Where Goldwater was a man of rock-solid policy positions, Trump serves up verbal shots from the hip, bolstered by his aura of supreme self-confidence and thinly veiled White America First resonance.
BY BILL HUME
Trump unprecedented? Perhaps not.
For those who have been around for too long, the only Republican presidential primary remotely close to the one we are currently experiencing was the 1964 nomination of Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona. The similarities are significant, the contrasts stark.
In both cases, the nominee prevailed against the will of the GOP establishment, significantly outside the boundaries of contemporary Republican thought. But where Trump’s platform is grounded in the amorphous slogan “Make America great again,” Goldwater enunciated a specific far-right policy platform couched in sharp rejection of the Great Depression-era New Deal public welfare programs and in sharp confrontation with the Soviet Union.
Goldwater’s rhetoric excited some, scared others: “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.” It seems tame in retrospect, but at the time, those words were widely viewed as a call to excess.
Goldwater’s “In your heart, you know he’s right” was parodied by the campaign of Lyndon Johnson with “In your guts, you know he’s nuts.”
“In your heart, you know he might” was another reverse phrase, playing on the fear of Goldwater in control of nuclear weapons. A notorious political ad of the times depicted a little girl picking petals off a daisy, counting down from 10 to one. Then an image of a nuclear explosion.
Imagine what the political ads will be like this cycle.
Johnson buried Goldwater in one of the biggest landslides in history in 1964, taking down many GOP members of Congress in the process. Democrats made a clean sweep of all national and state offices in New Mexico.
The policies Goldwater advocated became the genesis of a renewal of conservative influence in the party. There was no mistaking what Barry Goldwater thought about this and that. He spoke from conviction, not from focus group-vetted slogans.
Contrast that picture with today’s Donald Trump.
Where Goldwater was a man of rock-solid policy positions, Trump serves up verbal shots from the hip, bolstered by his aura of supreme self-confidence and thinly veiled White America First resonance. If American political speech has become too constrained by political correctness fears, Trump’s overt flouting of those constraints has imposed a coarse, racial overtone to his side of the political debate.
Goldwater muscled past a number of opponents, principal of whom was New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, whose surname then defined the moderate wing of the Republican Party. Trump trampled over a broad field of primary opponents – subduing conservatives and relative moderates alike (“moderate Republicans” are an endangered species these days).
But consider this: Goldwater is credited with kicking off the 20th century conservative movement in the GOP that culminated in the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. With the ascendance of Donald Trump, the ideology of the GOP is in disarray.
The New York Times recently listed the major differences between Trump and Republican orthodoxy: He is to the left of the party on trade, closer to Democrats on some economic issues, more hardline on immigration, is a foreign policy isolationist, and is relatively soft on social issues.
The highest ranking elected Republican in the country, House Speaker Paul Ryan, refused to endorse Trump, at least initially, because of doubts about his conservative views. Could it be that Donald Trump will emerge as the destroyer of the conservative wing of the party?
Of course, it’s way too soon to tell. And in any event, it is increasingly apparent that a primary motivator for all voters in this incendiary year is deep disdain for the conventional leadership in both parties. Trump confounded all the prognosticators with his primary blitzkrieg. Bernie Sanders, with his almost messianic advocacy for bedrock liberal views, could be compared to Barry Goldwater in his clarity of expression over politi-speech obfuscation.
What seems likely, however, is that if Donald Trump emulates Goldwater in going down in a massive landslide loss, the identity of the Republican Party will go down with him. When you do “out with the old, in with the new” – and then burn the new in a political Light Brigade charge – there’s little left to clean up.
Bill Hume is a former editorial page editor of the Albuquerque Journal and later served as a policy adviser to former Gov. Bill Richardson.