Goldwater versus Trump
The author is a Washington bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.
The Gulf of Tonkin incident changed the flow of the Vietnam War in 1964, and in the U.S. presidential election in November the conservative GOP suffered an embarrassing defeat. Barry Goldwater, who emerged as the conservatives’ icon with his book “Conscience of a Conservative,” received 38.5 percent of the votes, defeated by incumbent Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson, who got 61.1 percent of the votes. Goldwater only won in six states out of 50.
To re-draw the shattered future of the conservatives, major figures gathered in Washington in December. The product was the establishment in 1974 of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which became the largest conservative event in the United States. California Governor Ronald Reagan made a keynote speech there, and six years later he made his landslide victory in the presidential election. He only lost in six states, paying back for the defeat of Goldwater.
Former President Donald Trump got the spotlight at the CPAC this year, which ended on Feb. 28. He made the final speech of the event. In the first public speech 39 days after stepping down, he attacked the first month of the Biden administration for being the worst in modern history. Trump didn’t make an official announcement, but it was an armed protest and a warm-up for the 2024 presidential election.
Shortly before the event, an interesting poll result was released. Six out of 10 Trump supporters, or 59 percent, wanted Trump to run in 2024, according to the USA Today-Suffolk University poll. That’s twice more than those who didn’t want him to run again. Nearly half of the respondents, or 46 percent, said that if Trump sets up a new party, they will follow him. Despite the election defeat and impeachment trial, Trump has a solid base.
His allies are using Trump’s influence to announce their candidacy. Linda Blanchard, who served as the U.S. Ambassador to Slovenia, announced intention to run for the Senate seat in Alabama, using Trump’s MAGA slogan. Senator Mitt Romney, who is the notable anti-Trump Republican, said that if Trump makes up his mind, he would be the candidate for 2024.
The air in the Republican Party is complicated. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the highest ranking Republican in the House, and House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney, the third highest in the House Republican leadership, have openly clashed over Trump’s role. When McCarthy supported a speech by Trump in the CPAC event, Cheney opposed. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested his parting with Trump but seems to be nervous.
The expectation that Trump would follow the fall of Goldwater after making far-rightist comments like “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice” collapsed five years ago. Many complain that the impeachment attempt to disqualify him from running again only made him a more coveted candidate. Goldwater returned to politics as a Senator four years later. It is a series of eerie reversals.