than that exemplary establishment Republican Mitt Romney. Right now the Donald is polling about 15 % of the black vote, which is well beyond what Romney and McCain obtained.

It is equally silly to insist, like Erick Erickson, Guy Benson and other GOP establishmentarians, that Trump is about to lose the presidential race with a crushing defeat comparable to the one suffered by Goldwater in 1964. In that year the incumbent Lyndon Johnson won over 60% of the popular vote and more than three-quarters of the electoral vote. Goldwater was trailing Johnson by more than twenty percent through most of the campaign. Right now Trump is running only slightly behind Hillary, and the gap is likely to tighten over the next few weeks, if Trump stays on script and if his opponent becomes implicated in more scandals (which is highly likely).

The electoral catastrophe that establishment Republicans and neocon journalists don’t like to discuss is what happened to their approved candidate John McCain in 2008. McCain waged such a conflict-averse campaign and showed such fear of offending the social Left that he landed up losing conservative voters. In the popular vote McCain came the closest of any GOP presidential candidate since 1964 to Goldwater’s fiasco. He lost 58.23 % of that vote and won only 173 electoral votes. Trump would have to screw up royally in order to approach the ignominious record set by his non-extremist Republican predecessor.

There are other critical differences between 1964 and now; and I can discuss them as someone who witnessed the Goldwater campaign. The Eastern establishment wing of the party opposed the Arizona Senator’s nomination, and such then-prominent figures as Pennsylvania governor William Scranton and New York governor Nelson Rockefeller made no secret of their dissatisfaction. There were also justified fears among GOP operatives that Goldwater would carry the entire party down to defeat. And this was something that almost happened in congressional races. Liberal Republican US Senator Hugh Scott from the Philadelphia Mainline barely survived a challenge from a Democratic feminist; while other Republicans, including those who tried to run independently of the party standard-bearer, weren’t as lucky.

Such matters concerned me at the time, since I was an Eastern establishment Republican. I had wished that the party stayed with centrist presidential candidates. Even more worrisome, in the 1960s ticket-splitting was much less common than it is now; and so a risky choice at the top could and did have grave consequences. This has ceased to be the problem for party operatives that it once was: Right now in Pennsylvania our vanilla Republican Senator, who stays away from any association with Trump, is beating his rival by eight points; while Trump is still trailing Hillary by about five points, according to most reputable polls.

More importantly, those Republicans who had opposed Goldwater’s nomination never behaved with the malice and treachery that is characteristic of the Never-Trumpers and of those Washington fixtures who have gone over to Hillary. I can’t think of any parallel for the venting of hatred on Trump by Republican publicists and politicians as I look back at the liberal Republican opposition to Goldwater in 1964.  Goldwater’s Republican opponents did not explicitly attack him when he ran for president, although many (like myself) landed up voting for him with reluctance. Richard Nixon, although part of the liberal wing of his party, emphatically supported Goldwater and was rewarded four years later with the presidential nomination.

There were certainly nasty remarks made about Goldwater by Democrats and by intellectuals on the left, but the party loyalists rarely if ever went after him with the vitriol and scatological insults that is now characteristic of GOP-neocon Trump-haters. To cite just a few examples of this continuing abuse:

Bret Stephens of Wall Street Journal fired this opening salvo on August 31, 2015: “If by now you don’t find Trump appalling, then you’re appalling.”

Kevin Williamson of National Review, who seems to specialize in insulting Trump and just about anyone he perceives as being on his right, has compared the Republican nominee more than once to a “witless ape.” His colleague at NR, Jim Geraghty, believes that Trump will be “slaughtered” by Hillary Clinton and rejoices at this electoral outcome. Geraghty, who may have a problem with anger management, can’t seem to bring up Trump without going into a rant on the Never-Trump pages of what used to be the gold standard of conservative opinion.

The dean of minicon cogitators Bill Kristol dropped this gem on twitter (February 27, 2016): “What is depressing is how many conservatives are behaving like Austria.” What is shockingly depressing about this observation is not just that Kristol insults those conservatives whom he can’t control and who dare to support Trump. Even worse is his attack on the Austrians who may have voted in the majority (the electoral outcome is still under investigation) for a right-of-center member of the classical liberal Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, Norbert Hofer. Presumably good neocons would have voted for Hofer’s Socialist rival, Alexander Van der Bellen, who plans to flood his country with Muslim migrants.  Bill and his friends can never decide what they care about more, making sure that continental European countries have PC governments or trying to control the influx of Muslim terrorists. Unfortunately they’re not going to get both.

These vicious attacks on Trump and his followers are not the result of some newly discovered spirit of independence among Republicans and movement conservatives. It is quite the opposite. Those who have been in control of the party for decades, namely Washington-based advisers, neoconservative and now minicon journalists and big donors, see their power challenged by the nomination of Trump and the working class base he’s bringing into the party. Like Kevin Williamson at National Review, movement conservative “intellectuals” despise the white working class and are looking forward to their disappearance in a global economy with cosmopolitan values. Williamson is particularly exercised over “the white working class’s social dysfuntion,” although apparently less exercised over the non-white underclass’s dysfunction. Unhappily for the minicons, those whom they loathe and insult have invaded the yuppie party of Kevin, Bret Stephens, Jonah Goldberg, and Max Boot; and these unruly types are led by a blunt-speaking populist candidate, who doesn’t take orders from NR or the WSJ. 

Of course the neocons and their epigones have been triangulating since Adam. They pretend to be on the Right when they’re muscling in on what had been right-wing assets. But then they play to their friends on the Left when they accuse their opponents of being racists, anti-Semites or self-hating Jews.  They play all angles and usually win.  But at last they may have reached an impasse. Some may have gone too far fraternizing with Hill while frenetically sliming the GOP nominee. Trump will owe them nothing but the back of his fist if he prevails; while Ms. Clinton can dispose of these loud-mouthed adventurers like soiled Kleenex once she’s in the White House.

I’ve just heard the witless Jonah Goldberg explain to Hugh Hewitt how the movement will have to carry out “new purges” in order to get rid of the extremists. One might hope that Jonah will be among those purged. What comes around sometimes goes around.