There have been a number of comparisons between former Arizona Republican Senator Barry Goldwater’s bid for president in 1964 and the presidential run currently being undertaken by Donald Trump—all of them have been strikingly off the mark. In fact, those of which I am aware are total nonsense. Not only are the candidates dramatically different personality types, but so too are the circumstances today versus the middle of the last century.
Yesterday I listened as a couple of know-it-all conservative radio commentators comparing Trump’s outspokenness with Goldwater’s. “Trump isn’t doing anything that Goldwater did not do in his day, and today Goldwater is revered,” one of them declared. For this reason, they were sure if Trump did not win, he too would one day be similarly respected for his outspoken personal and political candor. Because of the differences between these men I am sure they are wrong.
While it is hard not to be aware of Trump’s bloviating, clearly, these guys did not know what they are talking about regarding Goldwater. Not only is there no similarity between the kind of statements Goldwater made in 1964 and those Trump is making today, but even more striking are the different treatments given the statements made by these men. Let’s turn back the clock and take a look.
Goldwater’s 1964 Political Rhetoric
While always self-confident and self-assured, Goldwater was also self-effacing and candid to a fault. Take his interview with seasoned political reporter Stewart Alsop for The Saturday Evening Post (August 31, 1963) entitled “Can Goldwater Win in 64?” Here the senator was being very much himself, as he piloted the reporter around Arizona in his small two-engine airplane. A brief sample of Goldwater’s statements from Alsop’s article provide a pretty good sense of the man and the nature of his outspokenness:
On the possibility that he might actually wake up to be president one day: “Frankly, it scares the hell out of me.”
On his own intelligence quotient: “You know, I haven’t got a really first-class brain.”
On his leaving college in freshman year to become a salesman in the family store: “Worst mistake I ever made. But then I guess a peddler doesn’t need a higher education.”
On the possibility that he might emulate Lyndon Johnson, and safeguard his Senate seat by running both for the Senate and the presidency in 1964: “No, I can’t do that after what I said about Lyndon in 1960—they’d run me out of the country. But if I hadn’t opened my big mouth so loud, I might do it.”
On how he achieves his vast literary output—he produced three best-selling books and innumerable magazine articles, and he signs a thrice-a-week column that goes to about 175 papers: “Oh, hell, I’ve got ghosts all over the place. I pick up a lot of Fletcher Knebel’s stuff too. I sent him an item about Bobby Kennedy’s pool, and he sent me two bucks. I sent it right back—I wrote him that if we began paying each other off, I’d owe him $2000 right off the bat.”
On a draft he had written for a humorous speech: “I took it back to the apartment and read it to my wife Peggy and a couple of her girlfriends. I thought they’d be rolling on the floor, but they never cracked a smile. So I said, what the hell’s the matter and Peggy said, look, this is a sophisticated audience, they’re not a lot of lame brains like you, they don’t spend their time looking at TV Westerns. You can’t give them that corn.”
Goldwater, who ran against President Lyndon Johnson, is a polar opposite of Donald Trump, yet his candor was used against him in 1964. With a lot of help from political commentators and the news media, the Johnson campaign managed to portray Goldwater – one of the most liked members of the U.S. Senate by his colleagues across the political spectrum – into something of a madman, “the village anarchist,” as one reporter put it, a political extremist who would take the country into a nuclear world war. The fact that the Johnson campaign had absolutely no underlying evidence to back up their claims was not a problem. Here is what they did.
The Twisting of Goldwater’s Word
It started in earnest with Goldwater’s acceptance speech when he officially became the Republican standard bearer in 1964. At one point in accepting the nomination during his speech he said, “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!” At the time it was but a passing phrase. Today most everything else Senator Goldwater said in that speech has been long forgotten, except his “extremism in the defense of liberty” line has lived on, largely in infamy. The news media took this line as proof positive that Goldwater was crazy. The Goldwater campaign motto was: “In your heart you know he’s right.” After his acceptance speech, the media reported his detractor’s reply to the motto: “In your guts you know he’s nuts.”
Many post-mortems of the 1964 race point to that single line from his acceptance speech as the reason Goldwater was trounced by Lyndon Johnson. When Goldwater first read a draft of his acceptance speech, he told me years later, he had thought the defense of liberty couplet rather Kennedyesque, a line his friend and the late president might have used. He asked his writers the source of the lines and was told they had been suggested by Harry Jaffa, a political science professor and classics scholar at Claremont Men’s College, who said a variation of the phrase was first used by Marcus Tullius Cicero when speaking in the Roman Senate in defense of Rome’s republic form of government and against its overthrow by Lucius Sergius Catilina. According to Jaffa, Cicero’s original statement was: “I must remind you, Lords, Senators, that extreme patriotism in defense of freedom is no crime, and let me respectfully remind you that pusillanimity in the pursuit of justice is not virtue in a Roman.”
