[NY Governor Nelson Rockefeller addressing the convention at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, July 1964 [from Somehow It Works: A Candid Portrait of the 1964 Presidential Election by NBC NEWS (1965)]
This has not been an easy election season for finding historical parallels. In 1860/1912 Redux?, Michael Nighan pointed similarities with the three and four candidate races of 1860 and 1912. Now an election with multiple candidates looks unlikely. I was quickly proved wrong when suggesting Trump might become a political footnote like William Randolph Hearst in 1904. I was wrong when smugly reassuring Peter Wehner he would not have to not vote for Trump. At least I was right in that Cruz’ gold standard was a fool’s errand. And I still don’t think Maz Boot will vote for Josef Stalin. (ALL AT END)In February I saw noticeable parallels between the 1964 Republican primaries and today’s. (BELOW) In 1964, with a razor-thin win in California in the final and conclusive primary, Barry Goldwater upended the Republican establishment who repeatedly failed to derail his candidacy. In that scenario, Goldwater is Trump, although actually Cruz, the hard right movement conservative, is the heir of Goldwater, the self-proclaimed Conscience of a Conservative.
In 1964, the Republican establishment, divided and ineffective, fought Goldwater up to acceptance speech. Anointing Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton — in one poll of overall Republicans he beat Goldwater 60 – 34% — as the last ditch hope. Nelson Rockefeller acting the Trojan Horse at the Cow Palace smuggling in at the eleventh hour his most uncompromising anti-Goldwater rhetoric of the campaign. A shadowy attempt to “shanghai” Goldwater delegates — even warned to be on the lookout “for unexpectedly easy companionship from new-found female friends.”
But after Indiana and Cruz and Kasich suspending their campaigns, a contested convention is unlikely. There will be no nail biting finale in California as in ’64. No Paul Ryan ala Scranton to the rescue. No independent run by a Republican like Bull Moose Roosevelt in 1912. Certainly not George W. Bush being Eisenhower behind the scenes quietly urging Republicans to somehow make the Cow Palace Goldwater’s last stand.
If the Convention in Cleveland 2016 will lack the full drama of San Francisco in ’64, nonetheless, we will see if Trump can do what Goldwater could not: reconcile and unify.
For a brief analysis of the 1964 Convention, we can do no better than Richard Hofstadter (1916-1970) who in 1964 was one of America’s preeminent historians and widely recognized public intellectuals.
Like David S. Brown, author of Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography (2006), I discovered Hofstadter in the 90’s in graduate school. Once exposed, like Brown, I gobbled up Hofstadter’s writings as if they were free pizza at a grad social. Many a seminar paper was leavened — if not salvaged — by some Hofstadterian intervention. His “Psychic Crisis” theory on the Spanish-American War saved me — the way Scranton could not at the Cow Palace — on more than one occasion.
As Brown explains, while Hoftstadter was a liberal — one whose nuanced and far ranging thought eclipsed nominal labels — he was not usually directly engaged in partisan politics. Goldwater’s candidacy was an exception.
And, like many liberals, Hofstadter critiqued the New Right of the late 50’s and early 60’s, seeing it as a dangerous mixture of status resentment (see Trump), ultra-conservative fundamentalism (Cruz) and a “paranoid style” (see many). And in Goldwater’s candidacy, Hofstadter saw its dangerous apotheosis which “was far from accidental.”
In June 1964, before the convention, he wrote a letter to the New York Times that could be from David Brooks. As Brown says, Hofstadter believed the Goldwater candidacy threatened to upend the two party system that chimed with the realities of an urban and ethnically mixed electorate.
Never a fan of Eisenhower (more for his supposed anti-intellectualism than his policy approaches), Hofstadter called upon the former President to save his party by declaring for another candidate, asking both committed Republicans and Democrats to do so also. Hofstadter suggested Scranton, thinking a strong statement from Eisenhower could “rally the party’s moderates to challenge the Goldwater faction” to — in Brown’s words — cast out the radical candidate from the liberal kingdom. Eisenhower stayed on the sidelines.
When Goldwater was nominated, Hofstadter took flight from his normally distanced if ironic tone. Shrilly — today it would not seem shrill at all — Hofstadter warned, indulging in a bit of the paranoid style:
If [Goldwater] is successful, whether elected or not, in consolidating this party coup he will have brought about a realignment of the parties that will put the democratic process in this country in jeopardy. One is loathe to speculate on the consequence for the safety of the world . . . If I am right, Goldwater owns his party for the calculable future, and if he fails this year is to have another try . . . I have never been persuaded by those who see the wave of a coming apocalypse in every wrinkle on the social surface; but it is now much easier that American is visibly sick with a malady that may do us all in.
