The Passion of Political Movements

Since the early years of the Great Depression in the late 20s, the United States has witnessed four great political movements in which the principal outcome of the movement was a lasting imprint on our political and cultural history.

The first of these was the Roosevelt administration and its signature program, the New Deal… a collection of social and economic experiments that changed forever the political and economic foundations of our great nation. It was during those years, between 1933 and 1952, that Democrats initiated the long process of assembling a diverse coalition of special interests… each wanting something from government that they were unable to acquire through free and open competition… and to define Republicans in the hearts and minds of working men and women and the poor in terms that were totally unrelated to reality.

The false image of conservatives and Republicans created in that era remains to this day, while conservatives and Republicans continue to think of Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the man most responsible for bringing our nation to the tipping point of American greatness… the point in time when our great nation began to turn its back on the founding principles of our country.

Then, in the early 1960’s, following a long succession of Republican presidential candidates selected, promoted, and nominated by the so-called eastern liberal establishment, a small group of young Republican conservatives decided it was time for the Republican Party to send a true conservative to the White House. Their goal was to find a way to nominate a conservative to challenge the 1964 reelection of John F. Kennedy.

It was during those years that this writer entered the political arena as a card-carrying member of the Draft Goldwater Committee. Throughout 1963 and 1964, I made numerous weekend delegate-hunting forays, in company with other young conservatives, into key cities in Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas.  Organizing conservatives from the grassroots upward to the county and statewide level in every state of the nation, we were able to assemble enough delegates to win a first ballot nomination for Senator Goldwater at the July 1964 convention.

What we could not have foreseen was that John F. Kennedy would be assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. On that day it was clear to us that Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson, armed with the “sympathy factor” resulting from Kennedy’s assassination, would not only win the 1964 General Election, but win by a landslide.  But for the assassination of Kennedy, the 1964 General Election would have been a highly competitive contest.

However, the eastern liberal establishment saw those developments as an opportunity to regain control of the party and the nominating process. Accordingly, on July 15, the third day of the 1964 convention, they placed in nomination the name of Pennsylvania Governor William W. Scranton. The Scranton nomination served only to infuriate the young conservatives who had engineered the Goldwater nomination.  Goldwater defeated Scranton by a vote of 883 to 214 on the first ballot and the liberal stranglehold on the GOP nominating process was broken.

The Goldwater nomination was the result of a conservative political movement designed to transform the GOP from a pale imitation of the Democrat Party.  It is what Ronald Reagan had in mind in a March 1, 1975 speech when he said, “Our people look for a cause to believe in.  Is it a third party we need, or is it a new and revitalized second party, raising a banner of no pale pastels, but bold colors which make it unmistakably clear where we stand on all of the issues troubling the people?”  The attempt to deny Senator Goldwater the 1964 nomination through the eleventh-hour nomination of William Scranton created such animosity within the ranks of young Republicans and other conservatives that the names Rockefeller and Scranton are as reviled in conservative circles today as they were in July 1964.

The 1964 conservative movement was followed twelve years later by a movement that arose out of an attempt by conservatives to deny incumbent president Gerald R. Ford, the candidate of the eastern Republican establishment, the 1976 Republican presidential nomination. In September 1973, I was invited to participate in a meeting of ten or twelve young conservative leaders at the Crown Center Hotel in Kansas City. The meeting was hosted by former Senator Tom Van Sickle, of Kansas, a regional coordinator for the Draft Goldwater Committee from1961-64, and Judge Ed Failor, of Dubuque, Iowa, who served as deputy director of the Draft Goldwater Committee.

The purpose of the meeting was to determine whether we could unite behind a single conservative for the 1976 nomination… much as we had for Barry Goldwater in the early 60s. The only 1976  presidential hopeful to send a representative to our Kansas City meeting was California Governor Ronald Reagan.  However, by the time we adjourned on Sunday afternoon, the consensus was that, as of September 1973, Governor Reagan did not possess the key political and financial network necessary to wage a successful national campaign for the 1976 nomination.

