Saturday, November 19, 2011

Explaining the Tragic Sinking of the Goldwater Campaign

Chamberlain, J. (1965, June 28). 'Inner circle' blamed for Goldwater defeat. The Milwaukee Sentinel, p. 10, part 1.

In late June 1965, John Chamberlain addressed the flurry of commentary attempting to explain Barry Goldwater’s crushing defeat in the presidential election of 1964.  He concluded of Steve Shadegg’s book What Happened to Goldwater?

What Shadegg argues, in effect, is that a small group of people whom he regards as hopeless amateurs somehow got control of Goldwater by making an issue of their superior loyalty.  This palace guard, so the implication runs, kept Goldwater from taking sensible counsel.  He was the captive candidate.

While Chamberlain allows for the likelihood that Goldwater would’ve done better had he retained closer ties throughout the campaign to people like National Review’s William F. Buckley, Jr.,  “looking back on things after the lapse of eight months, one wonders whether the personalities around Goldwater made much difference.”  

Chamberlain contends that five things defeated Goldwater:

  1. The traumatic effect of Kennedy’s death (i.e., people may have felt voting for Goldwater was a tacit betrayal of their slain martyr-president)
  2. The tremendous prosperity America was experiencing (why switch horses mid-stream?)
  3. Goldwater being undermined by bitter primary rivals (e.g., Nelson Rockefeller)
  4. Impolitic comments by Goldwater, himself, (e.g., “remarks about the use of nuclear defoliation in Vietnam and tactical nuclear weapons in Europe”)
  5. The effect of a NH headline writer who said Goldwater wanted to “destroy social security.”

The debate over what accounted for the ’64 election continues to this day.  To what degree was Goldwater to blame for his loss, and to what degree was he simply the victim of a supremely disadvantageous confluence of political circumstances?    As Bill O’Reilly might ask:  What say you?

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