The Myth of Barry Goldwater

Barry Goldwater

by Robert Alan Goldberg
Yale University Press, 463 pp., $29.95

Goldwater: The Man Who Made A Revolution

by Lee Edwards
Regnery, 572 pp., $29.95

The Republicans’ capture of the House and Senate in November 1994, and the possibility of a lasting realignment in their favor as the new majority party, have made an accurate understanding of the evolution of the GOP indispensable to an understanding of modern American politics. The Republican right, savoring its victory, has its own triumphalist version of history. According to the prevailing view among such conservatives as Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey, the long march toward the Republican revolution of November 1994 began in 1955, when William F. Buckley, Jr., founded National Review as the vehicle for conservatives who were at odds with the then-dominant liberal orthodoxy.

Crystallizing around National Review and organizations like Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), the conservative movement soon mustered enough strength within the Republican Party to nominate Barry Goldwater for president in 1964. Though Goldwater was defeated by Lyndon Johnson in a landslide, the conservatives strengthened their position within the GOP and found a new standard-bearer in Ronald Reagan, whose speech at the 1964 convention—“The Speech”—galvanized partisans of the right. Denied the nomination by the moderates who supported Gerald Ford in 1976, he came to power in 1980. The Reagan Revolution was completed in November 1994 by the Gingrich Revolution. In retrospect, Goldwater’s defeat marked the beginning of the realignment of the American political order from liberal Democratic orthodoxy to conservative Republican hegemony.

The right’s triumphalist version of recent political history, though it is plausible in some ways, leaves out far too much to be convincing. For one thing, it ignores the fact that, even before the founding of National Review in 1955, some of the intellectuals associated with it had been associated with Senator Joe McCarthy, whom Goldwater himself strongly supported. (Buckley and his brother-in-law Brent Bozell published McCarthy and His Enemies, a defense of McCarthy against his critics, in 1954.)

Even more important is the triumphalist theory’s neglect of regionalism in US politics. Today’s victorious conservatives seldom acknowledge what Kevin Phillips and other political analysts have been pointing out for years—that the chief factor in Republican presidential and congressional victories has been the conversion of the white South to the GOP, both in the voting for President, beginning with Eisenhower in 1952, and in the Republican conquest of both houses of Congress in 1994.

A more accurate account of the rise of the Republican Party must in my view take in a longer perspective, concentrating on the period between 1938 and 1994. FDR’s failed attempt to purge the Democratic Party of Southern conservatives in the 1938 midterm elections began the era of the “conservative coalition” of Republicans and Southern Democrats that dominated Congress between 1939 and 1958. It also inaugurated a half century in which more and more Southerners defected from the Democratic coalition in presidential elections. They voted not only for Republicans but for independent candidates like the Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond in 1948 and George Wallace in 1968. From one election to another, Republican partisanship among whites in the South gradually grew to the point where Democratic voters were outnumbered in national voting.

The white South, having carried on an affair with the Republicans for two generations, at last married the GOP—or so it appears now, in the autumn of 1995. In this view, the shift of power within the Republican Party away from the once-dominant Northeast and Midwest toward the South and the West has been far more consequential than the founding of a magazine or the coalescence of ephemeral intellectual movements like the Old Right or the neoconservatives. Strom Thurmond and George Wallace, and Richard Nixon with the “southern strategy” he tested in 1960 and perfected in 1968 and 1972, contributed to the success of the Republican Party as much as Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater did.

Indeed, from this perspective, the Goldwater campaign of 1964 looks less like a new beginning than a recapitulation of Strom Thurmond’s 1948 race and a precursor of George Wallace’s 1968 campaign, from which Nixon and subsequent Republican presidents learned to mimic the covertly racist rhetoric of white Southern populism.1 Though conservatives would prefer to deny it, Goldwater’s failed campaign of 1964 should really be understood as an episode in the long-term partisan realignment of the South—a realignment based, primarily, on Republican exploitation of Southern white resentments of the legislation and judicial decisions conferring civil rights and economic entitlements on black Americans.

Two new biographies of Barry Goldwater, both by writers who were his supporters in their youth, provide a detailed portrait. Lee Edwards, who teaches politics at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., remains in the conservative movement as a senior editor at The World and I, a Washington, D.C., monthly that is one of several publications owned by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. Edwards is also the author of a biography of Ronald Reagan, Reagan: A Political Biography.2 Robert Alan Goldberg has a different perspective.

