Faced with an ultra-conservative, reactionary opponent in 1964, Lyndon Johnson went for the political jugular – he attacked Barry Goldwater, the grandfather of today’s white nationalist, fear obsessed Republican Party, as a danger even to Republicans.
Johnson’s campaign employed the services of what was then a brash, still developing New York advertising agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB), a collection of culturally aware ad makers that made names for themselves by introducing the Volkswagen to American car buyers and developing the “we try harder” campaign for Avis, the number two car rental agency behind Hertz.
LBJ’s presidential campaign was the firm’s first foray into politics, and they debuted with a boom, literally, producing the famous – or to Goldwater Republicans infamous – “Daisy ad” featuring an adorable, freckle faced little girl counting to ten as she pulled the petals off a daisy. What was really happening in the ad was the countdown to a nuclear explosion.
“These are the stakes,” Johnson says as the screen fills with a mushroom cloud, “to make a world in which all of God’s children can live or to go into the dark. We must either love each other or we must die.”
White letters then fill the black screen – Vote for President Johnson on November 3 – as a male voice intones, “the stakes are too high for you to stay home.”
Goldwater’s name was never mentioned. It didn’t need to be. The message was clear. The Republican candidate, with his reckless and casual talk about nuclear war, was too risky, even for Republicans.
The ad aired only once in the middle of a network television broadcast of a movie, but the impact was as powerful as any political television spot ever made. A follow-up commercial featured another “deliciously beautiful little girl innocently licking an ice-cream cone,” while a gentle female voice explains the dangers of Srontium-90 in the atmosphere, making sure to mention that Goldwater had voted against ratification of a treaty to limit nuclear testing.
The journalist Theodore White called the ad “as cruel a political film as has ever been show,” but effective. Goldwater scared people. The ads reminded them why. Another DDB ad simply showed the fingers of two hands tearing up a Social Security card and another featured “Confessions of a Republican.” That ad – a young, self-described GOP voter who had supported Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon speaking casually, if a little haltingly to the camera – defined the race.
“But when we come to Senator Goldwater,” the voters says, “now it seems to me we are up against a very different kind of a man – this man scares me.” The best line in the “Confession of a Republican” was simply: “If you unite behind a man you don’t believe in – it’s a lie.”
Teddy White, whose famous book “The Making of the President – 1964” became an instant classic, observed that Goldwater was forced to run against the fear that he himself had created, while pressed over and over to try and explain that he wasn’t a warmonger, a destroyer of Social Security or just flat out dangerous. Johnson, of course, won a historic landslide. Goldwater won only six states, five in the deep South where white voters rebelled against Johnson’s civil rights legislation that Goldwater opposed, and his own state of Arizona.
There were predictions from serious people after the Goldwater debacle that the Republican Party, divided between ultra-conservative John Birch-types and moderately liberal northeasterners could not survive. The reports of the death of the party were greatly exaggerated, to say the least. The white nationalist party Goldwater led to defeat came roaring back, then as now home to plenty of cranks, adherents to the Klan and fear mongers who are obsessed by immigrants, minorities and socialists.
While admitting there are no perfect analogies in politics – 1964 is not 2022 – there are increasing signs that a civil war is brewing inside the GOP, one not unlike the pushback against Barry Goldwater than Lyndon Johnson exposed nearly 60 years ago. The political weapon then, as now was fear of what a fringe Republican might do in elected office.
Cases in point:
Utah Republican senator Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 presidential candidate, has refused to endorse fellow Republican Mike Lee, a schemer who advanced election denial claims in 2020 who now embraces the chief proponent of our “big lie.” Independent and former Republican Evan McMullin – Lee voted for him for president in 2016 – has made the race close, so close Lee was on Fox News this week literally begging Romney to help him survive.
The Republican governor of New Hampshire, more a libertarian than a conservative, has refused to endorse the election-denying GOP candidate for the Senate in his state. Charlie Baker, the GOP governor of Massachusetts who is term limited, won’t endorse the Trump-back candidate who is trying to replace him.
Marc Racicot, the former GOP governor of Montana and one-time national party chairman, has endorsed a Democrat over scandal-plagued former congressman and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Fourteen family members of Trumpy Nevada Republican Adam Laxalt have endorsed his Democratic Senate opponent.
Liz Cheney, the real conscience of the conservative movement, is supporting Democrats for governor and secretary of state in Arizona because the Republican candidates are lying about the last presidential election. This is but a partial list, not yet an avalanche of pushback to far out Republicans, but also more than trickle.
A striking example of the GOP mainstream trying to rescue their party has emerged in always very conservative Idaho. More than 50 prominent Republicans, including Phil Batt, a venerated former governor, Lori Otter, the wife of another governor, Butch Otter, and an impressive collection of prominent former state legislators and elected officials have endorsed Tom Arkoosh, the Democrat candidate for attorney general. Arkoosh is an experienced non-politician lawyer, his opponent is a partisan radical who happens to have a law degree.
Long-time Idaho state senator Patti Anne Lodge, a Republican powerhouse for years, said Arkoosh is the “first candidate on the Democratic ticket I have supported in my 66 years of work with the Republican Party.” It’s impossible for Republican candidate Raul Labrador, a rabble-rousing, accomplishment-free Tea Party darling when he was in Congress, who is also an election denier to claim this collection of conservative luminaries is anything other than the heart and soul of the Idaho party, at least the party that once existed and might again. The clear message: many Republicans have real problems with the GOP candidate. They know of what they see. If only more had the courage to speak.
The modern Republican Party finds itself in a truly awkward place, not unlike 1964. The party is dividing among practical, truth-telling conservatives who, despite the last few years of persistent lying and bad faith, still recognize a charlatan when they see one, and a faction that would rather burn the party – and the country – down in pursuit of a radical vision of conservatism. It all comes down to a choice.
After all, “If you unite behind a man you don’t believe in – it’s a lie.”
A few other stories that you may find of interest …
New FBI clues reveal more about the mysterious couple who had a stolen de Kooning painting
A really fascinating story about an art theft, a mysterious couple and a $100 million dollar painting found in a remote house in New Mexico.
“The theft was brazen and bewildering, the getaway swift, the trail of clues sparse and long-since dried up.
“None of their relatives could explain how the painting, years later, ended up in their house. Could this pair of retirees in southwestern New Mexico have pulled off such a clean heist?
“Suddenly, Rita and Jerry Alter were infamous.” Anne Ryman stitches together the story in the Arizona Republic.
Just Do It: How the iconic Nike tagline built a career for the late Dan Wieden
A NPR piece on the advertising legend and Oregonian Dan Wieden.
“Wieden was widely known for his innovative and hugely successful marketing campaigns for companies like Old Spice, Procter and Gamble, and Coca Cola.
“But his biggest claim to fame came in 1988, when he created a slogan for his newly formed advertising firm’s first client: Nike.”
Read the story – some great examples of his work included – right here.
Did JFK Really Eat the World’s Largest Tamale?
The Boston-Irish Kennedy and Mexican food don’t typically fit in the same sentence, but this story makes the connection because JFK received – maybe – one really big tamale from Texas in 1961.
“The political heft of the gift was clear. But then came a mystery: the tamale disappeared. Three days after its grand send-off from San Antonio, the Tampa Tribune declared the ‘Giant Tamale for Kennedy Has Gone Astray.’ On May 26—less than a month removed from the Bay of Pigs invasion, and one day after Kennedy announced plans to put a man on the moon—White House reporters pressed the administration for answers about the tamale’s whereabouts.”
From the Texas Tribune.
That’s it for me this week. Be well. Get that next booster, and thanks for reading.