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A “Hard Core” Conservative Campaign

August 31, 2008 - Ray Hall (Archive)
Before you read this you probably should read John Whittaker’s Post-Journal Blog; Political Conventions Are Can't Watch TV, about Barry Goldwater and what many viewed as a reckless, even dangerous 1964 election campaign:

By naming Sara (Who? And Governor of what state?) Palin as his running mate John McCain has grabbed a respirator for his dying campaign. The selection of Governor Palin who was elected twice as Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska and only been in the Governor’s office for 18 months is a being described as a calculated gamble. But, forget about experience or the lack of the same; forget about being the “Commander-In-Chief of the Alaska National Guard or the first Republican female ever nominated veep. Short of finding a made to order Stepford wife, conservatives could not have been happier with McCain’s choice of a female for whom the conservative ideology comes as naturally as an Alaskan winter.

Sarah Palin is genuine. She is the mother of five, a son recently in the army and on his way to Iraq and the youngest just four months. The Palin’s knew four months into her pregnancy that the child would be born with Downs Syndrome. However, as an expectant mother and devout Christian Sarah Palin spent the remainder of her pregnancy organizing for the challenging circumstances of caring for a child thus afflicted. Her “pro-life” credentials are real. She is young, attractive, articulate, politically tough and immensely popular in her home state. Never mind whether she is qualified or mentally prepared to be a heartbeat away, her greatest asset is that she knows why she is a conservative, she knows and that’s all that matters to John McCain.

By selecting Sarah Palin John McCain has decided his campaign will go “hard-core” conservative reminiscent of Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign. Like Goldwater, John McCain is determined to charge over the cliffs with his conservative flags flying. Democrats and more than a few Republicans saw Goldwater as reckless and dangerous and that feeling brought out the LBJ “daisy ad” that aired only once, but once was enough. Barry Goldwater only carried six states and Lyndon Johnson racked up a 64% plurality, a feat never matched before or since. Diehards claim that Goldwater’s loss led to the election of Ronald Reagan. I don’t know if it did or not, but the immediate result of Goldwater’s campaign was a sudden shift in the center of gravity for the Republican Party.

For most of the twentieth century the Republican Party was the party of sophisticated intellectuals and wealthy industrialists and much of its wealth and political power was concentrated in the Northeast. House Speaker Joe Martin of Maine, the Lodges of Massachusetts, Taft’s of Ohio, Prescott Bush from Connecticut and the Rockefellers from New York were Republican leaders and household names across the United States. Although the Republican Party claimed the “conservative” title the actual conservative agenda was driven by a coalition of powerful Southern Democrats in the House and Senate.

Until Goldwater’s book The Conscience of a Conservative the existing paradigm was that the more highly educated, socially sophisticated and moderate to liberal Northeastern Republicans governed while lesser conservatives were relegated to the trenches. The book at once became a political primer for a large but disparate group of conservative Republicans, disgruntled Democrats and lower wage blue-collar workers whose views were often ignored by both political parties, but especially by the Northeastern Republican establishment.

By booing New York’s Nelson Rockefeller and the New York delegation as they marched off the convention floor Goldwater conservatives demonstrated they no longer needed the money or political savvy of Northeaster Republicans. Ever since, hard-core conservatives have owned the Republican Party and won three presidential elections. John McCain is betting his campaign that he can make it happen again.

The only problem with that strategy is the same conservative wing of the Republican Party has shown that they can’t govern and the voters know. From President Reagan to President Bush the Younger, conservatives have shown that they aren’t competent controlling the reins of government. Richard Nixon could govern, Nelson Rockefeller could govern, Bill Scranton could govern and so could Bush 41, but the hard-core conservatives have shown that they simply can’t govern.

Norman Ornstein, a leading scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, a Washington “think tank” said that conservatives couldn’t even agree on what a smaller government means.


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