That was then.

Photo by Washington Bureau/Getty Images

Why Trump Isn't Like Goldwater

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
Read More.
a | A

Half a century ago, a Republican rode his party's divisions to a presidential nomination by defying its establishment and empowering a populist base. Senator Barry Goldwater dismayed Republican liberals who thought him extreme and some conservatives who foresaw his landslide defeat.

Now Donald Trump is repeating history, minus the Republican liberals. Commentators have noted the parallels, some of them predicting that Trump will transform his party as Goldwater unexpectedly did in 1964 by mobilizing conservative forces that eventually produced the Reagan revolution.

But there's a huge difference. Once nominated, Goldwater eventually commanded at least rhetorical support from Republican leaders. While a few regulars bailed out and many remained vexed, most went along because that's what you do.

QuickTake How the U.S. Elects Presidents

But not with Trump. Never has a candidate been rejected by such a diverse range of his own party's prominent figures. What's unprecedented is how many of them proclaim that he's not qualified for the job.

These include the 2012 standard-bearer, Mitt Romney, a score of incumbent governors, senators and U.S. representatives, four former party chairmen, more than a half-dozen ex-cabinet members, leading national security and intelligence officials and numerous movers and shakers. Never did Goldwater have to deal opposition from former party chairmen.

The closest thing to good news for the candidate is that many other notable Republicans who won't back him have remained publicly neutral. At least the former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz didn't pronounce him unfit for office. Nor did the two living Republican ex-presidents, George H.W. Bush and his son, George W., though in private they've been harsher. Look for other top Republicans to join the anti-Trump ranks this autumn.

The Trump camp says it doesn't matter. He beat the party establishment in the primaries and doesn't need them in the general election.

Still, the depth and breadth of the opposition is unheard-of. On foreign policy, two fierce antagonists in the George W. Bush administration -- Richard Armitage, a moderate who was the second-ranking official at the State Department, and Paul Wolfowitz, the Pentagon's No. 2 who was the hawkish architect of the Iraq War -- have found common ground in the conviction that Trump isn't up to being commander-in-chief. So have two of the most moderate Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Illinois' Mark Kirk, and two of the chamber's conservatives, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Arizona's Jeff Flake.

With nine weeks to go, more defections are likely to emerge. The conservative Dallas Morning News endorsed Hillary Clinton on Wednesday, the first time in more than 75 years it hasn't backed the Republican presidential nominee. 

That's quite a contrast to 1964, when even Goldwater's most ardent Republican foes, governors like Nelson Rockefeller of New York and George Romney of Michigan, supported him in the general election. The one living Republican ex-president, Dwight Eisenhower, convened a "unity" forum to rally support for the Arizona senator.

The anti-Trump Republican movement this year transcends ideology and electoral concerns; the candidate is actually running close to Clinton in recent polls. It goes to a core conviction among disparate elements of the party about the New York billionaire's lack of character and competence. 

"He is the least qualified person to ever run for president," says Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman and a major figure in presidential campaigns of Romney, Senator John McCain and the younger Bush. "There also are deep questions about his motivations, why does he want this job and what would he do with it."

Weber's fellow Minnesotan, Norm Coleman, a fund-raising stalwart and former senator, is harsher: Trump, he declared, is "A bigot, a misogynist, a fraud, a bully."

Flake says Trump's immigration proposals are dangerous for the country and that his insults directed at Latinos may harm Republicans for a generation.

Henry Paulson, Treasury Secretary under George W. Bush, has called Trump "a phony," a poor businessman whose policies would put the U.S. in economic peril.

Last month, 50 former top Republican national security officials circulated a letter charging that Trump's questionable "character, values and experience" would "put at risk our country's national security and well-being." 

With Kissinger and Shultz on the sidelines, there are three other living Republican secretaries of state. Colin Powell, who despite his displeasure at Clinton for invoking him in defense of her use of a private e-mail server, may endorse the Democrat. Condoleezza Rice is likely to sit the campaign out.

The oldest of the three is James Baker, White House chief of staff, Treasury secretary and secretary of state in the Reagan and first Bush administrations and a legendary Washington operative. He has met with Trump, but people who know him say he's not a fan. He's remained silent on the race, the kind of rebuke that Goldwater never had to worry about.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Albert R. Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Jonathan Landman at jlandman4@bloomberg.net