My brother and I were the only students in our New York City high school to campaign for Goldwater for president…. During the 1960s, however, the struggle for civil rights and the war in Vietnam caused me to reexamine my views. I moved to the left politically and remain there today.

The difference doubtless explains why Goldberg occasionally criticizes his subject from the left while Edwards criticizes him from the right. 3

On the basic facts of Goldwater’s life and career, the biographers agree. Barry Goldwater was born into one of the richest families in Arizona. His grandfather, Michel “Big Mike” Goldwater, a Jewish immigrant from Poland, built up, with his brother Joseph, a successful dry-goods business in the Arizona territory of the late nineteenth century. His youngest son, Baron, Barry’s father, established in Phoenix one of the first modern department stores in the West. Though raised as a Jew, Baron Goldwater was married in 1907 in a Protestant service to JoJo Williams, an Episcopalian Republican born in Illinois, who traced her ancestry back to Roger Williams of Rhode Island. Their first child, Barry Morris Goldwater, was born in 1909, and grew up in considerable luxury.

A cook, an “around the clock” maid, a nurse, and a chauffeur staffed the spacious house on North Central Avenue. [Baron] showered gifts on the children, with Barry receiving sporting equipment and expensive model train and crystal radio sets. Baron also converted the top of the garage into a gymnasium, complete with boxing ring and punching bags…. There was even space on the property for a miniature golf course. “I guess I was a spoiled well-off kid,” Barry would later joke. “I’ve often told people that I was born in a log cabin equipped with a golf course, a pool table, and a swimming pool.”

An indifferent and undisciplined student, Goldwater was sent to Staunton Military Academy in Virginia, where he had to repeat his freshman year. In 1928, he enrolled at the University of Arizona but dropped out at the end of his first year and joined the family business. He married in 1934, and devoted much of his time to his hobbies: flying, photography, camping, and tinkering with radios. He seems to have suffered a “mild nervous breakdown” in 1936.

Goldwater’s mother was a midwestern Republican and he tended to agree with her views. “I think the foundations of my political philosophy were rooted in my resentment against the New Deal,” he wrote. Like many other businessmen of his class, Goldwater loathed FDR and admired Herbert Hoover, whom he met through a mutual acquaintance in 1933 and with whom he corresponded occasionally thereafter. Another influence on Goldwater’s views may have been his wife, Peggy Johnson Goldwater, an heiress from Muncie, Indiana. A friend of Margaret Sanger, Peggy Goldwater helped to found the Arizona branch of Planned Parenthood in 1937. Her views on birth control, shared by her husband, were not unusual among well-to-do Republicans.4

During World War II Goldwater, in his thirties and extremely myopic, served in the Air Transport Command, delivering supplies to US troops in Europe and Asia. In the mid-1940s he drifted into politics, supporting “right to work” legislation and a proposal to create the Arizona Air National Guard (which became the first Air National Guard unit to admit black Americans). In 1949, Goldwater became a member of a Charter Government. Committee, a group that called itself nonpartisan and successfully backed the adoption of a citymanager form of government for Phoenix. It drew up its own list of candidates for city council elections. Goldwater and his friend Harry Rosenzweig, a jeweler, put themselves on the slate along with other members of the Phoenix elite, and they were both elected.

According to Lee Edwards, Goldwater was engaged in a selfless crusade against civic corruption in Phoenix, particularly prostitution and organized crime.

Although he had no intentions of devoting his life to politics and had no exaggerated idea of his competence to serve on the council, he was angry at the people who had betrayed the people’s trust. He liked to quote Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

Edwards writes that when the reform ticket won, “vice took a beating.” Goldberg tells a somewhat different story:

More cynically, Charter Government candidates catered to public fears about the moral climate of Phoenix. Prodded by the Arizona Republic, they accused their opponents of corruption and of having ties to the criminal underworld…. Privately, Charter Government candidates acknowledged the hollowness of their allegations. “Down to real brass tacks,” said Charles Waters, “I don’t believe there was any [gambling or prostitution] to speak of. It was not a problem.” Barry noted similarly, “There was no connection with organized crime.” In line with these views, none of the allegations was ever substantiated, and no Phoenix official was charged with a crime.

