Republican presidential candidates Barry Goldwater, in 1965, and Ted Cruz, in 2015. (Photos: AP)
For the past few months, political observers on both the left and right have been comparing Ted Cruz to Barry Goldwater, who lost to Lyndon Johnson by a staggering 434 electoral votes in the 1964 presidential election.
The thinking goes like this: Cruz is an unyielding movement conservative, just like Goldwater. Given his strength in the South — again, just like Goldwater — he could very well win the Republican nomination. But ultimately Cruz is too extreme to appeal to the broader electorate, and the GOP will suffer an ideological blowout of Goldwater-like proportions in November if it selects the freshman senator from Texas as its nominee.
“What’s flawed about Cruz’s approach is that it’s the same argument Barry Goldwater made in 1964,” Iowa Republican Doug Gross recently told the New York Times. “Cruz may seem pure and virtuous within the confines of his own base, [but] you can’t get elected with those voters, because there simply aren’t enough of them.”
Cruz’s fans dismiss this analogy. As RedState’s Erick Erickson wrote last month, “Every conservative candidate must withstand the ‘Is he Barry Goldwater’ question. Never mind that [the same trick] has been tried repeatedly by the Democrats and the only person it ever worked against was Barry Goldwater.”
Yet at least one group of influential Cruz supporters is taking the Goldwater comparison seriously: the Cruz campaign team.
In his Jan. 7 Time cover story (available online only to subscribers), David von Drehle relayed a fascinating bit of intel. According to von Drehle, “Cruz staffers, tellingly, have been studying a 1967 tome titled ‘Suite 3505’ as a playbook for their campaign.”
Republican political consultant F. Clifton White. (Photo: Arlington House)
In case you’ve never heard of it — and don’t worry, I hadn’t either — “Suite 3505” is a long-out-of-print memoir by a Republican political consultant named F. Clifton White. In the book, White tells the behind-the-scenes story of how his Draft Goldwater organization propelled a rock-ribbed Western conservative past the Eastern establishment and sparked the last successful populist rebellion within the GOP.
Which is, of course, exactly what Cruz hopes to accomplish in 2016.
To find out what the Cruz campaign is up to, I recently tracked down a copy of “Suite 3505” and read it cover to cover. The exercise was revealing.
Some of “Suite 3505” sounds like a dispatch from a distant political planet, with lots of unfamiliar names — Frank Whetstone? Denison Kitchel? — and even less familiar customs. In particular, the old-school, pre-primary nominating process is pretty much incomprehensible, even after White devotes tens of thousands of words to explaining its intricacies.
Yet for the most part “Suite 3505” is surprisingly relevant to 2016, and after reading it, I’m convinced that Cruz & Co. are smart to be studying Goldwater. The question now is which lessons they learn from White’s account of the 1964 presidential campaign — and whether they pay as much attention to the don’ts as they do to the do’s.
At a time when the GOP controls both houses of Congress and every Republican presidential wannabe is desperate to out-conservative his rivals, it’s easy to forget that for a few decades in the middle of the last century Democrats dominated national politics, and that moderates — and even liberals — dominated the Republican Party.
First in 1940, then in 1948, and again in 1952, Ohio Sen. Robert “Mr. Republican” Taft — “the acknowledged national leader of the GOP’s conservative faction” — ran for his party’s presidential nod, and each time he was thwarted by the Republican establishment (which instead nominated a longtime Democrat, a New York New Dealer, and a moderate general). By 1962, the GOP was so depleted that there were only 153 Republican congressmen, 35 Republican senators and 17 Republican governors in office.
Blaming “me-tooism” for their party’s flagging fortunes, White and 21 of his fellow conservatives gathered at the Avenue Motel in Chicago on October 8, 1961, for a secret strategy session. Their goal, as White puts it in “Suite 3505,” was to “re-establish the Republican Party as an effective conservative force in American politics.”
Thirty-three months later, many of the same men succeeded in winning the nomination for their chosen standard bearer: Barry M. Goldwater, a two-term Arizona senator widely considered the most conservative public figure in America.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Barry Goldwater campaigning in Madison, Wis., in 1964; the original cover of the book “Suite 3505.” (Photo: AP; illustration: Arlington House)
“Suite 3505” is all about the nuts and bolts of how conservatives pulled off this unlikely feat — so it’s no wonder that Cruz’s staffers are interested.
