As the GOP presidential dance card continues to fill up, with former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich’s hat now in the ring, many stalwarts have serious concerns about the actual electoral prospects for 2012. With no clear front-runner, and most of the would-be nominees saddled either with high-profile baggage or low profile, well, profiles—there exists a Republican vacuum.
And that vacuum sucks.
The past being prologue, one good question is: Will the presidential election of 2012 be a Republican 1964 or 1980. Will the campaign bear resemblance to the quixotic Barry Goldwater “glorious disaster,” or the triumphant Ronald Reagan man on horseback? Only time will tell, but a look at those past races might be wise right now.
The persistent mantra of moderate Republicans—in various shades of pastel—has been the gospel of the big tent. This usually means insistence that conservatives should be good soldiers in support of the GOP, even if that means the occasional holding of the nose. In fact, the record has shown that conservative Republicans have managed to support candidates who didn’t always completely reflect their values. This has been part of an unwritten but widely accepted socio-political 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.
Sometimes though, the more moderate (and therefore presumably more tolerant and pragmatic) have not always seemed to be able to pull that trigger, if not lever.
In the aftermath of primary after primary during the 2010 mid-term elections conservatives captured an impressive number of nominations. However, many moderates—who could have never been in office without a good measure of conservative support—seemed to speak in a sort of political falsetto en route to last November.
Largely remembered as the year of the electoral massacre of Goldwater by Lyndon Johnson, there is an interesting subplot to the story that played out in 1964. The moderates of the day sat on their hands. Sixteen years later, they had more sense and the electoral math bears out that this wisdom helped make history.
In the immediate wake of the Kennedy assassination in November of 1963 there was some initial speculation that the 1964 election might favor another Richard Nixon candidacy, but the former Vice President observed how quickly and effectively President Lyndon Johnson positioned himself in his new office and correctly perceived him to be virtually unbeatable. It’s true that Nixon flirted here and there with a run for the nomination in 1964, but he ultimately resigned himself to the inevitability of Goldwater.