While their defeated opponents may have been innocent of links with organized crime, Goldwater and his allies, according to Goldberg, themselves depended on donations from gangsters:

Less visible but vital was Gus Greenbaum’s work on behalf of the [Goldwater] ticket. Greenbaum, an associate of organized crime figures Meyer Lansky and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, ran a gambling syndicate in Phoenix. He and his brother Sam had been investigated by local authorities and found wanting. Said state Attorney General John Sullivan: “The Greenbaums must leave Arizona. Phoenix will not become a rendezvous for the type of gangsterism prevailing in Chicago as long as I am attorney general.” Gus Greenbaum was also a friend of Harry and Barry’s. When Harry Rosenzweig approached him for “support,” Greenbaum handed over a package of money and said, “You’ll get this every week till the election.” These funds would make up a significant portion of the nearly $18,000 the slate spent during the campaign….

Goldwater was aware of Greenbaum’s contributions but denied knowledge of his criminal activities. “He was a generous person,” Barry remarked. “I’m not a gambler, I didn’t know about that.” Years later Gus Greenbaum was murdered in a gangland-style execution in Phoenix. Then-Senator |Barry Goldwater was an honorary pallbearer at his friend’s funeral.

When the directors of the Phoenix Country Club refused to admit Harry Rosenzweig because he was Jewish, “Goldwater forced them to admit his friend: ‘Either you take him or I will blackball every name you put in.’ ” Yet, according to Goldberg, “he did not press the board to end its restrictive policy, and no other Jew was admitted for another decade.”

In 1952, still serving on the Phoenix city council, Goldwater, with the encouragement of Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen, decided to run for the Senate. According to Goldberg,

More than half of Goldwater’s $45,000 war chest came from out-of-state contributors, including wealthy conservatives H.L. Hunt, E. L. Cord, Sid Richardson, and Joseph Pew…. As in the Phoenix municipal elections, Harry Rosenzweig became an important conduit for campaign funds. Again he secretly gathered packets of money from Gus Greenbaum. “Hiding who gave it to me[,] I called up ten Democrats and put it under their names.”

The main themes of Goldwater’s campaign were borrowed from Senator Joseph McCarthy, who visited Arizona to campaign on his behalf. Goldwater told Arizonans:

Now is the time to discharge those who have coddled the communists…. Now is the time to throw out the intellectual radicals and the parlor pinks and the confused and the bumbling.

According to Goldwater, “The man in the striped pants with the English accent and the English relatives who rules our state department, Dean Acheson, is behaving a great deal like the man with the umbrella who went to Munich.” In 1952, the year of Eisenhower’s victory, Goldwater’s campaign was based on red-baiting and partly financed by organized crime. He won by a slight 6,275-vote margin over the Democratic Senate majority leader Ernest McFarland. Goldwater became the first Republican senator from Arizona since the 1920s.

Once in the Senate, Goldwater not only allied himself with Joe McCarthy, he was his friend; he was one of twenty-two senators to vote against the Senate’s censure of McCarthy in 1954. In 1955 Goldwater, already considered the most prominent rightwing senator by former followers of McCarthy and Robert A. Taft, was elected chair of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, a post that permitted him to improve his national contacts among Republican activists. But although Goldwater campaigned for Eisenhower’s reelection in 1956, he openly challenged Eisenhower over the extremely mild provisions for social welfare in the administration’s 1958 budget. The Eisenhower administration, he claimed, “was demonstrating tendencies to bow to the siren song of socialism.” The furious President gave a restrained public reply in classic Eisenhowerese: “In this day and time we cannot use the government process or limit ourselves to the government processes that were applicable in 1890.” Goldwater consolidated his status as the leading spokesman of conservative opposition to Eisenhower’s “Modern Republicanism” with the publication in 1960 of his best-selling book The Conscience of a Conservative, ghost-written by Brent Bozell, then an editor at National Review.

On May 15, 1959, a group of conservatives led by Clarence Manion, a former dean of the Notre Dame Law School, a member of the John Birch Society’s national council, and an influential conservative radio commentator, met with Goldwater and suggested that he seek the presidential nomination. Goldwater told the group that he had already been approached by Strom Thurmond, then a Democratic senator from South Carolina, along with other Southerners who encouraged him to run. (Manion seems to have had his own contacts with southern segregationists. According to Goldberg, “A handwritten margin note reminded Manion to contact Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus to remind him of the operation,” presumably the plans for Goldwater.) Goldwater suggested that his “Jewish name” might be a handicap but said he would not oppose the effort to draft him for the 1960 nomination.