In 1963, New York Herald-Tribune columnists Robert Novak and Rowland Evans described “the Goldwater boom” as “the closest thing to a spontaneous mass movement in modern American politics,” and White, in faux-humble fashion, writes that he “prefer[s] to think that all we did was give direction and focus to a great grassroots movement.”
But while the right’s anti-establishment mood was real in 1964 — just as it is today — it was only part of the story.
According to “Suite 3505,” there were three secrets to the Draft Goldwater campaign’s success. The first is that their candidate was a consistent, authentic conservative — the kind who could inspire loyalty among the ground troops by offering a clear contrast with the GOP’s status quo. The second is that the moderate wing of the party was divided and damaged, with too many flawed candidates fighting over the same centrist delegates. The establishment was never really able to rally around a single Goldwater alternative. The third is that White was, as his New York Times obituary put it, an “organizational genius.”
Cruz has the first two fronts fairly well covered. Like Goldwater, he has developed a reputation for defying his party to make a point . His voting record is the most conservative in the Senate. The issues shaping 2016 mirror the issues that defined 1964, and Cruz’s positions even echo Goldwater’s. Cuba was the mishandled homeland-security threat back then; ISIS is the mishandled homeland-security threat now. Goldwater’s hardline stance on the Soviet Union — that President John F. Kennedy, in his eagerness for “peace,” was being too soft on a deceptive, nuclear Kremlin — is nearly identical to Cruz’s stance on Iran. Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act because he said it violated states’ rights; Cruz opposes gay marriage for the same reason. Dissatisfaction with executive overreach, government spending, entitlement programs — the list goes on.
By dividing up the center of the primary electorate four or five ways, today’s establishment candidates — Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina — are only making it easier for a hardline conservative like Cruz (or a celebrity outsider like Donald Trump, for that matter) to win the nomination. The situation was similar in 1964. The early frontrunner was liberal New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, but after divorcing his wife and marrying his younger mistress one month after her own divorce, he never really regained his momentum. South Vietnam Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge won New Hampshire and a few other primaries, but later withdrew. For a moment or two, Massachusetts Gov. George Romney seemed like a contender, as did former Vice President Richard Nixon, but neither of them ever officially entered the race. And Pennsylvania Gov. William Scranton mounted a last-minute “Stop Goldwater” bid at the convention in San Francisco, but by then it was too late. In the meantime, Goldwater saw an opening on the right and took it.
Or rather, White and his co-conspirators took it for him. The real revelation of “Suite 3505” is just how much planning, plotting and strategizing went into the seemingly spontaneous Goldwater movement — even before the senator himself consented to run. In late 1961, White sequestered himself and a secretary in a two-room suite of offices on the 35th floor of the Chanin Building in midtown Manhattan — the eponymous suite 3505 — and began to hunt for delegates.
“Many of the older professionals in the GOP had lost touch completely with the grassroots,” White writes. “In short, the situation was ripe for revolt. The revolt would in most instances be best directed at the precinct, municipal, county and district levels. It would manifest itself there long before it was even noticed on the state and national planes. … All of our efforts would be devoted to winning as large a majority of delegates as possible for our candidate at the 1964 convention.”
Over the next few years, White traveled “more than a million miles,” to every Republican meeting, conference or convention he could. By the end of 1962, he had recruited a man in every state to supervise the selection of delegates; by early 1963, each state had its own citizens’ groups, with a chairman, finance chief, and women’s leader. By mid-1963, White had a contact or leader in every county and congressional district. He tasked his regional directors with “mastering [the] rules for all the states in their territories and with making certain that our state chairmen would thoroughly acquainted with them when the time came.”
And when the time did come — when the nominating process began — Goldwater slowly and surely racked up delegates just as White had predicted. At the end of the first round of balloting at the 1964 convention in San Francisco — a convention that White all but ran from a 55-foot-long green and white trailer outside the Cow Palace, with telephone and walkie-talkie connections to roving operatives on the convention floor and to every delegation’s quarters at 30 hotels throughout the city — the senator had amassed a staggering 883 delegates. White’s initial projection, way back in early 1962, had “come within 20 of Goldwater’s ultimate total.”
