Presidential candidates, perhaps to give themselves and their supporters hope, cite previous elections as a model and a predictive outcome. For Trump, his is the 1980 election between the “establishment’ candidate Jimmy Carter and the “anti-establishment” one Ronald Reagan. Hillary, by turns, is employing the 1964 election, in which liberal Democrat Lyndon Baines Johnson crushed the supposed “extremist’ Barry Goldwater in the biggest landslide, up till then since 1936.
Certainly there is credence to Trump’s model. Like Reagan, Trump came from behind in the last week of the election, and he is no doubt hoping this will emulate Reagan’s landslide.
But Hillary’s model has more credence and not in a way that she would like. For it is the behavior of the hopelessly corrupt LBJ.she is emulating.
Consider: Johnson portrayed Goldwater not only as an extremist but as a dangerous crackpot. On this he had the backing of 90 percent of psychiatrists–let’s call them the medical wing of what was even a “mainstream media”–who coalesced on declaring Goldwater (when not dilating on his Hitlerite tendencies) a dangerous “paranoid, “a compensated schizophrenic.” As with Hillary, these doctors had their own moment of attacking the 1964 version of the”deplorables:” one called them “a paranoid fringe” possessed of an “unconscious sadism and hostility.”
Meanwhile, as with today, Johnson was protected by the press. Unreported were his drunken episodes. which often occurred as he came off his campaign plane. The most alarming thing, also unreported, was when he jeopardized national security. Johnson booted the military aide who had contained in a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist the nuclear codes for a nuclear strike in order to house more of the press in his campaign plane. The plane the aide was on nearly crashed.
Meanwhile the Johnson campaign emphasized that Goldwater was too irresponsible to have his finger near the button.
Johnson was also a pioneer of the Clinton War Room. He used the government to wiretap the candidate, bought political information from Goldwater defectors, and in an eerie foretaste of Watergate, put domestic CIA chief Howard Hunt on the White House payroll to infiltrate, even burglarize, Goldwater headquarters (with Democratic blessing, Hunt filtered his findings and received cash through a dummy corporation called National Press). What is striking about these tactics was how unnecessary they were. Johnson beforehand knew he was going to win, but he wanted “to crucify” Goldwater nonetheless.
But the most notorious spin is Johnson’s assertion, backed up in the commercial of the little girl about to be vaporized if Goldwater is elected. This has been picked up this week as the Democrats become increasingly desperate. Obama and Clinton have asserted that if elected, Trump will start a nuclear war: contained in the phrase “the fate of the world is at stake.”
To be fair, as with Trump, Goldwater didn’t help himself in combating the dangerously crazy image by providing grist for the mill. His notorious comment in his acceptance speech “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice…” “moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue” helped the Democratic spin doctors who called Goldwater a budding Hitler. Even more damaging to his image was his intention as President to allow military officers nuclear weapons to be used at their discretion in the field. And he refused to support the Civil Rights Act of 1964, parroting the arguments of segregationists that the issue of black civil rights should be decided at the state level. From these actions came the accusations of fascism and racism.
Buried under this onslaught was a libertarian, not a big government Nazi (small government Nazi is a contradiction in terms. Without a huge government behind Hitler he would have been, in the words of Bill Buckley, “a street corner racist.” Goldwater was pro-choice, feared the rise of the religious right (he once said of Jerry Falwell that the Republicans should kick him out of the Party), and supported gays in the military (“it isn’t important for them to be straight, just to shoot straight”). Camelot merchants speak of what might have been had Kennedy dodged the bullets in Dealey Plaza: Vietnam would have been avoided, racial apartheid ended, and détente would have come a decade sooner. It is instructive to see what would have happened had Goldwater won.
And ultimately it is on this matter that Goldwater comes off better than Trump. For unlike Trump, whose politics are indefinable beneath all the bombast, Goldwater had principles. He had no interest in spin. He put in the “extremism” quote against the wishes of his aides who feared he would alienate mainstream voters. In a decade where liberalism was dominate he was an iconoclast. His best speech could have been directed at Trump and Clinton:
“Do you want a President who will twist arms, manipulate power, and take more and more control over your lives? Do you want a President who will promise anything and everything just to buy the job? Promise even to free you from all your responsibilites? You want no worries? He’ll worry for you. Relax and don’t worry. The great leader and his curious crew will do for you all those things you find unpleasant to do for yourselves. And all he asks is that you give him more and more power over your lives….Put all the power in his hands, and he will give you true freedom—which we used to call slavery!”
In some ways, Trump has garnered the same demographic as Trump–the white working class. But on others, he has fallen short of Goldwater’s constiunency. By and large conservatives have gone against him. National Review has devoted an entire issue of prominent conservatives proclaiming their opposition against him. Thomas Mallon, that rarity, a conservative novelist, has circulated a petition against Trump, asking conservatives to sign.
Today, it is fashionable to pine for another Reagan. And family members of the former President–from Micheal Reagan, a conservative, to Ron Jr., a liberals–have insisted Reagan wouldn’t have supported Trump. But then again, neither would have Goldwater, a principled figure who possessed self-doubt (“I don’t think I have the brains to be President”), a component not shared by the egomanical candidates we have today.
It is not yet certain whether the election will be another 1964. But it is a sad commentary that both candidates are more the arm-twisting, dishonest creature that was LBJ.