The GOP was a mass political party then, with liberals, centrists, and conservatives — the latter had been defeated and marginalized since 1932. The 1952 nomination fight loss of Sen. Robert Taft, "Mr. Republican," to the centrist Dwight Eisenhower had been especially embittering to the right.
The party was controlled by the generally liberal Eastern establishment. But in the 1964 national convention, its leading candidate, New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, was smashed by the Goldwater machine at the Cow Palace in San Francisco.
The department store heir embraced the reactionary right's agenda to roll back the New Deal and confront the Soviet Union much more aggressively. Goldwater opposed federal civil rights legislation, a stance he later came to regret but it attracted Southern whites. He didn't want to run against the ghost of the recently martyred John F. Kennedy (who, when alive, had worried about a Goldwater challenge). But he felt it was his duty to the party and his conservative principles.
Of course Goldwater went down in one of the worst drubbings in the history of presidential elections. He carried only six states: Arizona (despite Eugene C. Pulliam endorsing LBJ) but more significantly for the future four states in the Deep South and South Carolina. Of equal significance was the visible support of actor Ronald Reagan, especially his famous "Time for Choosing" speech on the eve of the election. It made Reagan a political star and Goldwater's heir presumptive.
We can wonder what Barry and Dutch would think of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, et al, and I have speculated that both would now be seen as "too liberal" to win a GOP school-board election. But the fact is that they built today's white, extreme-right Republican Party and everything it has brought to our national politics, life, and future. Much of Reagan's 1964 speech echoes eerily into our present.
Which brings us to Sen. Bernie Sanders.
When I visit the progressive echo chamber, I find nothing but true believers. They sincerely believe Sanders can lead a "revolution" (presumably bloodless) that would roll back Wall Street and big money in politics, while moving America toward social democracy that includes universal health insurance.
What's not to like? We need all this, as well as measures to keep most carbon in the ground, provide incentives for cleaner energy and shift from funding empire to funding infrastructure, including the high-speed trains most other advanced nations take for granted. We need to rebuild and strengthen the commons, the national good, and stop picking fights around the world. Neo-liberalism has failed too many Americans; we need reboot of capitalism.
Outside the echo chamber, however, things are different. This moment of unrest and discontent is not only benefiting Sanders, but also Trump and Cruz. The national media looks for hope from the "Republican Party establishment," but that group is what remains of the Gingrich "revolution."
This establishment has starved investments in our future, played the race dog whistle, and was willing to push the world into depression by defaulting on the national debt. Behold your establishment. It only looks better compared with its more radical, but entirely predictable, offspring. No sensible centrist GOP is operating in American politics — and the nation is the worse for it — even if a few remnants hang out here and hope.
And yet, 70 percent of voters are white and white conservatives vote. Latino voting is abysmal most places, even before growing voter suppression laws are factored in. If Sanders were to defeat Hillary Clinton, the inheritor of the "New Democrats," for the nomination, does anyone believe he could actually win?
It's dicey at best — wait until the Koch brothers and their ilk start filling the airwaves with ads about the dangers of SOCIALISM. Significantly more Americans self-identify as conservatives than as liberals. Most "independents" are not — they consistently lean one way or the other. Putting faith in some demographic deus ex machina does not seem backed by the facts. So hello, President Trump.
If Sanders were elected, his tenure would be more miserable than President Obama's. Nothing could get through a GOP-controlled Congress. And Sanders' "failures" would help ensure even greater Republican victories below the presidential level.
Sorry to sun on your parade.
The only other explanation I have for feeling the Bern is that some hope he will be a Goldwater of the left, the sacrificial hero who rings in a new liberal era.
The trouble is, conservatism did not triumph in this country because of its ideas alone or even primarily, pace William F. Buckley Jr. Sure, they played to the worst of American prejudice, selfishness, and magical thinking (My wages aren't down because of Wal-Mart's business model but because of taxes and brown people taking free stuff. Climate change is a hoax; fill up my SUV!).
In reality the vast and highly effective right-wing infrastructure was assembled by some of the richest men in America, seeking to further their personal fortunes and license at the expense of the commons and the national good. This has been the wind at the back of conservative electoral victories.
Its outcomes are visible in everything from anti-worker trade deals, union busting, and rising inequality to voter suppression, endless war, and Citizens United. Its brand of mindless consumerism and destruction of serious journalism (and attention spans) has produced a level of ignorance in the electorate that would shock even Mencken.
I don't see a similar tailwind out there for liberalism, and, no, it's not "demography." America has plenty of young, white conservatives and the right has the most money to spend. Maybe you can tell me where I'm wrong.