Conservative columnist George Will is often keen on saying that Barry Goldwater, the man who suffered one of the most catastrophic defeats in American political history, was actually the victor. Will often states that, “We — 27,178,188 of us — who voted for him in 1964 believe he won, it just took 16 years to count the votes.”
Will is of course referring to the massive landslide which Ronald Reagan won in 1980, thus leading to a phenomenon known as the “Reagan Revolution.” Un-coincidentally, Goldwater gave Reagan his start in politics with the former’s failed presidential campaign. Reagan famously made his “Time for Choosing” speech in prime time days before the 1964 election before becoming Governor of California and later, President, running on the same small government, strong national defense, and “law and order” platform which Goldwater promoted.
Goldwater faced some of the most vile personal attacks in American history. His mental stability was questioned (leading to him eventually winning damages in court after the election, bringing rise to the “Goldwater rule,” prohibiting psychiatrists from offering opinions on someone they have not personally evaluated).
He was attacked in the infamous Daisy Ad as (essentially) someone who wished to drop nuclear bombs on children, with another similar ad showing a small girl eating ice cream. The Lyndon Johnson campaign even ran an ad of “confessions of a Republican,” showing a self-proclaimed lifelong Republican who stated that he would vote for Johnson because Goldwater was simply too repugnant.
During and after the election, there was unease with the progressive advances of the Civil Rights era, as well as the accomplishments of feminists and the anti-war left. However, this “silent majority” (as termed by Richard Nixon) remained mum as Goldwater’s career on the national scene (though he would return to the Senate in 1968) was brought to an abrupt halt.
Just as well-meaning Southerners and blue-collar Americans were laughed at by their children and peers in the late 60s for their opposition to progress they deemed to be coming too fast, supporters of Sarah Palin faced these same critiques after her loss as the Republican Vice Presidential nominee in 2008. Palin was able to be related to for millions of Americans: a “hockey mom” who hadn’t gone to a prestigious college and often showed that she cared more about her family than her political career. Palin spoke in layman’s terms about what she believed, rarely mincing words. She was laughed off and harshly attacked for various gaffes, while much opposition to Barack Obama was boiled down to simple racism.
Though some aspired for her to enter the 2012 presidential election, that too was largely panned by “experts,” though surrogates for her movement in the form of Rick Santorum and particularly Newt Gingrich (the latter of whom Palin supported) well over-performed in the 2012 primaries. They too were never taken seriously, mocked for their lack of “having a place” in the political climate of 2012. Worse yet, Republicans were directed to vote for the ultimate political insider: Mitt Romney. He lost to President Obama, failing to energize the Republican grassroots.
The closest resemblance to these Santorum and Gingrich-like figures in the 1960s interim before Reagan was George Wallace. Though viewed in the modern era as nothing more than a racist segregationist (which he indeed was), his message was far more than that: he called for “law and order,” and insisted that the only four-letter words hippies did not know were “soap” and “work.” This largely appealed to working-class whites who were upset with the rapid changes in the country and civil unrest. He never came close to winning the Presidency, though he was very successful in the South as a third-party candidate in 1968, nearly winning enough votes to take the election to the House of Representatives.
Just as Reagan capitalized on this pent-up anger in 1980 with a more polished and mainstream version of what Goldwater (and to some degree, Wallace) had to offer, Trump has done the same with Palin’s work from eight years ago. He appeals to the working-class Americans who are “fed up” with being labeled as clinging to guns and religion. They’re tired of being laughed and mocked at for not understanding “safe spaces” and trans people. They don’t know (or don’t care) about the most recent politically-correct terms.
Now, eight years later, perhaps the votes for Palin have been counted. And she won.