This week, we celebrate two of the most important dates in modern conservative politics—presidential candidate Barry Goldwater’s crushing defeat on November 3, 1964, and President Ronald Reagan’s election on November 4, 1980. Let us pause to acknowledge that there would have been no Reagan without Goldwater.
In the last week of his disastrous campaign, Goldwater gave Reagan the opportunity to deliver a televised speech, “A Time for Choosing,” that made the former Hollywood actor a political star overnight and led to his running for and becoming governor of California. If any of the other candidates—all liberals—had been nominated in 1964, Reagan would not have been asked to make a TV spot, let alone a speech.
Political historian Theodore White wrote that again and again in American history, the losers of the presidency have contributed almost as much to the political dialogue as the winners. Such a candidate was Barry Goldwater, the most consequential loser in American politics. Consider the following:
- Goldwater was the first ideological candidate for whom ideas, not voting blocs, were of primary importance. He argued that principle, not power, should rest at the core of the presidency.
- Thousands of young people entered and stayed in politics because of Goldwater—among them the president of The Heritage Foundation, Ed Feulner.
- Goldwater broke the Democratic hold on the South, carrying five Deep South states and laying the foundation for present-day Republican dominance of the South.
Many of the issues of 1964 are still issues today—Social Security, government spending, law and order, morality in government, and victory over foreign enemies (Communism then, Islamic terrorism today).
In 1980, Reagan campaigned and won on a Goldwater platform: Government is not the solution but the problem; cut taxes; strengthen the military; win the Cold War.
The two men differed in style and personality. Goldwater was Arizona blunt; Reagan, California mellow. Goldwater didn’t want those who didn’t agree with him 100 percent to vote for him. Reagan welcomed converts of all parties and persuasions.
Barry Goldwater was a fiery Old Testament prophet, warning the people to repent. Ronald Reagan was a New Testament apostle, preaching redemption.
And you wouldn’t have had the one without the other.