Enter Stage Gabbing
"Where stands Nixon?"
By Steven Martinovich
(July 28, 2008) Back in early 1960, Sen. Barry Goldwater found himself with quite a problem. In his role as a senior Republican, it was Goldwater's task to travel the United States to raise money and campaign on behalf of the presumptive party nominee, Vice President Richard Nixon.
The problem was that there was a growing tide of distrust about Nixon amongst conservatives. Republicans weren't sure whether Nixon was an actual conservative or simply a "me-toer", someone pretending to be conservative but in reality anything but – someone today derisively referred to as a RINO, Republican In Name Only. Everywhere Goldwater went he was asked "Where Stands Nixon?" on the popular issues of the day.
That tide nearly manifested itself into open revolution when Nixon began dealing with New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller – South Carolina actually pledged its delegates to a shocked Goldwater before being convinced to unite behind the vice president.
Goldwater's biggest problem, however, was Nixon's campaign strategy – he was ignoring conservatives in favor of campaigning to the left. In a March 24, 1960 journal entry Goldwater recounts a meeting he had with the Los Angeles Times editorial staff about Nixon.
"It was during this discussion that I received the first real confirmation of my suspicion as to the reason for Nixon's detour. Mr. Bassett, who has been a leading figure in Nixon's past elections, remarked to the effect that Republicans have no place to go but with Dick Nixon, and this being the case, he was correct in trying to attract the liberal or left-wing votes. From this and other discussions I have concluded that this indeed the thought that motivates Nixon as he detours around conservative principle. If that is so, and as of now we must assume it to be the case, he is in dire danger of losing the 1960 election."
History records that Nixon narrowly lost the 1960 presidential race to Goldwater's friend Sen. John F. Kennedy. Goldwater himself, of course, was destroyed in 1964 by Lyndon B. Johnson while actually pursuing a conservative campaign – though the assassination of Kennedy made any tactic he used a moot point.
If all of this seems familiar to Republicans in 2008, it should. The current presumptive nominee, Sen. John McCain, constantly faces questions from the Republican Party's conservative base about his ideological underpinnings and alliances with liberals – and as with Nixon, deservedly so. And like Nixon, McCain seems determined to ignore – even insult – conservatives while pandering for votes from the political left. As with Nixon, McCain seems to believe that Republicans have nowhere else to go but with him.
McCain is, of course, very wrong and his strategy is one that is doomed to fail. Conservatives have a very real option to McCain: staying home on November 4. Although the radical left threat of Barack Obama is worrisome to them, the stream of slights and lack of motivation from the McCain camp could very well keep them home that day. It may be short-sighted, particularly in the light of the U.S. Supreme Court nominations that will likely be made in the next four to eight years, but it's also understandable. If John McCain is determined to hammer his own base, they will hammer back.
Nor is pandering for votes from the political left a wise alternative for McCain. As Rush Limbaugh is fond of pointing out, Republicans who run as liberals against actual liberals nearly always lose. After all, why vote for the counterfeit when you can get the real thing? Despite his positions on climate change, campaign finance and other liberal causes, McCain is not palatable enough to the political left to capture significant votes.
It may already be too late for McCain to recapture the conservative base of the Republican Party. His uneven political ideology and dealings with the left has likely already damaged beyond repair his standing with the political right. The oft-made comparison of Obama with Kennedy may prove right after all. Republicans will once again lose a closely contested election thanks to a candidate who apparently despises his own base against a charismatic candidate that has the media behind him.
At some point one can only hope that Republicans learn from the past – from its finest teacher, Ronald Reagan – and rely on their conservative base for victory. Whoever carries the banner for the party in 2012, and we can only hope it's a certain charismatic and conservative Louisiana governor, should look to Reagan, and not Nixon, as his inspiration.
As Goldwater, writing two weeks later in that same journal and on that same topic noted, "If he is a man who sets his course not by the stars of principle but by the winds and tides of expediency, he will never be on any definable course."
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