According to Goldberg, “by the end of July 1959, Americans for Goldwater had mobilized in thirty-one states and the District of Columbia.” By the summer of 1960, the Republican delegations of South Carolina, Louisiana, and Arizona had pledged their delegates to Goldwater, and a number of delegates from other states had declared their preference for Goldwater as Nixon’s running mate.

As the convention approached, New York’s Governor Nelson Rockefeller, the leader of the party’s moderate eastern wing, insisted that the platform be rewritten to commit the party more firmly to civil rights. On July 22, three days before the convention, Nixon and Rockefeller came to an agreement in Rockefeller’s Fifth Avenue apartment. Goldwater, who had not been informed of the meeting, felt Nixon had betrayed him, writing privately, “The man is a two-fisted, four square liar.” In public, Goldwater spoke for the conservative enemies of the eastern establishment Republicans—and particularly their enemies in the segregated South—when he denounced “the compact of Fifth Avenue” as the “Munich of the Republican Party.” Goldwater, however, called for party unity at the convention. He withdrew his name from nomination in a celebrated speech in which he told his supporters, “Let’s grow up, conservatives.” The party, he told them, would be theirs next time: “Let’s, if we want to take this party back—and I think we can some day—let’s get to work.”

Narrowly defeated by Kennedy in 1960, the Republican Party nevertheless picked up support in the segregated South, where it captured nearly half the popular vote. “Just a glance at the 1960 electoral map,” Goldberg writes, “was enough to convince conservative strategists that a western-midwestern-southern coalition was being born and that the White House was in reach.” Among those strategists was F. Clifton White, a Republican Party activist who had been chairman of the Young Republicans. With National Review publisher William Rusher and Ohio Congressman John Ashbrook—both former Young Republicans—White invited almost two dozen other former Young Republicans to a secret meeting at a Chicago motel on October 8, 1962.

Conceding the Northeast, middle Atlantic, and a scattering of midwestern and western states to Kennedy and even marking California as doubtful, White calculated a 301-electoral-vote majority from a coalition of Rocky Mountain, plains, border, central, and southern states. No one in the room doubted White. Nor could they conceive of success without Barry Goldwater.

At first Goldwater, who did not like White, kept his distance from White’s movement. However, when in May 1963, the previous favorite for the 1964 nomination, Nelson Rockefeller, who had divorced his wife in 1961, married a divorced woman, Margaretta “Happy” Murphy, the subsequent scandal cost him his standing in the polls. With Nixon out of the picture (he had announced his move from California to New York to practice law) and Michigan Governor George Romney trailing, Goldwater became the Republican favorite.

At the 1964 convention in San Francisco’s Cow Palace, Goldwater delegates—predominantly southern and western, almost exclusively white, including about a hundred members of the John Birch Society—were a two-thirds majority. According to Goldberg, Goldwater’s forces “identified every television and radio cable that snaked through the loft of the Cow Palace,” and Goldwater himself later said, “If anybody got a little too obnoxious to us, they could always have cable trouble.” The platform of the triumphant conservatives watered down the party’s commitment to civil rights. Conservatives booed Nelson Rockefeller and Jacob Javits. In his speech accepting the nomination on July 16, 1964, Goldwater played to the right and made the statement that got much public attention: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Rather than make a conciliatory gesture toward the moderate and liberal Republicans eager for a place in the party, Goldwater taunted them. He welcomed “anyone who joins us in all sincerity” but, he said, dissenters had no place in the “ranks” of the GOP. Listening to the address, Richard Nixon said he felt “physically sick,” and Eisenhower demanded an explanation from Goldwater, who “pointed out to him that leading the D-Day invasion made Eisenhower an extremist. Eisenhower accepted the vague response dubiously.”

Ironically, Goldwater’s acceptance speech was the high point of his career as a spokesman for the conservative movement. In retrospect, Goldwater’s drift away from the dogmas of the radical right back toward the fiscal conservatism and social liberalism of the upper-class Republican circles into which he had been born—a drift that has become ever more pronounced in recent years—began during the 1964 campaign itself. Goldwater moved away from his uncompromising rhetoric. He put some distance between himself and William F. Buckley, Jr., and Brent Bozell, among other conservatives, and softened his stand on civil-rights enforcement.