At the 1976 Kansas City convention, Reagan was narrowly defeated for the nomination by a vote of 1,187 to 1,070, falling just 59 votes short of the nomination. But the intensity of the campaign for the 1976 nomination made it clear to all observers that yet another conservative movement was taking shape within the Republican Party.  And as Ronald Reagan set his sights on the 1980 nomination he was able to build on his growing cadre of western political/financial supporters, creating yet another political movement across the nation.

Reagan arrived at the 1980 national convention in Detroit, Michigan, with a sizeable delegate advantage over his nearest competitor, George H.W. Bush, the candidate of the Republican establishment. I was in Detroit as a senior aide to former Treasury Secretary William E. Simon who, along with former congressman Jack Kemp (R-NY) and former Defense Secretary Donald  Rumsfeld (R-IL), was on Reagan’s “short list” for vice president.  However on the second day of the convention, establishment Republicans, convinced that Reagan was incapable of leading the nation, created a groundswell of support for a proposal to force Reagan to select former president Gerald R. Ford as his running mate.

In order to put an end to that subversion and to unite the party, Reagan was forced to select George H.W. Bush as his running mate and the eastern Republican establishment was back in business. The 1980 Bush vice presidential nomination cut short the Reagan conservative movement, giving the Republican Party 12 years of Republican presidents… from 1989-93, and from 2001-09… in which the tepid leadership style of Bush (41) and Bush (43) encouraged Democrats to continue unabated their long push toward collectivism.

Finally, the fourth major political movement occurred in the 2016 election year, a year in which the American people on the left and on the right made it clear that they were fed up with the apparent inability of inside-the-beltway Republicans and Democrats to solve any of our major national problems. As a result, Senator Bernie Sanders, a disgruntled old man from Vermont… a self-described socialist… waged a highly-competitive campaign for the Democratic nomination.

However, when Sanders became a serious threat to frontrunner Hillary Clinton, defeating her in 23 primaries and caucuses and winning 46% of pledged delegates, a movement was born.  But when Sanders’ rabid young supporters became aware that, within the Democratic Party, 713 of the party’s 4,765 convention delegates (15%) were unelected “super delegates,” nearly all party leaders whose job it was to insure that the “fix” was in for Hillary Clinton, they staged angry street demonstrations outside the convention hall.  And when they learned through leaked emails that the leadership of the Democratic National Committee had conspired to “rig” the 2016 nominating process, a political rift was created that will likely last for generations.

On the Republican side, a parallel movement was created when disaffected conservatives and Reagan Democrats across the country nominated a totally untested political neophyte, billionaire Donald Trump, a man who, while promising to “make America great again,” quickly became the most unattractive and the most egocentric presidential candidate in U.S. history.

Running against Hillary Clinton, a woman who embodies all the worst characteristics of Lyndon Johnson, Barack Obama, and her husband, Bill Clinton, Trump was in a position to literally “waltz” into the White House by concentrating all of his energies on: a) restoring the economy and creating jobs, b) defeating the international threat of radical Islam, and c) solving the problem of illegal immigration… all issues that represent a toxic “poison pill” for Democrats. Instead, he’s spent the majority of his time in childish name-calling, in “walking back” previous oratorical faux pas, and in alienating friend and foe alike.

Anyone who might still have doubts about the comparative value of the primary system versus the caucus/convention system might want to study the Trump nomination. It was the primary system that allowed those least politically astute, those most informed by political generalities and 30-second sound bytes, to swing election after election to Trump.  His debate style was best characterized by a propensity to engage in unprecedented playground-level name-calling.

Now there is talk of a political “intervention,” a process in which party leaders would remind him of who his true enemies are and to point him once again in the direction of those who, like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, would lead our nation down the path of no return. But the question arises, if Trump is not smart enough to know that Hillary Clinton is almost certain to mop the floor with him in debate, is he smart enough to know when he’s being given good advice?   And is he man enough to finally subordinate his own larger-than-life ego to what is in the best interests of the country and the American people?  That remains to be seen.

Paul R. Hollrah is a retired government relations executive and a two-time member of the U.S. Electoral College. He currently lives and writes among the hills and lakes of northeast Oklahoma’s Green Country.




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