For years, during campaign after campaign, moderate Republicans—in various shades of pastel—have preached a big-tent gospel, one that insisted on conservatives being good soldiers in support of the GOP. And the record has shown that conservative minded Republicans have managed to hold their noses and vote for candidates who didn’t always reflect their values. They did so as part of an unwritten but widely accepted contract with moderates, that if the tables were ever turned they would be able to count on the same big-tent graciousness to be there for them.
In the aftermath of primary after primary, conservatives have captured an impressive number of nominations. However, moderates—who could have never been in office without conservative support—have spoken with falsetto voices: “Sorry, but no can do—thanks for your support and what not during the past, but you don’t seriously expect us to support you, do you?”
In fact, not only is moderate support for conservative Republican nominees virtually non-existent this year, but some have decided to do everything in their power to ensure Democrat victories in local races via endorsement or so-called “independent” campaigns. And in doing so, they miss the clear lessons from history.
Some have likened what is happening in the GOP these days as akin to the “glorious disaster” of Goldwater in 1964 (personally, I think the better analogy is 1980, but admittedly both opinions are based on wishful thinking). If that is the case, there are interesting parallels to how moderates back then—called at the time “Eastern Establishment Republicans”—practiced their professed big-tent politics 46 years ago.
Largely remembered as the year of the electoral massacre of Goldwater by Lyndon Johnson, there is an interesting subplot to the story, one directed and dominated by the man who would four years later be elected as the 37th President of the United States.
Shortly after Richard Nixon’s “last press conference” on the night of his defeat in the 1962 California gubernatorial race – when he uttered the infamous phrase “you won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore” – ABC News aired a program with the catchy title “The Political Obituary of Richard Nixon.” This brazen broadcast was hosted by Howard K. Smith and included, among guests driving nails into the former Vice President’s political coffin, an old Nixon nemesis – Alger Hiss. Hiss was a convicted perjurer and was thought by many to have been a Soviet spy (an allegation proven to be true after the end of the Cold War). The uproarious response to this television program led to the eventual cancellation of Smith’s new show, and revealed significant and enduring latent sympathy for Nixon on the part of many Americans.