Although three months ago most liberals considered Barry Goldwater's campaign for the Republican presidential nomination destined to fail, today they view it as both serious and alarming.
What distresses progressive Republicans and liberal Democrats is that no moderate coalition has appeared within the Republican party and that those who could successfully lead such a movement are remaining neutral. Eisenhower and Nixon have repeatedly denied any anti-Goldwater bias and have promised not to interfere, at least for the present. Former Republican National Chairman Leonard Hall, who could give powerful aid to a moderate coalition because of his popularity among party workers, reportedly will do nothing to hinder the Senator's campaign.
The reluctance of Republican party leaders to oppose Goldwater at this time is understandable. First of all, they have no candidate behind whom they can rally. Nelson Rockefeller's personal life and his fiscal and administrative troubles in New York combined with his poor showing in Gallup and Harris polls have eliminated him as an alternative, and neither Romney nor Scranton has been able to create much enthusiasm. The only other prominently mentioned candidate, General Lucius Clay, has been unreceptive to all offers of support.
Another factor behind the Republican leaders' reluctance is the increased acceptance of the argument that Goldwater could do well in a fight against Kennedy. "The theory behind this pro-Goldwater opinion," said James Reston, "is that the Senator from Arizona is the only Republican who could carry the South and mobilize all those people who are bitterly opposed to the President's economic, racial, social, and foreign policies." Most Republican strategists admit, however, that Goldwater's extremism would discourage some moderates and independents, but many add that victory in the South would more than compensate for this loss.
Politicians rarely want to alienate large numbers of voters, particularly in a year when prospects of victory appear slim, and the success of Goldwater's recent campaign trips indicates he has not only wide but also enthusiastic support. He has attracted crowds everywhere he has gone, even in such northern states as New Jersey where he addressed a fund raising dinner similar to one at which Nelson Rockefeller was featured speaker several months ago. He outdrew Rockefeller in both attendance and applause.
What is surprising about Goldwater's campaign is not the crowds (he has received great attention in the press and on radio and television) but the intensity of their response, for as a speaker he is articulate and sincere but hardly eloquent or dramatic. The depth of his supporters' conviction is Goldwater's greatest strength as a candidate. They are people who will work for him, as well as vote for him; their allegiance is proven by their threat to bolt the party, if he is not nominated.
The strength of Goldwater's support and his financial resources offer the Republican party's leaders the most persuasive argument for silence. If they joined together to block his nomination, they might divide the party irreparably and lessen even more the possibility of a Republican victory in 1964.
Anti-Goldwater hopes now depend on a poor showing by the Senator in the primaries, the first of which is in New Hampshire on March 10. If the pollsters and politicial experts are right, Goldwater, with the support of New Hampshire's popular and moderate Senator Norris Cotton, will easily defeat Rockefeller and thus eliminate completely the only other candidate who commands national support. At that point the creation of a moderate coalition would be extremely difficult, if not impossible.
Goldwater then would be able to tell the convention delegates he was popular in the Northeast as well as in the South and West. His supporters would have had time to develop an integrated and effective political machine. Already embryo organizations exist in thirty-five states, and his campaign manager, Denison Kitchel, expects every state will have a chairman by November. Already Goldwater's political associates estimate he has the support of some 500 delegates, with 82 more leaning in his direction, out of the 655 needed for the nomination. Unless Republican progressives can agree on a candidate soon, Goldwater will probably have enough support to win the nomination well in advance of the convention, and the Republican party for the first time since 1932 will be under the control of the conservatives.