The left media is beside itself with joy as a number of prominent Republicans are proclaiming that they may not support President Donald Trump for re-election in 2020. Virtually all are the same folks who did not vote for Trump in 2016: former president George W. Bush and former 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Senator Mitt Romney, amongst them.
Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan knew such individuals well.
In June 1962, Ike hosted a GOP marketing summit at his Gettysburg ranch. The resultant publicity recording, previously lost to history, was called Mr. Lincoln's Party Today. The brand new Republican, actor Ronald Reagan, was approved by Ike to narrate the record. In the recording, Eisenhower reviewed that the GOP stood for individual freedom and small government. The Republican Party had a wide political tent, in which liberals such as New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, as well as conservatives such as Reagan and Arizona's Barry Goldwater, were all welcome.1
By 1964, it was Goldwater versus Rockefeller vying for the Republican presidential nomination. By the time of the convention, Goldwater had won most of the primaries. Yet as reviewed by historian John Dickerson, a vocal "Never Goldwater" movement arose
Eisenhower, still the titular head of the GOP, had strong convictions to stay neutral until the people and the party had chosen their nominee. Ike was turned off by Goldwater's brusque speaking style. But Ike realized that having a caustic conservative Republican in the White House was a far better choice than liberal Democrat Lyndon Johnson. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in World War II, former president, and acute judge of character, knew that policies far outweighed personality. When offered the chance to endorse the "Never Goldwater" group, Eisenhower stood firm and refused.
Once the convention chose Goldwater, Eisenhower remained resolute to support his party's choice and his conviction that the GOP could accommodate politicians of wide political philosophies. He delivered a rousing speech. As reviewed by historian Lee Edwards, later that summer at Gettysburg, Ike and Goldwater made a joint campaign film — although it was not seen until much later.2
Like today, in 1964 not all Republican leaders had the courage of Eisenhower to stand with their party's nominee for the presidency. Prominent party leaders such as Rockefeller (who had been booed at the convention because he was viewed as an Eastern elitist) and Congressman — and future New York City mayor — John Lindsay refused to endorse Goldwater. So did Romney — but in 1964 it was Mitt's father, George, the governor of Michigan, who refused to endorse Goldwater. Like father, like son.
But Ronald Reagan was enthralled that at last, a conservative was running for the highest office in the land. Reagan at first volunteered and campaigned up and down the Golden State on behalf of his candidate; shortly thereafter he became Goldwater state co-chair.3
It was a lost cause. Goldwater suffered a devastating, crushing defeat. The GOP neededsomber reassessment. Some saw Reagan as the next conservative Republican star. But Reagan was concerned that the Goldwater loss might sway some Republicans to start going left politically. He realized that Goldwater had run a poor campaign. But looking around at the GOP leaders who had refused to endorse, let alone campaign for, their party's presidential nominee infuriated Reagan. In front of the Los Angeles County Young Republicans, Reagan bitterly castigated Romney, Rockefeller, Lindsay and others: "We don't intend to turn the Republican Party over to the traitors in the battle just ended."4 He added that his conservative philosophy was not repudiated because the opposition Democrats had lied repeatedly about what the GOP stood for.5
After Reagan learned practical national politics under the tutelage of Eisenhower during the summer and fall of 1965, he ran for the governorship of California. During his primary campaign, the California state chairman came up with the fabled Eleventh Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Speak Ill of a Fellow Republican.
Unfortunately, during Reagan's 1966 gubernatorial primary and general election campaigns, Romney, Rockefeller and Lindsay never got the message. All three backed conservative Reagan's liberal primary opponent, which is, of course, understandable. But after Reagan's resounding primary victory, at least one of these RINOs would not stop there. As historian Todd Homes discovered, Rockefeller actively campaigned against Reagan by secretly advising the campaign of Reagan's opponent, incumbent Democratic Governor Pat Brown.6
In 1968, at various points, Romney, Rockefeller, Lindsay and Reagan ran for the presidency. When asked many times by reporters if he would support any of the liberal Republicans if they were the party's presidential nominee, conservative Reagan always responded with a resounding "Yes!" But the RINOs did not return the favor. For instance, Romney (who dropped out in 1967 after his infamous comment that he had been "brainwashed" on Vietnam by the Johnson administration) was repeatedly asked if he would endorse Reagan. Romney finally said he would endorse any nominee except one. When he was asked who, he answered, "Use your imagination!" When Reagan was told that Romney had repeatedly refused to endorse him, Reagan reflected, "I had hoped he had learned the lesson of 1964."7 By the time of the Republican convention in the summer of 1968, Romney had continued in his refusal to endorse a Reagan candicacy should Reagan be the GOP nominee.8 Clearly, none of the RINOs ever did.
What is shocking about today's news is that the prominent RINOs who refuse to endorse President Trump are the party's former presidential candidates. Former President George W. Bush's campaign theme was "compassionate conservatism," and Mitt Romney had described himself previously as "severely conservative" as governor of Massachusetts, "conservative" in 2007, and being "in sync with the conservative Tea Party" in 2011.
Why are Bush and Romney not denying that each might cast his lot with a 2020 Democratic Joe Biden who is even further left than Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, or even Barack Obama?
Each may proclaim that they are, paraphrasing Winston Churchill, putting principle over party.
Yet Eisenhower faced the same dilemma in 1964. Eisenhower ended up overlooking the flaws in Goldwater's brusque style and saw the greater good for American society in stopping the plans to expand the already-bloated big government bureaucracies with huge new entitlement programs, envisioned by Democrat Johnson's Great Society.
It is too bad that today's "Never Trump"ers have failed to learn the lessons of 1964, 1966, and 1968.
As Dickerson has reviewed, Richard Nixon once advised his aide Patrick Buchanan, "If you hear of a group getting together to stop X, be sure to put your money on X."
In 2020, I am putting my money on President Donald Trump. I know that just as Eisenhower and Reagan had done for Goldwater in 1964, each would do the same for Trump in 2020.
Gene Kopelson is the author of "Reagan’s 1968 Dress Rehearsal: Ike, RFK, and Reagan’s Emergence as a World Statesman" (Figueroa Press, 2016) and has published about Reagan’s 1966 successful gubernatorial campaign with Americans of Mexican descent. Read Gene Kopelson's Reports — More Here.
1. Kopelson, Gene.Reagan's 1968 Dress Rehearsal: Ike, RFK, and Reagan's Emergence as a World Statesman , 2016: Figueora Press, pp 48-52.
2. Kopelson, pp 65-66.
3. Kopelson pp 59-64.
4. Boyarsky, Bill.The Rise of Ronald Reagan. New York 1968 Random House, p 104.
5. Cannon, Lou.Governor Reagan. 2003 New York Public Affairs Press, pp 131-132.
6. Holmes, Todd. "The Ever Shrinking Middle Ground: Nelson Rockefeller in the Face of Reaganism" research report, Rockefeller Archive Center, Sleepy Hollow N.Y., 2011.
7. Weaver, Warren, "Rockefeller Says That He Will Run If Asked by GOP" New York Times, 3/2/1968 p A.
8. "Bid by Reagan July 21 denied," Washington Post, 7/12/1968, p A2.
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