Thanks mainly to Kevin Drum, last week was “Before the Storm” Week in parts of the blogosphere, with a lot of people weighing in on the genius of Rick Perlstein’s 2001 book about the early days of the conservative movement, culminating in the Goldwater candidacy of 1964.Perlstein’s book has been on my reading list for a while, but keeps getting bumped down to the second tier, not because of any misgivings I have about his widely acclaimed brilliance in recounting the events of those days, but simply because I sorta kinda lived through this in detail and prefer to spend my limited reading time on stuff I don’t know much about.As the most obsessive little political junkie you’d ever want to avoid in the early 60’s, I paid a lot of attention to the Goldwater movement at the time, and in ensuing years, read a lot about its antecedents: the early National Review, the Sharon Statement, the rightward tilt of the YR’s, the YAF, the Democrats-for-Goldwater, the Cliff White organization–the whole enchilada. I’m sure Perlstein has important insights about these phenomena that would never occur to me, but right now my top priority is reading Ted Widmer’s new biography of Martin Van Buren, who basically founded the Democratic Party.I do find the Democratic blogospheric debate over the Goldwater campaign, via Perlstein (nicely sliced and diced by Mark Schmitt), fascinating and sometimes horrifying.The idea that today’s Democrats should model themselves on Goldwater Republicans is by any standard, well, a bit nuts. They lost spectacularly in 1964, losing states like Vermont and Kansas that Republicans never lost, by big margins. They destroyed an African-American GOP vote that had been there since Lincoln. That was hard, but they accomplished it. They discredited conservative opposition to the Great Society, which had tangible results in the four years after Goldwater’s nomination. And the magnitude of the loss marginalized movement conservatives in the Republican Party for a long time.A number of participants in the blogospheric discussion of Perlstein’s book note that some of liberalism’s most notable victories occurred under Richard Nixon, particularly the enactment of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, and the first major federal affirmative action program. But Nixon’s most important insults to the conservative movement were his wage and price controls–a truly satanic posture in the eyes of market conservatives–and his repudiation of Taiwan in the recognition of mainland China, which struck at one of the most emotional and original heart-throbs of the pre-Goldwater and Goldwater Right.The chronic estrangement of movement conservatives from the GOP after 1964 has been understated by many Left and Right enthusiasts.They often forget Reagan’s insurgent effort to forge an anti-Nixon alliance with Nelson Rockefeller at the 1968 GOP Convention. They rarely know about the 1971 manifesto by conservatives (led by William F. Buckley) deploring detente with the Soviet Union, which nakedly offered to support a Democrat like Scoop Jackson in 1972. And nobody seems to remember the period after Reagan’s failed 1976 campaign, when National Review’s publisher, William Rusher, was promoting a “Producers’ Party” that would combine Republican conservatives with Wallacite Democratic conservatives.Mark Schmitt’s comments on the subject nail one point entirely: that the main lesson Republicans ultimately learned from the Goldwater movement was to hide their aims.It’s no accident that conservatives finally conquered the GOP, and won the presidency, under the sign of Ronald Reagan’s embrace of supplyside economics–i.e., the belief that you can promote massive tax cuts and deregulation without really demanding major retrenchment of New Deal/Great Society programs. David Stockman’s brilliant if long-forgotten memoir, The Triumph of Politics, confirmed the final unwillingness of conservatives to accept the fiscal logic of their philosophy. And this basic dishonesty remains a heavy legacy for Republican conservatives today–a characteristic, of course, that would horrify Barry Goldwater.So: what do Democrats have to learn from the early conservative movement? How to lose elections, lose influence, and ultimately win by losing your soul?It’s a good question, the night before a big snowstorm is expected to hit Washington, a place Barry Goldwater wished God or man would smite with every available plague.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
One of my favorite wonky topics is the presidential nominating process, and as it happens, the way it’s shaping up for Democratic in 2024 is unusual, as I explained at New York:
Donald Trump’s 2024 announcement signaled that we are now officially in the run-up to the next presidential election. But there’s a big missing piece of basic election infrastructure, at least for Democrats: The order of states holding presidential primaries is very much up in the air.