Cruz speaks during a campaign event in Independence, Iowa, on Jan. 25. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)
In other words, a conservative challenger can’t just expect to ride a wave of populist support — he has to surf it expertly. The Cruz campaign is showing signs that it has already learned this lesson. As I wrote in November, Cruz has raised more money than any Republican other than Jeb Bush and more non-PAC money than any other Republican, period; he also has more cash on hand than any of his GOP rivals. He was the first candidate to recruit chairmen in all 171 counties in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. He is only candidate who for months has been consistently sending surrogates to all five U.S. territories — Puerto Rico, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, Guam and the Virgin Islands — in order to secure extra delegates who could prove decisive down the road. He is doing more than any other Republican to prepare for the so-called SEC primary, a new Southern voting blitz set to take place on March 1; as early as November, he had already enlisted more than 100 countywide campaign directors and 1,500 volunteers in Georgia alone.
And yet if Cruz wants to win the White House — as opposed to just the nomination — he needs to learn how not to emulate Goldwater as well. “Suite 3505” could also prove helpful in this regard.
The main takeaway from White’s memoir is that a campaign is only as good as its candidate —especially if that candidate is a fringier figure than usual. Americans never elect someone who seems like a radical. The further right (or left) you run in the primary, the better a pivoter you need to be in the general.
White makes it clear that Goldwater — for all his principles, or perhaps because of them — was never able to become this sort of candidate. Describing a speech that Goldwater gave in Oregon, late in primary season, White writes that “like many of his speeches from there on in, it fired up only his partisans” and “seemed to leave almost everyone else cold.” White goes on to explain that “until this time [Goldwater’s] audiences outside the Senate … had been comprised mainly of people who agreed with him. They would cheer any statement he made because he was what they felt every American politician should be saying. But now that he was moving out onto a larger stage before people of all political persuasions, he should have given some thought to changing his style.”
It’s easy to imagine Cruz, who preaches to the choir so often that he has started to sound like a preacher himself , having the same problem if he wins the Republican nomination. Goldwater faced a much less favorable electoral climate in 1964 than Cruz would face in November — JFK had just been assassinated, after all — and it’s almost certain that no Democratic or Republican presidential nominee will ever lose 44 states again. America is too polarized for that. But as a general-election candidate, Cruz might have to confront some challenges that, according to White, not even Goldwater had to deal with.
The Arizona senator may have been a rebel — but he also managed to attract a lot of support from the leaders of his party. In late 1963, a U.S. News & World Report polled showed that 56 percent of GOP senators and congressman were backing Goldwater compared to 10 percent for Rockefeller. An even higher share of state chairman (71 percent) were on Goldwater’s side. In contrast, not a single sitting senator or governor has endorsed Cruz , and many elected GOP officials are openly threatening to “revolt should he win the nomination.” Running for president is hard enough when the party is on your side; it’s basically impossible when the rest of your party is running away from you.
Goldwater in 1967. (Photo: AP)
If Cruz turns out to be the sort of general-election candidate Goldwater was — the sort who doesn’t “take kindly to advice,” in White’s words; who surrounds himself with a small coterie of like-minded, “provincial” advisers; who refuses see how his hardline stances (on civil rights in Goldwater’s case and immigration in Cruz’s) are turning off the very voters he needs to persuade; and who, as a result, allows himself to be branded an “extremist” by his opponents — then he will be in trouble. (Which is not to say that Cruz hasn’t strategized about how he will pivot in the general — just that the more he portrays himself as a purist, like Goldwater, the more difficult that pivot will be.)
In “Suite 3505,” White writes vividly of Goldwater’s famous acceptance speech at the 1964 GOP convention — in particular the line that would come to define the senator’s career.
“I would remind you that extremism in defense of liberty is no vice,” Goldwater said from the podium. “And let me remind you also that moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
I’ve always thought this passage was received favorably, as a clarion call of sorts for the new GOP. But in the context of the time — when the party was badly divided after a brutal primary contest and needing to unite for the fall campaign — that’s not how it sounded to Goldwater’s savviest supporters.
“In the trailer, I sat stunned as I listened to those words,” White writes. “I had not seen the speech beforehand, nor had any of the men working with me. But none of us had ever expected such a seemingly carefully calculated rebuff to the moderates and liberals within our party and to the millions we had hoped to draw to our cause.”
“Inside the Cow Palace the crowd cheered insanely,” White continues, “and I wondered if they knew they were hailing disaster and defeat.”
Sixteen years later, Ronald Reagan — the man who succeeded Goldwater as the leader of the conservative movement — won the presidency. He won because, unlike Goldwater, he was able to make conservatism attractive to people who didn’t consider themselves conservatives.
So far, at least, Ted Cruz hasn’t even been able to sell his kind of conservatism to his fellow conservatives. The Iowa caucuses may only be four days away. But the senator from Texas still has a long way to go.