Suffice it to say Senator Goldwater never dreamed that the line would be used by his opponents, as well as pundits and commentators, to paint him as a wild-eyed right-wing radical. He simply liked its eloquence. It was not, as later claimed by others, a dog-whistle to rally radicals of all stripes. In fact, the phase had no meaning other than that which a listener (or reader) might give it.
In 1964 there was no such thing as “political correctness” (which did not become widespread until the 1990s). Yet few politicians spoke like Goldwater, who said what he thought and minced few words. He loved wise-cracking and that too, given his candor, caused him trouble in the 1964 campaign. For example, Goldwater once facetiously quipped during a discussion of nuclear weapons—“Let’s lob one into the men’s room at the Kremlin”—which was anything but a policy statement. Nonetheless, the Johnson campaign used the crack to create one of the most devastating attack ads in American political history: The “Daisy” commercial. While Goldwater’s name was never mentioned in the commercial with the little girl counting daisy petals before a nuclear explosion, the message was clear. A vote for Goldwater meant nuclear war and death; a vote for President Johnson meant peace and life.
Similarly, the Johnson campaign took a quote from Stewart Alsop’s 1963 interview of Goldwater, where Alsop explained that the senator represented the end of the era where America’s South and West were no longer viewed as “semi-colonial dependencies of New York-dominated capital.” Rather in the South and West, where Goldwater enjoyed great popularity, viewed “the East” with some suspicion, combined as well with pockets of dislike and envy. Alsop thought “Goldwater perfectly expresses this attitude, for he had once remarked, “perhaps only half-jokingly—that the East Coast ought to be ‘sliced off and set adrift.’”
Alsop’s paraphrase became Goldwater’s words, in another devastating Johnson attack ad. Showing a huge hand-saw with a woodcutting sound effect as the East Coast of the United States was sawed off and set afloat, a deep voiced announcer explains: “In a Saturday Evening Post article, dated August 31, 1963, Barry Goldwater said, ‘Sometimes I think this country would be better off if we could just saw off the eastern seaboard and let it float out to sea.’ Can a man who makes statements like this be expected to serve all the people justly and fairly? Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.” It should be noted that the “quote” in the Johnson attack ad was not actually what Goldwater said, nor Alsop’s characterization of it. But facts were not important.
Today, Donald Trump can say anything, and pay no price with his low-information-lets-stick-it-to-the-system voters. A small sample of the ever-growing collection of “Trumpism” show that Goldwater and Trump are very different people. Here are a few typical Trump statements on recurring subjects.
Trump On President Obama: “An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is a fraud.” “Our great African-American President hasn’t exactly had a positive impact on the thugs who are so happily and openly destroying Baltimore.” Or “Our weak President, that [sic] kisses everybody’s ass, is in more wars than I have ever seen. Now he’s in Libya, he’s in Afghanistan, he’s in Iraq. Nobody respects us.”
Trump On Women: “Ariana Huffington is unattractive, both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man—he made a good decision.” “You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young, and beautiful, piece of ass.” On Fox Anchor Megyn Kelly’s tough questions: “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her… wherever.” “All of the women on ‘The Apprentice’ flirted with me—consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected;” “[Angelina Jolie’s] been with so many guys she makes me look like a baby… And, I just don’t even find her attractive.” “Women have one of the great acts of all time. The smart ones act very feminine and needy, but inside they are real killers. The person who came up with the expression ‘the weaker sex’ was either very naive or had to be kidding. I have seen women manipulate men with just a twitch of their eye—or perhaps another body part.”
Trump On Politics & Policy: “One of the key problems today is that politics is such a disgrace. Good people don’t go into government.” “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” “I’m the worst thing that ever happened to ISIS.” “If Japan had that nuclear threat, I’m not sure that would be a bad thing for us.” “Maybe we should boycott Starbucks.” “We should boycott Apple.” “I will build a great wall—and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me—and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bring crime. They’re rapists… And some, I assume, are good people.”
On His Opponents: “Lyin’ Ted Cruz just used a [nude] picture of [my wife] Melania from a shoot in his ad. Be careful, Lyin’ Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!” “Look at that face!” He said of former Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?” “The only card [Hillary Clinton] has is the woman’s card. She’s got nothing else to offer and frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote. The only thing she’s got going is the woman’s card, and the beautiful thing is women don’t like her.” “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America.”
On Himself: “The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.” “I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.” “My IQ is one of the highest—and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure; it’s not your fault.” “Look at those hands, are they small hands? And, [Little Marco Rubio] referred to my hands: ‘If they’re small, something else must be small.’ I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee.”
Barry Goldwater entered public service to make government better. He served the State of Arizona, and the nation, in the United States Senate for thirty years with great distinction. He was one of the most popular members of the Senate, respected and admired by all his colleagues. Donald Trump has spent his life serving Donald Trump. His pursuit of the presidency is not to make America great rather it is like everything in his life—it’s all about Donald Trump. Just as there are no similarities between Trump and Goldwater, as men, there are no similarities between the 1964 and 2016 Republican presidential campaigns. Only fools and the uninformed are comparing them.