Donald Trump has gotten a lot of comparisons to Barry Goldwater in this election. On the surface, they have major similarities. Both men were incendiary, catered to bigots, won the GOP presidential nomination largely through grassroots support, and clashed greatly with the party establishment. Some admirers of Goldwater take umbrage at this comparison, feeling that it is unfair to to the Arizona Senator, whom they consider far superior to Trump. But I would submit that there is a key difference between Trump in this election and Goldwater in 1964 that most people have not discussed. In 1964, Goldwater was one of just six out of thirty-three Republican Senators to vote against the Civil Rights Act. In 1956, the Republican platform declared that the party accepted the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Several years later, Goldwater insisted that the decision was not necessarily the “law of the land.” While the Arizona Senator was well to the Left of Southern Democrats on race, he was also to the Right of the mainstream of the GOP. And while racism was rampant in both parties pre-1964, the Democratic Party was significantly more racist, as it was the home of most segregationist politicians. In a lot of ways, however, Trump is par for the course in today’s Republican Party. Certainly, his views about immigration are far outside the party’s mainstream. This is partly because: 1. Establishment Republicans are dependent on major Islamic countries for oil and as allies in foreign wars; 2. Many establishment Republicans and their wealthy donors rely on Mexican immigrants, legal and illegal, as a source of cheap labor. On the other hand, racism and pandering to racists is common among mainstream, establishment Republicans.
Consider the case of Lindsey Graham, a prime example of an establishment Republican. Graham tacitly favored the display of the Confederate Battle Flag by the South Carolina state government until after the 2015 Charleston Church Shooting. In 2011, he asserted that, “The statehouse has resolved this in a bipartisan way. People are focused on jobs. Any [candidate] who brought that up wouldn’t be doing themselves any favors.” He also went to an all-male club and informed members that, “If I get to be president, white men in male-only clubs are going to do great in my presidency.” Graham claimed that he was joking, but the statement was proceeded by, “I’m trying to help you with your tax status. I’m sorry the government’s so f–ked up.” Logically, if Graham was being sarcastic about white men in male only clubs, he was presumably being sarcastic about the tax system being “f@#%ed up.” But this would make no sense, since Graham is advocate of lower taxes. So it seems that Graham was making a campaign promise that he did not want to go public. And he has a habit of palling around with exclusionary groups; when Bob Jones University still restricted interracial dating, Graham received an honorary degree. He also has indicated that he actually shares Trump’s position that children born in the U.S. should not automatically be citizens if their parents came here illegally–not exactly consistent with the spirit of equality under the law regardless of race or ethnicity. Former Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott was back in the news earlier this year, criticizing Ted Cruz, cowriting a book with Tom Daschle about bipartisanship, and generally positioning himself as a sensible moderate Republican. And as this article describes, he allegedly tried to stop Trump via a Kasich-Rubio ticket. Hopefully, nobody has forgotten that Lott tried to keep his college fraternity segregated, praised Jefferson Davis, associated with the white Supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens, complained that the Voting Rights Act was unfair to the South, and had to step down as Senate Majority Leader for more or less waxing nostalgically about segregation. While recent party nominees have eschewed this sort of racism, they have all played close to the edge. George W. Bush and John McCain were both originally reluctant to disavow the Confederate Flag, and Bush spoke at Bob Jones University and tried to appoint a former Mississippi Dixiecrat to the federal bench. Mitt Romney refused to point blank state that the Mormon Church’s old racist policies were wrong and appointed Robert Bork–one of the men who advised Barry Goldwater that the Civil Rights Act was unconstitutional–to his Judicial Advisory Commission. And who could forget Ronald Reagan? I have written a great deal about Reagan’s record on race here, here, here and here. Suffice it to say, Reagan viciously exploited racial tensions for political gain in the much same way than Trump did, although he was probably far less racist personally.
What about gender? Again, it was Ronald Reagan, not Donald Trump, who helped remove support for the ERA from the GOP platform after every presidential nominee from Wendell Wilkie to Gerald Ford had run with a pro-ERA plank in place. The Republican Party bends over backwards to cater to the Religious Right, a movement that generally believes men should be the head of the household and women belong in the homes unless they are conservative antifeminists. And let’s not forget Graham’s comment referenced above.