Goldwater Was Outspoken, Untamable
AP Special Correspondent
Friday, May 29, 1998; 2:11 p.m. EDT
WASHINGTON (AP) Barry Goldwater was cantankerously cordial, politically candid to the dismay of would-be image makers, blunt, sometimes blundering. But the clarion conservatism of his landslide defeat for the White House 34 years ago foretold the rise of the Republican right.
No political handler could tame him; he wouldn't be managed.
Not when he ran for president in 1964, not when he returned to the Senate four years after his defeat, not when he broke with Republican orthodoxy in retirement, to the point of endorsing an Arizona Democrat for Congress.
"I just sit out here and say to hell with them," he told a visitor to his hillside home overlooking Phoenix.
His was the last of the free-form campaigns for the White House. There were no outsiders, no consultants in an inner circle reserved for friends and conservative believers.
No Secret Service phalanx to prepare and guard his way.
No strategy beyond capturing the Republican nomination.
And no real chance of taking the White House away from Lyndon B. Johnson, only a year after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Indeed, Goldwater said he lost his enthusiasm for the 1964 campaign with the killing of Kennedy. But he ran hard, to validate the message he'd bluntly given conservatives four years before: grow up, wait and one day they'd take back the party.
So he trumpeted his themes, sounded belligerent he once talked of lobbing a bomb into the men's room at the Kremlin and then bristled when foes called him too trigger-happy to trust with the nuclear button.
He said Social Security should be voluntary, a primitive version of the privatizing proposals now on the Washington agenda. He was scorned for saying that some day Social Security taxes would cost more than income taxes in most American households. The day came.
His campaign aides and volunteers became the GOP conservative leaders of a later generation. Ronald Reagan's first national political venture was in a televised fund-raising speech for Goldwater.
But the current Christian right was not to Goldwater's liking. He had no use for its doctrinaire style. In the end, he was a libertarian, for abortion rights, for gay rights a Goldwater grandson is homosexual.
Goldwater served five terms in the Senate from Arizona, with time out for the presidential campaign that made his name and horn-rimmed visage nationally known.
The bristling image didn't match the private man. He'd denounce all those liberal reporters, and then have dinner with them and say it was nothing personal. One went to an appointed interview at poolside at Goldwater's home but couldn't find the senator. Goldwater was resting on the bottom in his scuba gear.
At lunch there one day in 1964, three guests all reporters heard gunfire. Goldwater's first wife, Peggy, who died in 1985, was exasperated. Don't worry, she said, it's just Barry shooting at the bullet trap in the drive.
He was, with another reporter at his side. He said he sometimes missed and hit the back of the church across the valley, but never on Sunday.
As a presidential campaigner, Goldwater said he got bored listening to himself give the same speech over and over again, so he changed it. And more than once stumbled into political traps and gave the Democrats grist against him.
Goldwater's bodyguard was a burly automobile dealer who volunteered in New Hampshire and stayed for the season.
The Secret Service delivered more than protection to later candidates; the motorcades were organized, the routes checked in advance. Not in the Goldwater campaign. One night in Phoenix, a fed-up volunteer led the whole entourage, press buses and all, up the narrow road to Goldwater's house. The only way out was to back up in the dark. Which the motorcade did.
The real competition that year was for the nomination, Republican right versus Republican left, West versus East, Sen. Barry Goldwater against Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller.
They campaigned hard in New Hampshire. And lost, to Henry Cabot Lodge, a writein candidate who wasn't there and didn't run.
The only meaningful presidential primary Goldwater won was in California, and that narrowly. He then went to the San Francisco convention with the votes to win, and whiled away the days by slipping away to pilot a light plane over the city, buzzing the Cow Palace, he said later.
He picked a little-known congressman, William Miller, for his running mate because, he said, the guy got under Johnson's skin. He defied conventional convention wisdom by telling the Republicans who opposed him that unless they agreed with his cause, he didn't need them, and he said, famously, that extremism in the defense of liberty was no vice.
He lost by 16 million votes, carried six states.
In 1968, he returned to the Senate, and served later as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, overseeing an overhaul of the military command structure. He'd gone to a military school, he'd been a World War II pilot, he became an Air Force reserve general. After his Senate retirement, he received the Pentagon's distinguished service medal, choking back tears.
He'd shed none for losing the White House. He went for a walk in the desert, and then he went home.
Goldwater had occasionally taken the controls of the Boeing 727 chartered for his campaign, although it broke all the rules. They were really fractured when the pilot let him share the controls for the final landing in Washington.
"How'd you like that landing?" he asked a newsman after the jet bounced to a halt.
"Which one, the first, second or third?" the reporter countered.
"Sonofabitch," Goldwater growled, and laughed.
EDITOR'S NOTE Walter R. Mears, vice president and columnist for The Associated Press, covered Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press