But the image of Goldwater as a far right ideologue too unstable to be president was imprinted on the public mind. The Johnson campaign reinforced this impression, especially with its infamous commercial—aired only once—showing a little girl about to be destroyed in a nuclear blast, presumably ordered by a deranged President Goldwater. Goldwater was buried beneath the Johnson landslide and won only Arizona and five states in the Deep South.

Goldwater’s moment as the figurehead of the conservative movement had passed. In 1968 he was reelected to the Senate, after he campaigned for Nixon in the Deep South. But he dismayed many conservatives in 1973 when he first urged Nixon to come clean on Watergate and then, in 1974, accepted the task of telling Nixon, on behalf of the Republican Senate leadership, that he did not have the votes to escape impeachment (Goldwater himself was undecided). When Goldwater supported Ford against Reagan in 1976, several of those active in the Goldwater movement, including William Rusher and Lee Edwards, turned on their former hero. They apparently thought that Goldwater’s opposition to Reagan and his supporters was making him more of an enemy of the party’s right wing than its ally. Edwards collaborated with Richard Viguerie on an attack on Goldwater in Conservative Digest. The two wrote that Goldwater was now “a serious problem for conservatives.” He had become, they said, “a man who will stay in his office operating his shortwave radio while there is a roll call vote on the floor.” William Rusher, one of the three original leaders of the draft-Goldwater campaign in 1962, praised Edwards and Viguerie for their “thoughtful and courageous” article and elsewhere speculated that “Goldwater’s grip on conservative principles just isn’t (and perhaps never was) the absolutely dependable thing we believed it to be.” The Young Americans for Freedom, backing Reagan in 1976, issued a statement saying that

Senator Goldwater’s unfair and insensitive statement that Reagan’s positions reflect “a surprisingly dangerous state of mind” indicate to young conservatives that Goldwater has either abandoned the conservative philosophy for which he is known or the sportsmanship and sense of fair play that have endeared him to millions.

Kevin Phillips, then sympathetic to Reagan, wrote, “After all, Reagan is running against the Washington ‘buddy system’ and Goldwater is part of it….”5 According to Edwards, Goldwater, who helped swing southern support to Nixon instead of to Reagan in 1968, has never lost his contempt for Reagan: “Invited to make a comment for a 1987 commemorative film about President Reagan, Goldwater repeated, over and over, “He’s just an actor.”

As the religious right grew into a powerful force during the 1980s, supporting Reagan on the Republican right, Goldwater became one of its most outspoken opponents. He called the “heavy-handed, continuing attempt to use political ends to obtain moral ends” by religious right leaders like Jerry Falwell “one of the most dangerous trends in this country.” He equivocated about abortion, and then, consistent with the Planned Parenthood views of his wife and some of his Arizona friends, became an outspoken advocate of choice. During the 1993 controversy about gays in the military, Goldwater (who has a homosexual grandson and a lesbian grandniece) declared that opposition to lifting the ban is “just plain dumb.” He told The Washington Post, “You don’t need to be ‘straight’ to fight and die for your country. You just need to shoot straight.” The man who had opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 endorsed federal civil rights legislation protecting homosexuals from discrimination. Arizona Republicans responded by demanding that the Barry Goldwater Center in downtown Phoenix be renamed.

Though many have ascribed Goldwater’s apostasy from the Republican right to a Hoover-style libertarianism, it seems more likely that he has simply reverted to the more socially tolerant views of his class and particularly the well-to-do circles he frequents in Arizona. Indeed, compared to the bitter rivalry between Pat Robertson and George Bush, the struggle between Goldwater’s conservatism and Rockefeller’s liberalism looks like a family squabble within the mid-twentieth-century Protestant Establishment. In 1964, a popular joke had it that the first Jew to run for President had to be an Episcopalian. With equal irony it might have been observed that the leader of the conservative populist revolt against the establishment in the early 1960s had to be the wellborn former president of the Phoenix Country Club.


