As CPAC gathers, pollster John Zogby’s warning and a look back at 1964.
“The Republicans have a simple choice. If they want to
continue to define themselves as conservatives, they’ll be
defining themselves into oblivion. If they want to save
themselves, they may have to create a third party of
— Pollster John Zogby, November 16, 2008
“The Republican Party has paid a shatte ring price for the
erratic deviation from our soundly moderate 20th century
course. That ill-advised, badly-led swing to the extreme right
has been decisively vetoed by the American voters, hundreds of
thousands of Republicans among them.”
— Fred Young, NY GOP State Chair, November 5, 1964
“The undertakers are premature”
— William F. Buckley, November 5, 1964
By now, the refrain insisting conservatism is a loser is, well, embarrassing.
To people like John Zogby.
Yet with the all-out assault of the Obama-ites on capitalism and the core tenets of a free market system, it is vital to remember the very relevant history of modern conservatives and liberals and just how we got here. It is important to look back to understand how to move forward.
The latest election of the day lost by Republicans is always said to be lost (as Mr. Zogby has done) because conservatives insisted on, well, conservatism. With the annual gathering of the Conservative Political Action Committee upon us, this year’s gathering headlined by Rush Limbaugh, let’s spend a moment documenting just how old and how very routine these anti-conservative diatribes are. Mr. Zogby is far from alone.
In 1964 the modern conservative movement is born as Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater captures the Republican presidential nomination. The moment is transformative for both conservatives and the shocked moderate establishment of the Republican Party, which watched two of its standard bearers (New York’s Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Pennsylvania’s Governor William Scranton) lose to Goldwater. In the process, the grass roots party machinery is ripped from the control of the Republican moderates, whom Goldwater scalds as advocates of a “dime store New Deal.”
The 1964 election was set to be a difficult one for the GOP. It followed by less than a year the traumatic assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the successful stabilizing transition to JFK’s vice president, Lyndon B. Johnson. There wasn’t much of an appetite for a third president in four years regardless of who was nominated by the GOP. Yet Goldwater’s overwhelming loss to LBJ was, in retrospect, of vital importance to the future success of the conservative movement.
Within minutes of Goldwater’s loss, Republican moderates, media and polling analysts — the Zogbys of their day — were insisting that conservatism was dead. And if it wasn’t dead, it should be, since it had so damaged the image of the Republican Party it was likely the GOP would be kept from power for generations.
Here’s some of what was said at the time, captured forever in the bold print of the New York Times in the first days after Goldwater’s defeat.
• Eisenhower-era Republican National Chairman Meade Alcorn, described in the Times as a “modern Republican” (meaning an enlightened moderate), grimly insisted the GOP needed an immediate “rebuilding job” because the “Republican Party’s image has been badly disfigured” by conservatives. Said a furious Alcorn: “we cannot hope to shape future party victories if that rebuilding” is entrusted to conservatives, who brought us the “most devastating defeat party has ever suffered.”
• Kentucky moderate Republican Senator Thruston Morton (whose congressman brother Rogers Morton would head the Ford campaign against Ronald Reagan in 1976) said “we have got to change the party’s image, by broadening the base of the party’s appeal.”
• New Jersey’s moderate Republican Senator Clifford Case agreed with Alcorn and Morton, telling the Times that “this immaturity [of conservatives] is not going to succeed any better in the future than it has in this campaign.”
• New York moderate Republican Congressman John Lindsay (later Mayor of New York) was adamant in telling the Times that as a result of the GOP’s move to conservatism the Republican Party had been “extinguished” and “reduced to ashes.” Said Lindsay: “My job now is to help rebuild the Republican Party out of the ashes and to help give it proper direction.” (Note: Lindsay lost his re-nomination as the GOP candidate for mayor in 1969 to a conservative state senator. He was re-elected narrowly on the Liberal Party line. He left the GOP in 1971 and ran for president as a Democrat in 1972. He lost.)
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
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