1964, the Conservative Wing of the Republican Party was in decline as more republicans embraced the liberal wing of the Republicans, spurred on by the politics of previous republican presidents such as Eisenhower whose policies had straddled the centrist lines, much to the chagrin of the conservative republicans. The Republican Party was dominated by moderates such as New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Ohio Governor James A. Rhodes, Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton, UN Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. (endorsed by former president Eisenhower), and House Representative John W. Byrnes. One candidate stood out, breaking from the moderate wing, Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, a staunch conservative labeled a “right-wing extremist” by his opponents.
Because of the crowded field, Barry Goldwater claimed victory despite winning only seven out of sixteen contests and less than 40% of the popular vote. Having rallied the conservative base in California with the help of Ronald Reagan and his speech “A Time for Choosing,” Goldwater narrowly defeated Nelson Rockefeller (51.47% to 48.43%) and sealed the delegates necessary to receive the republican nomination for presidency bringing the conservative wing of the republican party surging to the forefront. Liberal/moderate republicans, known as the Rockefeller Republicans, opposed Barry Goldwater’s candidacy, splitting the party vote and enabling Johnson to capitalize on the party divisions. Due to Goldwater’s extremely conservative stance on economic matters, his strong-arm stance toward the Soviet Union, and his voting against the Civil Rights Act due to concerns about states’ rights, Goldwater alienated moderates within the Republican Party as well as independents that could’ve won him more of the electorate. As such, Johnson won a landslide victory, turning solid red states blue and winning more than 60% of the popular vote, crushing Barry Goldwater and ensuring another four years of Democrat control.
Due to Goldwater’s crushing defeat, many believed the conservative wing of republicans to be in decline, eventually putting up moderate republican Richard Nixon again after his initial loss in the general election to John F. Kennedy. This time, Nixon won a decisive electoral victory and a narrow popular vote win against Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace (who won the Goldwater states of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas) before orchestrating a landslide reelection victory against far-left candidate George McGovern. Due to the crushing defeat of Barry Goldwater and subsequent win of segregationist Wallace in the Goldwater states, conservatism had lost its luster, being portrayed as racist and close-minded with no place in modern times. With the victories of Nixon, the moderate republicans rose to power and any hope that conservatives had of upstaging them had dissipated. Then Watergate toppled Nixon and the GOP, allowing former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter to defeat incumbent Gerald Ford and win the Whitehouse for the Democrats.
However, Carter proved to be a boon to the dormant conservatives, mangling foreign policy and tarnishing liberals. This reignited the conservative movement and former California governor Ronald Reagan received the republican nomination for president. As previously stated, Reagan had stumped for Goldwater on the campaign trail in 1964 and arguably helped the Arizona Senator claim victory in California’s primary. Reagan espoused many of the same ideas as Goldwater, packaging them more palatably to the American audience and easily defeating the unpopular democratic incumbent in a landslide victory, a complete reversal of the Goldwater-Johnson race.
With Reagan in office, the religious right gained a voice and the conservative republican wing rose from the dead, revolutionizing the party and claiming power when they had been the minority not too long ago. The Reagan Republicans were a coalition of moderates and conservatives alike, but it was conservative views that were brought to the forefront by the president. Having undergone a phoenix transformation, the conservatives rose to prominence and have dominated the republican party ever since, even contributing to George H.W. Bush’s loss as the incumbent due to his “betrayal” by raising taxes.
Now, in 2017, the Liberty Republicans as embodied by republicans such as Ron Paul are in the minority, overwhelmed by neo-conservatives and hardliners yet growing in popularity with younger generations and those turned off by the extreme policies of the conservative wing. However, like the conservative wing, the Liberty Republicans cannot merely win and expect to gain the majority, they must also undergo a phoenix transformation and be defeated in a general election. The problem is that no Liberty Republican has even made it to the general election since the Caucus’ formation in 1991 while the conservatives have put up the majority of candidates since then such as Bob Dole, George W. Bush. John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Donald Trump. Liberty Republicans haven’t gained much of a following since Ron Paul ran against George W. Bush but ultimately lost the primaries. The conservative narrative is not working as efficiently as before and now is the time for the Liberty Republicans to gain control and implement their policies.