Despite his long career in the US Senate, Goldwater is likely to be remembered not for his later views but only for his brief period as the leader of the Republican right from the late 1950s to 1964. Mary C. Brennan’s Turning Right in the Sixties: The Conservative Capture of the GOP concentrates on these years. In its discussion of Goldwater her book is less detailed and illuminating than Goldberg’s biography of Goldwater; as a general analysis of the rise of the Republican right it is less thorough and perceptive than Nicol Rae’s recent study The Decline and Fall of the Liberal Republicans: From 1952 to the Present.6

Although he had an important part in the 1964 race, and was critical to the 1968 election, George Wallace is mentioned on only five pages of Brennan’s book. Even in this short space, the author manages to contradict herself. At one point she describes Wallace’s activities in 1964 as follows:

Competition for the [presidential] nomination included Democratic Alabama governor George Wallace, as well as Republicans Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge and Michigan governor George Romney. Wallace withdrew from the campaign in July. The press reported that southern conservatives pressured the Alabama governor into withdrawing from the race in order to save those votes for Goldwater. Both Goldwater and Wallace denied this.

A few pages later, however, Brennan writes that Wallace was persuaded not to run as an independent candidate by “Goldwater’s followers in the South”:

Goldwater had no desire to be the racist candidate and offered to keep the issue out of the campaign by avoiding direct discussion of it. Of course, his vote against the Civil Rights Act spoke volumes about his stand on the issue. In addition, by convincing Wallace to drop his third-party drive, Goldwater’s followers in the South retained the backlash vote for their candidate.

Who exactly were “Goldwater’s followers in the South”? Did they convince Wallace to drop out of the race in order to give Goldwater the “backlash” vote? And if they did, did this not make Goldwater, by default, the “racist candidate”? By not probing further into these questions, Brennan misses an opportunity to explain the GOP’s later takeover of the South.

At one point, Brennan implies that the white southerners who voted for Goldwater in 1964 were not so much upset over desegregation as antagonistic toward “Wall Street”:

Goldwater still had a surprising measure of support, however, especially from the middle classes in the South and the West. According to author Norman Mailer, these supporters believed that the “basic war was between Main Street and Wall Street” and willingly offered their time and energy in support of Goldwater by serving in numerous citizen’s committees.

The reference to “numerous citizen’s committees” is a clue to what Brennan leaves out of her sanitized account. Goldwater’s running mate in 1964 was William E. Miller, a former upstate New York congressman who had been elected national chairman of the Republican National Committee in 1961. According to Nicol Rae, Miller poured the resources of the Republican National Committee into Operation Dixie, the RNC operation to expand the party’s support in the South,

and Goldwater, as Chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee in 1962, concentrated a great deal of attention on races in South Carolina and Alabama, with the full encouragement of Miller’s national committee. This so-called “southern strategy” could only improve the position of the right over the long term in the intraparty struggle.

Curiously enough, Operation Dixie, though it was supervised by Goldwater’s running mate and took place during the Eisenhower administration, is mentioned for the first time by Brennan in connection with Nixon’s southern strategy in 1968:

The South played a crucial role in the nomination process in 1968. The GOP’s Operation Dixie had expanded party membership south of the Mason-Dixon line. By 1968, the region controlled… more than half the number [of votes] necessary for nomination.

Just as curiously, only one of Miller’s activities between 1961 and 1964 is mentioned; Brennan writes that he opposed the formation of a “Republicans’ Citizens Committee” and “worked to ensure that the RCC ‘stressed organizational rather than ideological matters.’ ” Reading Brennan, one would never know that in the years before Goldwater’s nomination in 1964, Goldwater and Miller worked together to win support from white southerners. They were willing to do so if necessary by abandoning traditionally Republican black southern voters, along with traditional Republican support, however mild, for civil rights.

Like Operation Dixie, Strom Thurmond is mentioned for the first time by Brennan in connection with Nixon’s campaign for the nomination in 1968. Thurmond, she writes.

had switched party allegiances in 1964 and worked hard for Goldwater. In 1968, although he felt closer philosophically to Reagan, he believed, as he told countless audiences across the South, that “a vote for Reagan is a vote for Rockefeller.” Thurmond’s support proved instrumental in winning over the South Carolina delegation and in keeping many of the other southern delegations firmly behind Nixon.

Readers can be forgiven for suspecting that Brennan is trying to link the invention of the “southern strategy” to Nixon and to play down the importance of southern segregationist support for Goldwater in gaining the nomination in 1964. Whether this is her intention or not, her account fits with the conventional conservative portrayal of Goldwater as the nonracist, libertarian candidate of the dynamic postwar “Sun Belt” who just happened to win the support of southern segregationists.

