Nixon, however, seemed resigned to the fact that his electoral life was most likely over. He moved his family from California to New York, and immersed himself in what would become a very successful law practice. He would speak out on issues from time to time, but it wasn’t likely that he’d run for office again – at least that was the conventional wisdom. Nixon was poised to be an ironically young (at 50 years of age) elder party statesman.
Meanwhile, Barry Goldwater was well on his way to capturing the 1964 GOP nomination. He had supported the more moderate Nixon in 1960. He didn’t always agree with Nixon, but he understood that supporting his party’s standard-bearer was crucial to expecting any future support—a point that seems to be lost on moderate Republicans these days. Goldwater also told conservative Republicans that it was time for them to “grow up” – challenging them to become better organized.
And grow up they did.
In the immediate wake of the Kennedy assassination in November of 1963 there was some initial speculation that the 1964 election might favor another Nixon candidacy, but the former Vice President observed how quickly and effectively President Johnson positioned himself in his new office, and correctly saw him as virtually unbeatable. It’s true that he had some difficulty totally putting the idea of a run against Johnson out of his mind. He flirted here and there with it – but ultimately resigned himself to the inevitability of Goldwater. And this is where Richard Nixon demonstrated his political savvy and skill in a way that should be remembered by moderate Republicans in 2010.
It was clear that the other big Republican guns in 1964 (all moderate Governors), Nelson Rockefeller of New York, Bill Scranton of Pennsylvania, and George Romney of Michigan, had little interest in supporting Barry Goldwater. Nixon, however, knew that anyone who really wanted to have a serious future shot at a presidential nomination could not afford to be a bystander, no matter how bad the results November might turn out to be. He was not as conservative as Goldwater, but as a more moderate Republican he knew that faithfulness and diligence in such moments was crucial. Arriving in San Francisco that year for the Republican Convention, Mr. Nixon made his position perfectly clear: “I for one Republican don’t intend to sit out, or take a walk” – an obvious signal to Goldwater supporters and detractors. And while Rockefeller was shouted down as he addressed the crowd that week, Nixon was received warmly. In fact, historian Stephen Ambrose suggested that Richard Nixon’s speech at the 1964 Republican National Convention was the opening speech of his 1968 candidacy. The future president told his party:
“Before this convention we were Goldwater Republicans, Rockefeller Republicans, Scranton Republicans, Lodge Republicans, but now that this convention has met and made its decision, we are Republicans, period, working for Barry Goldwater…And to those few, if there are some, who say that they are going to sit it out or take a walk, or even go on a boat ride, I have an answer in the words of Barry Goldwater in 1960 – ‘Let’s grow up, Republicans, let’s go to work – and we shall win in November!”
Of course, not all Republicans went to work that year (most notably Rockefeller and Romney – a fact not forgotten by conservatives four years later) – but Nixon did. Immediately following the convention, he orchestrated a meeting between former President Eisenhower and Goldwater, gaining a valuable endorsement from Ike. These days, visitors to the Eisenhower farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where the meeting took place, can see the names scribbled in the guestbook on display. Then in the fall, Nixon took a leave of absence from his lucrative law practice and spent five intense weeks traveling to thirty-six states and delivering more than one hundred and fifty speeches on behalf of the national GOP ticket and state and local candidates. In doing so, he established (and, in some cases reestablished) relationships he would turn to for help when achieving stunning victories (credited by most to Nixon’s efforts) two years later in the 1966 mid-term elections. This paved the way for his ultimate triumph, the Republican nomination and general election victory in 1968. Goldwater and Nixon were never close friends, and disagreed on many matters of politics and policy – but they understood the importance of discipline and loyalty in a two-party system. In 1960 the conservative worked for the moderate. In 1964, the moderate worked for the conservative. They saw it as the right and smart thing to do.
On January 22, 1965, just two days after Lyndon Johnson was sworn in for his new term, Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon attended a meeting of the Republican National Committee. During his remarks, the man who had been humiliated by Lyndon Johnson turned to Richard Nixon and expressed his gratitude for making an extraordinary effort on behalf of his candidacy telling him: “Dick I will never forget it.” He then told him that he would happily return the favor in the future adding - “if there ever comes a time, I am going to do all I can.” That time came in 1968—and Barry Goldwater delivered for Dick Nixon.
These days, many moderate Republican office holders are acting like the Rockefeller and Romney of the 1960s. They just can’t bring themselves to support conservatives. They speak scornfully and dismissively about the Tea Party movement. They are the heirs to the old Eastern Establishment wing of the GOP. They also refuse to work the way conservatives have.
Instead of supporting the Gipper du jour, they prefer to take their ball and go home. But in doing so they miss one obvious political aphorism:
Republican conservatives can win without moderates; but Republican moderates can never win without conservatives.