The Hostage

The fecklessness of George Bush is best seen in the way he has dithered back and forth between two Republican parties for all of his political life. While yearning intermittently toward the evanescing party of his father—the Wall Street internationalist party of paternalistic “Wise Men”—he rose with the surging Goldwater party, to which his fortunes have been hostage.

Bush’s choice of Texas as a starting place is called, in his own version of his life, a declaration of independence from his father. (Actually, he was working for his father, who through a protégé, Neil Mallon, ran Dresser Industries.) But the Texas move created dependence on a state party, inchoate when he joined it, that formed the vanguard of the Goldwater movement. Goldwater made one of his early impressions on Republicans by the reaction to his Texas appearances on behalf of John Tower during Tower’s Senate campaign in 1961. It was the Texas state committee of Peter O’Donnell, a leader of the Draft Goldwater movement, that Bush managed for the Houston area, after having organized its scattered fragments in West Texas.

As Chandler Davidson has argued, the Texas Republicans had no past component of moderate views.1 It was a one-wing (right-wing) party, of no national importance until the Goldwater movement gave it an opportunity to grow, because it suffered no internal conflict with less extreme Republican views.

The story is complicated by a paradox that Bush has lived without ever understanding it. The leading state party of the Goldwater movement was given artificial assistance by liberal Democrats in its crucial moment of takeoff. It became the accidental beneficiary of the bitter fight the Texan Democrats waged against the Yarborough liberals of the 1960s, a fight that led to such anomalies as John Kenneth Galbraith’s endorsement of George Bush for the Senate in 1970 as preferable to the conservative Democrat Lloyd Bentsen—this at a time when Bush had opposed the civil rights bills of 1964 and 1966 and was actively supporting the war in Vietnam.

The Republican Party in Texas “arrived” with John Tower’s election to the Senate in 1961. He was the first Republican to win statewide office since Reconstruction, and only a concatenation of flukes had raised him up. The first oddity occurred in 1957, when the conservative Democratic Party found itself, despite desperate last-minute efforts, putting a liberal, Ralph Yarborough, into the Senate. This happened because Texas’s one-party system had no runoff at the time—the leader in the Democratic primary had always been the winner of the general election. But in the special election of 1957 (held to fill the seat vacated by Price Daniel), a Republican, Thad Hutcheson, divided the conservative vote with Yarborough’s Democratic rival, Martin Dies, and let Yarborough slip through.

Liberal backers of Yarborough like Ronnie Dugger saw how useful a Republican candidate could be in siphoning conservative votes out of the Democratic Party, giving the liberals a better chance at office. They felt they could safely “spill” those Democratic votes without creating…

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