After the war, industrialization lifted many southern whites out of poverty for the first time and into the working and middle classes…. By the late 1950s, this newly urbanized, increasingly educated middle class began to challenge the traditional political leadership of the South.


Aside from the racists and other extremists who disliked the liberalism of the national Democratic Party, many southerners who joined the GOP embraced the classical liberal ideals embodied in the Republican Party’s opposition to high taxes, federal spending, and government centralization.

The truth is that in 1964 Lyndon Johnson, who carried Texas, Florida, California, and New Mexico, was the candidate of the modernizing, businessminded suburban Sun Belt. Goldwater was the candidate of the reactionary Black Belt. In 1964, the only states Goldwater carried, apart from his home state of Arizona, were five states in the Deep South—Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, and South Carolina—four of which had not voted for a Republican president since Reconstruction. As Nicol Rae observes, “Goldwater’s pattern of support was more similar to that of Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond in 1948 than to that of Dewey or Eisenhower.” Within the South itself, Goldwater’s appeal was limited to the most backward regions.

The liberal Republican Ripon Society, in its “Election ‘64” report, noted that the Goldwater-Miller strategy “succeeded in trading off the progressive, industrilized urban areas of the New South for the segregationist rural regions of the Deep South.” Within the heartland of segregation, though, Goldwater won a smashing victory: “Unlike the Republicanism of the 1950s, his support was distributed across the classes, among lowerincome whites as well as those in the upper social strata.”7 Goldwater “carried Mississippi by 87 percent, Alabama by 70 percent, South Carolina 59 percent, Louisiana 57 percent, and Georgia 54 percent—all states where the Republican Party had been almost nonexistent before 1960.”8

The failure of Goldwater in the Sun Belt and the urban and industrial regions of the New South casts doubt on Brennan’s interpretation of the sources of Goldwater’s appeal in the South and West.

If Brennan is right, and “racists and other extremists” were not crucial to southern support for Goldwater, and if the Republican Party in 1964 appealed to southern whites primarily on the basis of “classical liberal ideals,” then why did Lyndon Johnson—the symbol of “high taxes, federal spending, and government centralization”—win in the Sun Belt states? Are we really expected to believe that “classical liberal ideals” were somehow stronger in such Black Belt states as Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, and South Carolina than they were in, say, Texas and Florida, where postwar economic development was more significant, to say nothing of the number of “transplanted Yankees”?

A comparison of the states in the Deep South that gave majorities of their electoral votes for Thurmond in 1948, Goldwater in 1964, and Wallace in 1968 is instructive. They won more or less the same set of Black Belt states because of the one policy they shared in common—opposition to federal enforcement of civil rights for black Americans.9

In his 1988 memoris, Goldwater wrote that as a result of his candidacy in 1964 “conservatives come from all regions, every social class, every creed and color, all age groups.” The numbers tell a different story. Eisenhower managed to win 20 percent of the black vote in 1952 and 40 percent in 1956. In 1960, Nixon, whose platform called for federal civil rights legislation, won 32 percent of the national black vote. Goldwater in 1964 won 6 percent. No Republican presidential candidate since then has recaptured Nixon’s share of the black vote. In 1963, the baseball player Jackie Robinson wrote a prescient article for the Saturday Evening Post entitled “The GOP: For White Men Only.”10 He warned Goldwater against alienating blacks by following Nixon’s 1960 southern strategy of writing off the black vote. In 1961, though, Goldwater had dismissed the idea of reaching out to black voters with a quip: “We ought to go hunting where the ducks are.”11

On civil rights issues, Jack Kemp once complained, “The Democrats had a terrible history and they overcame it. We had a great history, and we turned aside.”12 In retrospect, the lasting importance of Barry Goldwater is that he was the first Republican presidential candidate to repudiate the federal commitment to civil rights for black Americans that Republicans had maintained, although more in theory than in practice, since Abraham Lincoln. The Goldwater campaign was a crucial episode in the takeover of the Republican Party by ex-Democratic southern segregationists and their political descendants.13

