When Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater lost the 1964 Presidential election to Lyndon B. Johnson, he did not look like a substantial force. With an electoral vote count deep in the single digits and less than 40% of the popular vote, Goldwater appeared destined for a place in American memory for suffering a great loss, but he also sparked a great movement. Goldwater laid an important foundation for the small government platform that would Ronald Reagan would eventually charge his way to the White House in 1980.
While disagreeing with President Kennedy on many topics, Goldwater maintained a strong friendship with JFK until his assassination; however, his relationship with Johnson could not be more different as he felt the Texan played dirty. On the campaign trail, the Arizona senator advocated for strong efforts against the spread of Communism while LBJ cautioned against Goldwater, portraying him as the potential starter of a nuclear war. In support of Senator Goldwater, future President Ronald Reagan delivered his famed “Time For Choosing” speech, raising a great deal of money for the campaign and laying the groundwork for a roaring conservative movement. While ultimately losing the election in a landslide, he pioneered a transition that would lead the Republican party to a great victory in the coming decades.
It is difficult to look at such a staggering loss and see how Goldwater’s campaign was a positive turning point for conservatives. After all, he received only 56 electoral votes, but an analysis of where those votes came from explains it. Republicans had done terribly in the South election after election in the 20th century. In 1944, for instance, Democratic President Roosevelt received over 90% of the vote in Mississippi, and Goldwater successfully flipped the state to the point where he almost received 90%. Since 1964, Mississippi has remained a quite-reliably Republican state in presidential elections; that was the turning point.
Despite the major shift towards conservatism marked by Goldwater’s 1964 campaign, having died in 1998, he is a mostly forgotten figure outside of circles dedicated to American political history. Barry Goldwater lost an election, but with that loss, he ignited a torch that would see the likes of Reagan take the helm later in the 20th century. Regardless of how one feels about the Republican’s political stances, his ability to energize support for his party and ideals profoundly shaped the development of the United States during his lifetime.