A White Elephant?
Now that the American people have rejected Barry Goldwater, the Republican Party will have to decide what to do with him. More importantly, the party will have to decide what it will do with his conservative philosophy and the campaign strategy that led 61 per cent of the American people to vote against him. As likely as not, the party's feuding factions will come to an arrangement based not on principle but on the realities of the political situation.
To begin with, Goldwater supporters throughout the country are not likely to step aside meekly for moderate leadership. Republican leaders who voted for Goldwater in San Francisco will retain power in local organizations. For the Arizona Senator, however, this fact will be of little comfort. Politicians disagree on many things, but on the need for victory they all concur. Barry Goldwater led the GOP to one of the worst defeats any American party has suffered in modern times. Republicans lost 39 seats in the House and 27 of 35 races for the Senate. On the state level, the party lost control of both houses of state legislatures in five states and one house in five more. The American people rejected Barry Goldwater's candidacy (and everything connected with it) so overwhelmingly that most Republicans--conservatives and liberals alike--probably realize that the GOP must also reject it to maintain any chance of ever winning again.
Two Future Meetings
Top Republicans will get together at two meetings in the near future. Governor Robert E. Smylie of Idaho, chairman of the Republican Governors' Conference, has called a get-together of the 17 GOP governors for the next two or three weeks to survey the post-election confusion; the Republican National Committee is scheduled to meet in January. The governors could very well play an anti-Goldwater tune, and the National Committee, though many of its members owe their appointments to Goldwater, may not be as loyal as expected.
There has been talk of ousting Goldwater's handpicked National Chairman, Dean Burch. If he can be forced to resign (technically he cannot be voted out of office), moderation will have won a symbolic victory. Regardless of what happens to Burch, however, Goldwater is finished as a powerful figure in the party. He doesn't have the ability to retain power behind the scenes, and he is too much of a liability to display publicly.
A victory over Goldwater could be deceptive, however. Conservatives who become anti-Goldwater do not suddenly become moderate. In addition to enjoying power in many state organizations, conservatives have set up "Citizens for Goldwater-Miller" groups all over the country. These too may be used as weapons in the party struggle.
This latent conservative strength raises two questions: Will the moderates be willing and able to challenge conservatives at the local level? And, to the extent that conservative strength remains, who will inherit it?
Richard Nixon would obviously like to be the heir. After last week's defeat, he called for a calm reappraisal and criticized those who had withheld full support from the national ticket, in particular Governor Rockefeller ("A spoilsport, a party-divider"). During the campaign, Nixon stumped the whole country, recementing his ties with local politicians and boosting their morale in the face of generally poor leadership from the national committee.
It seems unlikely, however, that the party's more liberal wing will calmly accept the former vice-president. Most of its leaders have ambitions of their own, and their fight for the party's future is too serious to trust to the compromising Nixon. His attack on Governor Rockefeller and the Governor's reply ("This kind of peevish post-election utterance has unfortunately become typical of Mr. Nixon") signal a basic split.
The moderates' task--to "remake" the GOP--is a difficult and delicate one. If they really want to change the party, they will have to display something lacking both at the convention and since the election: unity. They will have to begin at the bottom of the party and win control of the organization in areas now dominated by conservatives.
At the same time, they must proceed as unobtrusively as possible, for they could very easily alienate anti-Goldwater conservatives who thought Goldwater reactionary and voted for Johnson. In some areas of the country, this type of person represents a large portion of the electorate that normally votes Republican. To lose them would be a GOP disaster.
In the long run, the Goldwater defeat may be the shock that revives this party which has for more than 30 years provided few moments of leadership and even fewer leaders. For now, however, the GOP's task seems herculean. In the 1950's the party made an inept attempt at becoming a majority party. In the 1960's it must do something far more basic: reassert itself as an effective minority party.