Three early primaries, three different winners. A rich moderate presumptive nominee from a northern state beset by a wide field of challengers eager to demonstrate their conservative bona fides. A discontented base champing at the bit to take the fight to the left. The resemblance of this year’s primary season to 1964 hasn’t been lost on Newt Gingrich, who’s now leading in Florida on the heels of a South Carolina victory earned largely by drawing Goldwater-esque distinctions between himself, a “bold Reagan conservative” and “Massachusetts moderate” Mitt Romney, and bromides about the “elite.”
Romney suffers from many of the same issues as Rockefeller; he can’t shake his reputation as an unrelatable rich guy, despite – or more likely because of – his perfectly choreographed campaign events and speeches that feel canned and insincere. Explaining South Carolina’s results, Byron York writes, “after all the talk of ground game and debate war, there’s a simpler reason Gingrich won: On the stump, in town hall after town hall, across South Carolina, Gingrich has been a markedly better campaigner than Romney.” In other words, based on the superior organization and fundraising of the Romney campaign and the predilections of South Carolinians Gingrich shouldn’t have won, but he did because Romney really is that bad at connecting with voters.
But the analogy has limits. Foremost, Gingrich’s personal record is far closer to Nelson Rockefeller’s than Goldwater’s, except with double the ex-wives and the added heartlessness of dumping each of them when they had cancer and multiple sclerosis respectively. Also, the dichotomy of secular progressive elite versus pious rabble that Gingrich’s campaign has been so keen on emphasizing, doesn’t exist anymore. That isn’t to say berating John King and vilifying beltway Brahmins isn’t a good primary strategy, just that the secular media is more aligned with the working class than most conservatives would have you believe, which is why Gingrich, like Goldwater, would lose spectacularly in a general election.
But without the populist narrative of retaking ground from the elites, Gingrich’s desire to be the “arouser of those who form civilization” and the one to embark upon the task of “recivilizing all Americans” would have a far more elitist ring. Based on Charles Murray’s findings a President Gingrich would have his work cut out for him as far as “recivilizing” efforts are concerned. Barry Goldwater would probably just say that’s not the president’s job.