xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trump not the first Republican to court calamity for his party

Not for more than half a century, since the 1964 debacle of the Barry Goldwater campaign, has the Republican Party faced the same prospect of a landslide loss and peril to its survival as it does now in the campaign of Donald Trump.

Three months after Goldwater's resounding defeat, at a Chicago meeting of the Republican National Committee, Rep. Bob Wilson of California, the chairman of the GOP Congressional Campaign Committee, summed the party's need for self-preservation thus: "If I was in hell, with one leg gone and one arm gone and one eye gone, I'd still be thinking: How can I get out of here?"

Advertisement

One other attendee, Richard Nixon, the defeated 1960 presidential nominee, offered what turned out a personal self-preservation plan. He proposed that all Republicans declare a moratorium on 1968 presidential politicking until after the 1966 congressional elections and instead concentrate on winning Senate and House campaigns.

Nixon said that only with a restored base in a in a rehabilitated party could any Republican candidate have a chance to recapture the White House in 1968. The party grandees approved, whereupon Nixon personally campaigned for 66 House Republican candidates that fall, and 44 won; of 86 running for all offices that fall, 59 won.

Advertisement

Even more significant for Nixon, not then a declared 1968 candidate, Democratic President Lyndon Johnson unwittingly drew national attention to Nixon's feat by castigating him as a critic of the LBJ Vietnam war policy "in the hope that he can pick up a precinct or two, or a ward or two."

Suddenly, Nixon himself, after losing a bid for governor of California in 1962, was restored as a viable presidential candidate. And only four years after the Goldwater situation had shattered the party, a Republican was back in the Oval Office

Yet if Nixon was an architect of that GOP rebuilding, he soon had a hand in a new calamity. The unknown he chose as his vice president, Maryland Gov. Spiro Agnew, was revealed in their second term to have taken bribes from contractors in Maryland, even as vice president, and was forced to resign. Two years after that, Nixon himself resigned to escape certain impeachment in the historically broad Watergate scandal and cover-up.

Although Nixon's appointed vice president, Gerald Ford, had declared that the "national nightmare" of Watergate was over, Ford himself lost the presidency to Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1976, to some degree because he gave a presidential pardon to Nixon a month after taking office, to the dismay of many Americans.

It ultimately fell to the charismatic, optimistic Ronald Reagan, who spoke of restoring Washington as a "shining city on a hill," to restore the Grand Old Party to the good graces of the American electorate from 1981 through 1989, followed by a so-called Reagan third term in the much less inspiring presidency of George H.W. Bush. But he was easily defeated in 1992 by Democrat Bill Clinton, who was re-elected in 1996. Clinton was later impeached himself but acquitted a Democratic Senate in 1999 in a lurid sex scandal with a young White House intern.

Thus, presidential politics was tarred often in the last half-century well before this year, when Donald Trump used personal, racial and ethnic assaults to capture the Republican presidential nomination and indeed to dominate the party itself.

What we are witnessing now is a desperate and likely ineffectual pushback from current and former Republican political and national-security policy officials. They hope, not very persuasively, to derail or least defeat the Donald Trump candidacy, appalled as they are of the risk of a Donald Trump presidency.

There is a clear difference between the Goldwater nomination in 1964 and Mr. Trump's bid now. Goldwater was a regular establishment Republican, liked personally rather than for his extreme conservative views. Mr. Trump is now deeply disliked and feared within the establishment he distinctly mocked and humiliated in the primaries.

The strongest argument Mr. Trump appears to have for his election now is that he is not Hillary Clinton, who is widely held in disfavor and even in contempt among Republicans at large. And, right now, that seems not to be nearly enough to put Mr. Trump in the Oval Office.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement