The late Arizona Republican senator Barry Goldwater, aptly dubbed “Mr. Conservative” probably understands better than anyone exactly what Newt Gingrich is now going through. As with the Republican establishment onslaught encountered by Gingrich in his run for the Republican nomination, Goldwater in 1964 also ran smack into a GOP establishment as desperate then, as it is now, to stop a conservative they couldn’t control from becoming the standard bearer.
Goldwater would recognize Gingrich’s travails.
The GOP establishment tried to derail Goldwater’s candidacy with an east coast, to the manor born Republican: New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. This year, the Republican establishment choice to stop the GOP’s most threatening conservative outsider is another a wealthy east coast governor bearing a well know family name: former Mass. Governor Mitt Romney.
To no surprise, the establishment’s opposition now stems as it did nearly 50 years ago from the same fear: that the standard bearer, well known for marching to the beat of his own drum, might take Republican candidates nationwide down to defeat in November.
So in ’64, the establishment went after Goldwater with all of the weapons they could muster. Today’s Republican establishment has gone nuclear, nuking Newt from all sides.
Listening to Goldwater talk about his quest, you can hear strains of Gingrich’s battle against Romney’s and his influential friends. Goldwater wrote in his 1988 memoir, “Goldwater”: “From the historical perspective of an Arizonan and Westerner, there was another element in the battle to win control of the GOP. I had no qualms about taking on the Eastern establishment, whether it was Rockefeller, the banks, or the large corporations, because we had long been dominated by these interests.”
Goldwater’s lament about the establishment’s treatment of the rest of the country calls to mind the line of accusations against Romney and Bain Capital’s brand of free enterprise. “For a century, the West had been a colony of big Eastern money — a boom when they had invested and a bust when they had pulled out of various mining and other operations. We had been left with ghost towns and holes in the ground where gold, silver, and large mineral deposits had been discovered.”
“Easterners did help open up the region with investment and jobs-as well as federal tax money” Goldwater wrote. “But they reinvested little or nothing in the west. Instead, they built libraries and other monuments to their charity in the East.”
Goldwater prevailed over the Republican establishment in the 1964 convention at San Francisco. He didn’t have the money. But, “Mr. Conservative” had put together a ground game filled with believers who were determined to take control of their party. On that score, it may be where Gingrich and Goldwater part company.
To be sure, there are plenty of other factors that set 1964 apart from this year. The wrath of the Republican establishment against outsiders, however, is not one of them.
On that, Goldwater and Gingrich would agree.