Of Goldwater, Reagan, and the GOP Today

I guess what seems easy for me to understand (because I lived in a Goldwater household) may not be easy to explain to others. My perception of the GOP and I still hold these perceptions to this day is that the GOP hierarchy is not really based on merit. Folks like my Dad, who during the Ike years held the same position as Eliott Richardson, were passed over while folks like Richardson advanced.

The conservative movement, in its early days, was a meritocracy. Perhaps, as a result of the Democratic Party being entrenched in the New Deal and Fair Deal, the Conservative Movement could never have found a home with the Democrats. Instead of beginning a third party, the conservatives found a home in the GOP. It wasn’t an easy fit as the old GOPers resented the conservative upstarts and there really was no political leader for the conservatives after Bob Taft died in 1953. That all changed with Goldwater in 1964.

The disastrous results of the Goldwater defeat caused the conservative movement to retrench but a hardy few saw the talent and the potential for Reagan. His “A Time For Choosing” speech became their mantra. Reagan had brought a certain eloquence and electricity to the Conservative Movement.

Those hardy few patiently waited as Nixon in 1968, called in his political IOUs from his campaigning for congressional candidates in 1966. They waited as Ford won the nomination in 1976, despite the best efforts of the Reagan Raiders. By 1980, it was now or never for Reagan.

The odd part in this drama is how today many people today seem to rewrite the historical narrative as though Reagan’s triumph was a fait accompli. It was not so simple and easy. His triumph has also been misunderstood by many on the Right, as well as many of the newbies who now make up the current conservative movement.

Reagan’s victory in 1980 (as well as 1984) was not the end of journey but the beginning. The problems of “big government” were never going to be cured overnight; yet, many expected Reagan to perform miracles. The conservative movement, now under younger leadership, are inclined to want a seat at the table where decisions are made than continuing the legacy of the conservative movement. Even hardcore Reaganites became part of the DC Beltway Establishment.

By 1988, most of the folks who made the rise of Reagan possible were out of power within the GOP political structure. Since then, we have been treated to lazy ideology from the left and the right. We continue to see conservatism become confused and intertwined with populism and libertarianism. At this point, I doubt we will ever see another 44 or 49 state victory by either the GOP or the Democrats. We will continue to see demagoguery and pandering in the “vital” states to the detriment of all the states.

I see similarities today between the conservative movement of the Goldwater run for President and the Tea Party today. Not for intellectual purity as much as both were treated as ‘red-headed stepchildren’ and minimalized by the “Establishment”. The stakes are greater today.

A Romney nomination and a Romney presidency will spell doom for the Tea Party. The Tea Party will retrench and gains made in 2010 will be lost. The GOP Establishment this week has gone where none ever dare go; trashing the legacy of Newt Gingrich and Ronald Reagan.

The problem for Newt has always been the disconnect between his work before he became Speaker and his work as Speaker. In many ways, it is no different than comparing the work of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison before they became President and after they became President. There is always a difference between the man who is successful as a revolutionary and the man who assumes the mantle of leadership. Historians have documented the tireless work of Adams, Jefferson, and Madison in formulating the United States. They have also chronicled their failures as President. It is a tough balancing act.

Make no mistake, the attacks on Newt are deliberate and in most cases full of calumnies. This is not just a signal to Newt; it is a signal to each and every one of us who do not fall in line and back Romney. We will come under the same scrutiny and worse. The Party of Reagan has now become the Party of Obama-lite. The comparisons of Romney to Reagan are laughable and a sad commentary of how far we have fallen as a Movement.



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