In retirement, Barry Goldwater enjoys the characteristically favorable reputation of a politician who has outlived the controversies in which he was involved and now has little power. The high esteem in which he is now held by conservatives and liberals alike has little basis in the record, which shows him to have been a familiar type of United States senator—a man of inherited money and modest intellectual abilities who goes into politics because he is bored with his successful career in business. To judge by Goldberg’s balanced and often sympathetic biography, Goldwater’s reputation for integrity and honesty has been exaggerated. Goldwater based his political career on expedient hypocrisy, from his gangster-financed campaign against alleged corruption on the Phoenix city council to his opportunistic red-baiting as an ally and friend of Joe McCarthy, even to his evidently calculated denunciations of abortion and gay rights in the 1980s. He regreted those denunciations but only after he had retired and no longer had an incentive to appease right-wing voters. Barry Goldwater’s lasting contribution to American politics, during his brief time at the center of national attention, was to accelerate the conversion of the party of Abraham Lincoln into an anti-black party dominated by white southerners and devoted to Social Darwinism and states’ rights. Anyone seeking a political hero will have to look elsewhere.

  1. 1

    For the influence of Wallace on Nixon and others, see the new book by Dan T. Carter, The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics (Simon & Schuster, 1995).

  2. 2

    Viewpoint Books, 1967.

  3. 3

    Here is Edwards’s description of Nelson Rockefeller in 1964: “Gone was the moderate eager to forge philosophical links with Goldwater and other conservatives. Here was a militant, uncompromising Inquisitor determined to destroy the dark forces of the radical Right and ultraconservatism within his party” (p. 178). The book is full of such tendentious and hyperbolic characterizations.

  4. 4

    Goldberg writes of the appeal of birth control in the 1930s to “Protestant, native-born, upper-middle-class, Republican women. In Phoenix, women like Peggy Goldwater, Florence Bimson, and Margaret Kober organized in 1937 the Mothers’ Health Clinic, which targeted Mexican-American women for assistance. They proposed birth control to raise health standards, produce only ‘wanted’ children, lessen the city’s relief burden, and weed out the mentally and physically deficient” (p.52).

  5. 5

    Richard A. Viguerie and Lee Edwards, “Goldwater: Legend or Leader?”, Conservative Digest, January 1976, pp. 6–8; William A. Rusher, letter in “Reaction to ‘Goldwater: Legend or Leader?’ ” Conservative Digest, March 1976, pp. 2–3; William A. Rusher, “What’s Happened to Barry?” Conservative Digest, April 1976, p. 16; “Barry Unfair to Reagan, Conservatives Charge,” news release of Young Americans for Freedom, May 7, 1976; Kevin Phillips, letter in Conservative Digest, March1976, pp. 2–3. All of these quotes, along with a more extended discussion of the controversy, are found in Alan Crawford, Thunder on the Right: The ‘New Right’ and the Politics of Resentment (Pantheon, 1980), pp. 114–117.

  6. 6

    Oxford University Press, 1989.

  7. 7

    Jonathan Rieder, “The Rise of the ‘Silent Majority,’ ” in Steve Fraser and Gary Gerstle, The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order, 1930–1980 (Princeton University Press, 1989), p.249.

  8. 8

    A. James Reichley, The Life of the Parties: A History of American Political Parties (Free Press, 1992), p. 331.

  9. 9

    Thurmond won South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Goldwater won South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Georgia, along with Arizona. Wallace won Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas. The three candidates disagreed on many matters; indeed, in economic policy George Wallace, a populist and a statist who was somewhat to the left of Lyndon Johnson, could hardly have been further from Barry Goldwater.

  10. 10

    August 10–17, 1963, pp. 10–12.

  11. 11

    Quoted in George Brown Tindall, The Disruption of the Solid South (University of Georgia Press, 1972), p. 60; cited in Goldberg, p. 115.

  12. 12

    Kemp continues: “We should have been there with Dr. King on the streets of Atlanta and Montgomery. We should have been there with John Lewis. We should have been there on the freedom marches and bus rides. We should have been there with Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama in December of 1955…. I think the whole idea of Kevin Phillips’s Southern majority is a disgrace.” Quoted in Fredric Smoler, “We Had a Great History and We Turned Aside,” American Heritage (October 1993), p. 56.

  13. 13

    Most biographers and historians take it as fact that Goldwater was opposed to the 1964 Civil Rights Act because of constitutional scruples, not prejudice toward or indifference to blacks. Edwards, among others, cites Goldwater’s integration of the Arizona Air National Guard and his early financial support for the Phoenix Urban League. According to Goldberg, however, Goldwater disguised his donations to the Urban League by funneling them through a friend, Mary Jo Pritzlaff.