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August 2014 Brief: Volume 21, Number 24

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Remembering Senator Barry Goldwater's Historic Campaign


by John Hendrickson



This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Republican Party nominating Arizona Senator Barry M. Goldwater for President in 1964. Senator Goldwater, known as “Mr. Conservative,” not only campaigned on principles in 1964, but also launched the post-war conservative movement in American politics. Before Goldwater’s nomination a conservative intellectual movement was well underway with numerous conservative and libertarian academics and writers — especially William F. Buckley’s National Review magazine — that were standing “athwart history, yelling stop” against the rising tide of New Deal liberalism.[1] As Alfred Regnery wrote, “the conventional wisdom in the days following World War II was, in a word, liberalism.”[2] “The power brokers, the wise men, and most opinion-makers saw no reason why the growth of government and a planned economy should not continue...,” noted Regnery.[3]


The Republican Party itself was divided between a liberal Eastern establishment led by Wendell Willkie, Thomas E. Dewey, George Romney, and Nelson Rockefeller, among others who wanted to make peace and pursue “moderation” towards the New Deal legacy. The conservative element within the Republican Party was led by former President Herbert Hoover, General Douglas MacArthur, and Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, among others who wanted to restore limited government and warned of the dangers of Soviet communism both at home and abroad. The conservative forces in the Republican Party were mostly from the Midwest and Western states.


It was this band of Republican conservatives that Senator Goldwater joined and eventually became the leader in the aftermath of Taft's death. Goldwater continued the crusade to restore constitutional limited government, and he criticized President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “dime-store” New Deal. Even with President Eisenhower’s two landslide victories in 1952 and 1956, conservatives were disappointed by Ike’s “moderate Republicanism.”


During the 1960 Republican national convention, Goldwater was viewed as the conservative candidate, but the nomination fell to Vice President Richard M. Nixon. During the convention Goldwater encouraged disgruntled conservatives who saw Nixon’s nomination as once again a victory for the Eastern establishment to “get to work” in order to take the party back.[4]


By 1964 conservatives working through the grassroots went to the Republican presidential convention in California to nominate Senator Goldwater for President. The convention was divided, and the Eastern establishment led by New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller tried unsuccessfully to stop the Goldwater movement. In fact liberal Republicans went so far as to paint Goldwater and the conservatism he stood for as “extreme.”


In his address accepting the Republican presidential nomination, Goldwater told the delegates that the nation has “followed false prophets” and that “we must, and we shall, return to proven ways — not because they are old, but because they are true.”[5] At the center of Goldwater’s philosophy was liberty based upon the Constitution, and Goldwater, who was unapologetic in his conservatism, fired back at the liberal Republicans with perhaps the most famous words in the history of all Republican conventions: “I would remind you that extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”[6]


Goldwater’s philosophy was outlined in his book The Conscience of a Conservative, which Patrick J. Buchanan described as the conservatives’ “new testament,” which “contained the core beliefs of our political faith.”[7] The Conscience of a Conservative was a powerful defense of constitutional limited government.


In his convention speech Goldwater told the delegates that “rather than useful jobs in our country, people have offered bureaucratic ‘make work;’ rather than moral leadership, they have been given bread and circuses, spectacles, and yes, they have even been given scandals.”[8] He also addressed the anxiety and despair that was confronting the nation — some of the same issues we are confronted with today. As Buchanan noted, “the issues that drove the conservative movement were America’s perceived retreat in the world, the size and power of government, and law and order.”[9]


In the end Goldwater lost the 1964 election in a landslide, and even though “experts” argued that conservatism was dead, Goldwater’s campaign built momentum for the conservative movement and provided a stronghold for conservatives within the Republican Party. It also gave birth to a new leader of the conservative movement — Ronald Reagan, whose speech “A Time for Choosing” on behalf of Goldwater launched his political career.


Today conservatives can look back on Goldwater and remember his defense of limited government, his belief that the Constitution is the backbone of liberty, and his assertion that conservative principles are not outdated, nor do we need to be ashamed or apologize for standing for principle. Just as Goldwater warned of the nation following “false prophets” in 1964, it would be wise for the nation to examine the policies and philosophy driving the nation today.



[1] William F. Buckley, “Our Mission Statement,” National Review Online, November 19, 1955, <!> accessed on July 18, 2014.
[2] Alfred S. Regnery, Upstream: The Ascendance of American Conservatism, Threshold Editions, New York, 2008, p. xii.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Lee Edwards, The Conservative Revolution: The Movement That Remade America, The Free Press, New York, 1999, p. 94.
[5] Barry Goldwater, “A Party for Free Men,” National Review Online, July 14, 2014, <> accessed on July 18, 2014.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Patrick J. Buchanan, “The Voice in the Desert,” introduction in The Conscience of a Conservative by Barry Goldwater, Regnery, Washington, D.C., 1990, p. ix.
[8] Goldwater, “A Party for Free Men.”
[9] Patrick J. Buchanan, The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority, Crown Forum, New York, 2014, pp. 22-23.


John Hendrickson is a Research Analyst with Public Interest Institute, Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Contact him at


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