So a decision that would affect conservatives down to this very day was cast. According to Middendorf, Goldwater didn’t want to run, didn’t even want to be president, but he would run anyway -- because it would lay the foundation for conservative victories down the road. “Lose the election,” Goldwater said, “but win the Party.”
We all know the rest. Ronald Reagan gave an electrifying election-eve speech, “A Time for Choosing,” that showcased his unique appeal; two years later, he was elected governor of California. The “destroyed” Republican Party was soon winning elections, and American politics was transformed.
Middendorf went on to work in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations in a variety of positions -- Secretary of the Navy, Ambassador to the Netherlands, U.S. Representative to the Organization of American States, and U.S. Representative to the European Community. Today, he’s a trustee and board member of The Heritage Foundation, Ronald Reagan’s favorite think tank. And today’s disheartened conservatives can take some much-need perspective from the pages of “A Glorious Disaster”:
“The Goldwater campaign gave many of today’s conservative politicians their first national hearing. By replacing the conventional wisdom of the Republican Party leaders in the Northeast with a refreshing conservative logic, we brought about a marked shift in Republican philosophy and geography -- from liberal to conservative, and from Northeast to the South and West. We created the conditions that put conservative Republicans back in power after more than thirty years of domination by the liberal eastern establishment.
“The organization that we created to win the Republican nomination for Barry Goldwater -- state by state, county by county, precinct by precinct -- and the conservative vision that attracted so many supporters came to represent a new baseline for the Republican Party. The defeat in 1964 left behind a cadre of millions of true believers, a loyal base of future convention delegates and activists.
“I believe it is safe to say that without Goldwater, there would have been no Reagan or Bush administrations -- nor even, perhaps, the centrist administration of Bill Clinton. Our efforts to elect Barry Goldwater gave muscle to the embryonic conservative movement -- which, indeed, had been our goal all along.”
Conservatives didn’t give up in 1964, no matter how tempting it may have seemed. And we shouldn’t give up today. Victory is ours if we will stand firm on principle, share our vision with a nation that so desperately needs it, and work tirelessly to, as the Heritage Foundation vision statement proclaims, "Build an America where freedom, opportunity, prosperity and civil society flourish."
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