Barry Goldwater, Paul Ryan, and… Me
I’ve got an essay up this morning at The Atlantic about the ways Paul Ryan does — and doesn’t — show the enormous influence Barry Goldwater still holds over the GOP today.
When Mitt Romney announced Paul Ryan would be his vice-presidential choice, the congressman from the Badger State was ebullient. Bounding toward the podium during the glorified photo-op that served as his formal introduction, Ryan’s zeal was such that an uninformed observer might have thought the Republican ticket had already won. But Romney and Ryan weren’t the only ones with big grins and bigger dreams that morning. Bloomberg’s Jonathan Alter, a favorite of the White House, soon reported that Democrats weren’t happy about the Ryan pick. They were “ecstatic.”
The reason? Despite his affable, aw-shucks demeanor, Ryan is the most ideological and potentially divisive nominee to the White House in a half century. Not since Barry Goldwater proclaimed extremism in defense of liberty to be no vice and moderation in pursuit of justice no virtue has a major party candidate so forcefully challenged America’s political status quo.
As Rick Perlstein documented in Before the Storm, his acclaimed history of Goldwater’s presidential campaign, 1964 was a thrilling time for conservatives. After decades of conservatives-in-name-only like Alf Landon, Wendell Willkie, Thomas Dewey, Dwight Eisenhower, and Nelson Rockefeller running the GOP, the party was once again home to America’s hard-right. But it was also a thrilling time for liberals and Democrats: Goldwater lost in one of the greatest landslides in U.S. history.