Earlier this year, the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, which sets guidelines for the nomination process and administers sticks and carrots to get states to comply, announced it would authorize five “early states” allowed to have nominating contests prior to March 1, 2024. The four states that were allowed across this golden rope line from 2008 through 2020 — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina — would have to reapply for privileged status along with everyone else. As many as 20 state Democratic parties expressed interest in vying for these five spots. But because some of the changed calendar positions would require action by the state government, which typically control and finance primaries, the DNC delayed a final selection until after the midterms sorted out who ruled where.
Now Michigan Democrats, who flipped both legislative chambers and hung on to the governorship this month, are galvanizing the 2024 calendar discussion with a clear bid for an early spot, as NBC News reports:
“Michigan Democrats — led by Rep. Debbie Dingell — feel well positioned to join the coveted ranks of the early states, after they made huge gains in the Nov. 8 election. With Iowa facing possible eviction from the early states, many expect Democrats to elevate a Midwest state.
“Democrats now have full control of the Statehouse in Lansing, which would allow them to easily change state laws to support a new date for the 2024 primary.”
The DNC’s previously announced criteria for early states, as reported by CBS News, were diversity (racial, ethnic, geographic, and economic diversity as well as union representation), general-election competitiveness, and feasibility (whether states can move their contest into the early window, if they can run a “fair, transparent and inclusive nominating process,” and the logistical requirements and cost of campaigning in that state). It was an unstated but understood criterion as well that the five early states would represent different regions. So Michigan may be competing for an early-state slot with Minnesota, where Democrats also nailed down a trifecta in the midterms.
Iowa’s traditional first-in-the-nation caucus has looked doomed all along. The state is famously nondiverse and is now solidly Republican in general elections. The “feasibility” of an Iowa event was also called into question by the 2020 fiasco, in which no Iowa caucus results were announced until the next day.
New Hampshire will be harder to dislodge, despite its nondiverse population, because of a state law that authorizes the secretary of state to move the primary date around in order to maintain the position of first primary. But Nevada Democrats are making a sustained effort to leap ahead of New Hampshire by switching to a primary and aggressively advertising their superior diversity and obvious competitiveness. It’s unclear, however, whether Republican Joe Lombardo’s gubernatorial win in Nevada will disrupt efforts to authorize a new state primary.
That points to one of two variables complicating the early-state selection process: By and large, Republicans are happy with the existing order of states. There is no pressure within the GOP to dump Iowa or displace New Hampshire or do anything else unusual. So in states where Republican cooperation is necessary to move things around or make the requisite resources available, Democrats have to convince their partisan enemies to care about it as well. And if the proposed new primary date in any given state violates the RNC’s existing calendar rules, that state’s Republicans could be penalized and lose delegates to their own convention. The prospect of a serious battle for the GOP presidential nomination adds another series of calculations.
It’s a Rubik’s Cube, and that’s largely why the existing calendar for both parties has stayed in place for so long aside from the fact that, in Iowa and New Hampshire, both parties have long cooperated to defend their calendar privileges like crazed badgers.
The other big variable facing Democrats is the broader context: What sort of decisions will Democrats be facing in 2024? At this point, we don’t know for sure whether President Biden is running for a second term, and we don’t know if he’ll face major competition if he does. If Biden has to fight for renomination, how he performed in particular states in 2020 may have some influence on a loyal DNC deciding where he has to run in 2024. That might really doom Iowa, if it’s not already doomed, given Biden’s fourth-place finish there in 2020. And Biden finished fifth in New Hampshire. The DNC likely wouldn’t want to give calendar privileges to the home state of a potential rival.
But decisions have to be made, and the Rules and Bylaws Committee is set to make them when it meets from December 1 through 3 in Washington, D.C.