Watch this: Donald Trump’s disturbing rise to popularity mirrors another chilling election year in history; #TBT to Barry Goldwater, 1964
“I wouldn’t have worried so much about party unity because if you unite behind a man you don’t believe in, it’s a lie… When the head of the Ku Klux Klan, all of these weird groups, come out in favor of the candidate of my party, either they’re not Republicans or I’m not,” the man says with a cigarette burning in his hand, anxiety written all over his face.
This scene could just as easily come from the Reconstruction-era South as from the embattled Civil Rights Era as from, most disturbingly, today in presidential primary politics. The true origin, however, is a 1964 television ad run by the Democratic National Committee against the controversial conservative Republican candidate, Barry Goldwater.
Today, in one of the most polarizing Primary Election seasons in living memory, voters across America have been left grasping at straws to try and explain the rise of Donald Trump. How could a bronzer-coated reality television star mount a campaign based on hurling insults and racial epithets from his bully pulpit on national television, and actually come out victorious?
People have searched for parallels across modern history, but the most obvious archetype lies just a few decades into America’s past. The 1964 U.S. Presidential Election featured incumbent Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson taking on a man who was changing the face of the Republican party and conservative movement in real time – and that was Barry Goldwater.
Goldwater, described by some as “a trigger-happy dimwit”, was an Arizona Senator remarkable for his opposition to the Civil Rights Act and pro-nuclear war stances. When you watch and listen to the campaign television ads run by the DNC in 1964, it’s hard not to draw parallels between Goldwater and Trump. Although Goldwater was a five-time senator and experienced politician, whereas Trump is a barely competent businessman, the similarities are there.
A well-dressed, middle-aged man with his hair coiffed in the style of the time opens the video defending his credentials as a Republican. “I simply don’t feel guilty about being a Republican – I’ve always been a Republican. My father is, his father was,” he explains.
However, the man quickly changes his demeanor, launching into a fervent assault on the Republican nominee at the :37 mark. “But, when we come to Senator Goldwater, it seems we’re up against a very different kind of a man,” the video’s subject says with a stutter and a tone of worry to his voice. “This man scares me.”
In the context of today, where Donald Trump is heavily favored to win the Republican nomination, many Americans are scared for our political future. Trump is certainly a different kind of person than any we’ve seen waging a successful bid for nominee of either major political party. As disappointing as many politicians have been, it’s hard (if not impossible) to find another example of one in history who vowed to ban from the country all members of a religion with 1.6 billion practitioners worldwide–many of whom already live and were born in America. None have publicly compared fellow candidates to “child molesters” or implied that debate moderators were “bimbos” with “blood coming out of their wherever”.
What we have seen though, in a candidate like Goldwater, is a man who was willing to embrace the most basest, hateful, racist beliefs in order to capture the votes no one else is seeking. In the context of Trump recently receiving support from former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, then refusing immediately disavow the KKK’s support on national television, the video’s words at around the 3:15 mark are chilling.
“When the head of the Ku Klux Klan, all of these weird groups, comes out in favor of the candidate of my party, either they’re Republicans or I’m not,” the man says, in a scarily prescient statement.
With recent instances of Trump dismissing scores of black students from his events, and of his supporters physically assaulting protesters at his rallies, the cracks in the GOP’s base are fragmenting. Trump represents what could mean the rise of authoritarianism and fascism in America, as he abandons even coded hate speech in favor of blatant, public cries FOR discrimination on the basis of race and religion. The flabbergasted remains of the GOP establishment is facing an existential question about what a Trump General Election candidacy would mean for the future of their party’s values and its base.
Despite losing in a landslide in 1964, Goldwater fundamentally changed the course of the Republican Party for decades, paving the way for guys like Nixon, Reagan, Bush, and Bush to hold the presidency under the GOP. What will happen over the next few decades as a result of Donald Trump’s influence on the GOP is a question that’s uncomfortable to ponder. 2016 is likely not the last time we’ll see a conservative candidate like Donald Trump.