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A Glorious Disaster: Barry Goldwater's Presidential Campaign and the Origins of the Conservative Movement

1 rating: 3.0
A book by J. William Middendorf II

Starred Review.There's a certain degree of setting the record straight in this attempt to tell the true (or truer) story of Barry Goldwater's failed 1964 presidential campaign. Middendorf was a central figure in the "draft Goldwater" movement, and although … see full wiki

Author: J. William Middendorf II
Publisher: Basic Books
1 review about A Glorious Disaster: Barry Goldwater's Presidential...

What he saw at the revolution, Mark II

  • Jan 14, 2007
'Tis the season, I guess, for men who were present at the creation of "modern conservatism" to publish memoirs of what they saw at the revolution. In October, 2005, Jeffrey Hart released "The Making of the American Conservative Mind: National Review and Its Times," and about a year later J. William Middendorf put out "A Glorious Disaster." Taken together, the two paint an excellent picture of the early days of what you might call "National Review" conservatism. I'd encourage the interested reader to check out both books, because they really do work well together.

That's because while Hart's book is about ideas, and the growth of "National Review" magazine as the incubator of "modern conservatism," "A Glorious Disaster" is about nuts-and-bolts politics. Conservative educator Morton Blackwell (who is mentioned in this book as one of the Republican leaders tested in the fire of the Goldwater campaign) famously says "You owe it to your philosophy to know how to win elections." "A Glorious Disaster" is, as much as anything, about what happens when you *don't* know how to win elections.

This is illustrated in a few ways in Middendorf's book: in the tensions between the experienced veterans of the Draft Goldwater movement (including our author himself) and the inexperienced "Arizona Mafia" the candidate insisted on surrounding himself with; in the conflicts within the Republican Party between the firebrand young conservatives on the one hand and the ossified Old Guard on the other, who had already surrendered to the New Deal and only wanted to offer a less-expensive, more-efficient version of Democrat policy; and finally the campaign itself, which pitted a candidate who never really wanted to run for President in the first place versus a man for whom nothing was more important than holding on to power. Readers interested in political campaigns could learn a lot from this book, regardless of their political orientation.

If there's anything I'm disappointed with in this book, it has to do with the second half of the subtitle, "The Origins of the Conservative Movement." In fact, Middendorf spends a lot less time than I had hoped he would on how exactly "movement conservatism" grew out of the 1964 debacle to become the force that would emerge victorious in 1980 and more or less set the terms of debate ever since. He begins to sketch these developments toward the end of the book, but only in fairly general ways. Readers wanting to know more about this will need to look elsewhere.

That complaint notwithstanding, this is a fine look back at the Goldwater campaign from the inside, and a good reminder for those who may have forgotten (or may not have known in the first place) how much conservatism and the GOP generally owe to Barry Goldwater. In a sense, it was really men like William Middendorf who did the work of building a "conservative movement." But they needed a standard-bearer to carry their ideas before a wider audience. In 1964, Barry Goldwater was that man, and American politics hasn't been the same since.

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