Ironically, the elites also compared Reagan to Goldwater and predicted a devastating defeat for him in 1980. But Reagan didn't lose. He not only never lost an election, he never won by less than a landslide. (You might say Reagan's opponents suffered Goldwater-style defeats.)
So what was the difference between Goldwater and Reagan? Had the country changed that much in 16 years?
The social issues were the difference. Reagan agreed with Goldwater on fiscal and national defense issues, but by 1980, social issues loomed large and Reagan came down mightily on one side -- the opposite side as Goldwater, as it turned out.
Unlike abortion-loving Goldwater, Reagan said, "We cannot survive as a free nation when some men decide that others are not fit to live and should be abandoned to abortion or infanticide."
And unlike gay-marriage-loving Goldwater, Reagan said: "Society has always regarded marital love as a sacred expression of the bond between a man and a woman. It is the means by which families are created and society itself is extended into the future. ... We will resist the efforts of some to obtain government endorsement of homosexuality."
Goldwater may have been a thorough-going right-winger on national defense, but -- unless L. Brent Bozell Jr. was writing it for him -- he never would have said this of the Soviets, as President Reagan did: "There is sin and evil in the world and we are enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might."
CNN's Borger contrasted Goldwater with Ronald Reagan by precisely reversing their differences, claiming Reagan "was probably the most secular president we've known in our lifetime."
Yes, the man who called the Soviet Union an "Evil Empire," who wrote a book against abortion as a sitting president, and who said that our government's founding documents "speak of man being created, of a creator, that we are a nation under God" -- that's the one Borger calls "the most secular president we've known in our lifetime."
By "most secular," I gather she means "most deeply religious."
Establishment Republicans are always telling Christian conservatives to put our issues aside because they're not popular -- and then moderate Republicans go on to lose elections, while conservative Republicans win in landslides. (It's almost as if the voters couldn't care less who David Brooks thinks they should vote for!)
As long as liberals are going to keep gleefully citing Goldwater's love of gay marriage and abortion, his contempt for Christian conservatives, and his statement that "every good Christian should line up and kick Jerry Falwell's ass," maybe they could ease up on blaming Christian conservatives for Goldwater's historic loss.
Goldwater wasn't our guy; Reagan was.