Hofstadter was relieved when Goldwater lost in a landslide to Johnson.A year later, returning to his customary more moderated style, in “Goldwater and Pseudo-Conservative Politics” (from The Paranoid Style in American Politics, 1965), Hofstadter reviews the options — “the traditional placatory rituals” — Goldwater had to unite and reconcile. The options Trump will face.
First was the construction of the platform. Ultimately, Goldwater repudiated many recent Republican policies:
Proposed amendments endorsing civil rights, reasserting civilian control over nuclear weapons, and condemning extremist groups were crushed, and in the debate over the last of these, Governor Rockefeller was interrupted unmercifully by booing from these galleries. (The Goldwater managers, disturbed by this outburst, were able to prevent their delegates from persisting in the demonstration but could not stop their partisans from giving vent to their feelings.)
Will Trump stand by his proposals to build that wall with Mexico’s money, threaten China with huge tariffs, leave NATO, and (temporarily) ban all Muslims from entering the U.S.? Will Kasich get booed off the stage?
And then Goldwater’s acceptance speech:
Most presidential candidates try to look their best at the strategic moment when their party convention acclaims them. For Goldwater this was impossible. His moment of victory found him firmly in the hands of his ecstatic pseudo-conservative followers.
Will Trump’s speech be Presidential, the traditional placatory ritual or Trump unplugged? Will his supporters want anything but Trump being Trump? Elsewhere in the essay, Hofstadter says “The shock inflicted by San Francisco was that some gesture seemed imperative.” But Barry stayed Barry. (And then Reagan carrying Goldwater’s mantle won a second term landslide 20 years later.)
In the end, one point of this Hofstadterian digression (hopefully of some interest to political junkies) is that the 2016 Republican primaries will not play out like 1964. (Although Paul Ryan may have sat this one out, waiting for 2020 the way Nixon waited for 1968.)
But like Goldwater, Trump has reshaped the electoral environment. The next parallel-flummoxed searchers may find is Goldwater v. Johnson. Again, the Agony of the GOP? Or this time the Ecstasy?
THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE FROM FEBRUARY “G.O.P. Fears What’s Next If Trump Can’t Be Stopped” — New York Times, February 25th, 2016.
On the Republican side, 1964 pitted the so-called “primitives” led by Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater vs. the “Eastern Establishment”: New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Vice President Richard Nixon, Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. (Nixon’s running mate in 1960), Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton, Michigan Governor George Romney with cameos from Milton Eisenhower and Harold Stassen.
And when the primitives won at the Convention, journalist Allan Nevins wrote, “Not in more than forty years has so sharp a break occurred in the ranks of a major party as that in San Francisco when the Republicans nominated Barry Goldwater.” And — for the G.O.P — perhaps not repeated for another fifty years.
While ultimately paling compared to the current spectacle of the Republican Party at odds with itself, Goldwater, the zealous free market libertarian, Cold Warrior — the self described Conscience of a Conservative — tapped into two decades of primarily southern and western resentment towards the mythical Eastern Establishment: viewed as self servingly accommodating itself to some form of big government.
And when the Establishment tried to rally itself, it was too late.
The election of 1964 was, of course, shaped by President Kennedy’s assassination. In the wake of the assassination, it soon became clear the kind of candidate the Republicans would face. For Johnson, carrying on JFK’s legacy meant creating a Great Society to go beyond Kennedy’s vision.
Against Johnson, Eisenhower’s Vice President Nixon — having lost by a tiny, almost invisible margin to Kennedy — was expected to make another bid. But, embittered by what he (rightly) perceived as post election slighting, Nixon never formally entered the race, although remaining a backstage player all the way through the Convention.
For a time, Eisenhower — still the patriarchal head of the Republican Party — championed his brother Milton. But Milton was unmoved– yet would poll in the single digits and gain write-in votes throughout — never wanting to be President and certainly not endure the gamut of a campaign.
While hardly November 22nd, 1963, the Republican campaign was shaped by May 4th, 1963. Before that day, Rockefeller, a spokesman of moderate Republicans and epitomizing the Eastern Establishment, was considered by Republican leaders to be the certain nominee.
But that day, Nelson, himself divorced, married Mrs. Margaretta “Happy” Murphy, a recently divorced mother four young children. The divorced and remarried Reagan still a ways off and Donald and Ivana in some distant future, the “scandal” and its fallout never fully faded.
The Establishment wanted Rockefeller — even if it never warmed to him like it could to an Eisenhower — because it didn’t want Barry Goldwater.
While substantive comparisons fail, like Trump, Goldwater had a devoted following of true believers, who believed more strongly the further away they felt and were from Washington and New York. To the Establishment, Goldwater was an extremist and his followers right wing kooks, conspiracy theorists and John Birchers, if not KKK. They believed an anointed Goldwater could never win — would lose badly — in the general election, and bring the Republican party down with him.
In 1964, most delegates were chosen by the state parties, but it was also the first time primaries — although there were only 16 — mattered, what Theodore White in The Making of the President 1964 called the “Duel to the Death.
The first primary in New Hampshire ended in surprise. Stationed in Saigon was Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. (Nixon’s 1960 running mate). Lodge, whose political bloodline alone made him an Establishment pillar, was beseeched by Party leaders to come home and lead the charge. And, while Lodge was not even an announced candidate, enough New Hampshire Republicans wrote in his name for victory.
And later, in Oregon, it was Rockefeller who would win with 33% to Lodge’s 28 % write ins. Goldwater and Nixon (also as a write in) finished 3rd and 4th.
But all along, Goldwater was winning support, especially in the west and the south. As White says, “the fervor, frenzy and the excesses of the dedicated Goldwater troops appalled a huge and unknowable percentage of Republicans of other moralities,” but they were gaining strength and steam. Like Trump’s 30% and growing allied against the other 70% and dwindling, Goldwater was defying expectations.
And then Goldwater took the biggest prize, California. Driven by Operation Determination — 8000 volunteers canvassing nearly 600,000 home in Los Angeles County — Goldwater beat Rockefeller. With only 51.6% of the vote, but he won.
After California, the delegate count for Goldwater appeared insurmountable. In his chapter “The Dance of the Elephants,” White asks the now rhetorical question asked by Republican leaders, Could anything stop Goldwater [Trump]?
Before the San Francisco National Convention, Republican leaders, including Eisenhower and Nixon, meditated on the situation at the June 7th Governor’s Conference in Cleveland.
Couldn’t Lodge and Rockefeller join forces? Pennsylvania Governor Scranton was still unannounced but in one poll of overall Republicans he beat Goldwater 60 – 34%. It was too late for Milton, but maybe George Romney was a dark horse possibility. Nixon was again seriously considered. But Nixon, ever shrewd, only wanted to play peacemaker, privately convinced that the heir to JFK, dead not much more than 6 months, could never lose.
One can imagine the conversations, probably not unlike Rubio’s with his consultants. The establishment elephants couldn’t use Rubio’s newest taunt: Trump as a con artist. For Goldwater and his conservative conscience was not trying to fool anyone when he spoke out against Social Security or voted against the Civil Rights Act on constitutional principles.
How to disparage Goldwater without alienating his followers? To call him a right wing kook was to mock all the “little old ladies in tennis shoes” who saw themselves as Goldwater Girls.
But Cleveland brought forth no new coalitions or concrete plans. Before Cleveland, White says the “great Republican chieftains” were “like the Kerensky government, unaware of revolution until the Red guards were already ringing the Winter Palace.” After Cleveland, the Neros were still fiddling.
And at the Cow Palace, Goldwater’s legions delivered the coup de grâce in the coup d’état. Against long odds, the anti-Goldwater forces flailed.
In defeat, addressing a belligerent crowd chanting “We want Barry,” Rockefeller spoke as Christie now never will but maybe Jeb Bush still could:
During this year I have crisscrossed this nation, fighting … to keep the Republican party the party of all the people … and warning of the extremist threat, its danger to the party, and danger to the nation. These extremists feed on fear, hate and terror, [they have] no program for America and the Republican Party… [they] operate from dark shadows of secrecy. It is essential that this convention repudiate here and now any doctrinaire, militant minority whether Communist, Ku Klux Klan or Birchers.
Soon, Nixon introduced Goldwater, who never shied away from his first principles:
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.
What will Trump say?
After Goldwater’s nomination, Eisenhower gave a tepid congratulation. He was largely absent during the general election campaign.
As Nixon sensed, Johnson landslided Goldwater. And so ushered in the Great Society. And the Vietnam War.
Political historians see in Goldwater’s defeat the seeds of “Movement Conservatism” that with the help from Nixon’s Southern Strategy culminated in Ronald Reagan.
And what would a Trump nomination or presidency be or mean? Pundits, like angels, should fear to tread.
ON THE CAMPAIGNS
SOME MORE HOFSTADTER