May 11, 2022

1965. The Deep Republican Divide

What Ails the GOP
Goldwater campaign billboard in Denver, 1964 (source)

September 29, 1965

If you want to sound like a Capitol Hill pundit fresh off the Washington cocktail circuit, the next time the boys in the back room get on the subject of politics, drop in the observation: "The country doesn't have a two-party system anymore; what we have now is a party-and-a-half."

I don't recall who said it first, but it's becoming a cliché just about everywhere that people gather in the national capital to consider the strange plight of the Republican Party. Actually, the GOP is less than half-a-party compared with the overall strength that the Democratic organization has built up over the years. The Republicans have only about a third of the Congress, a third of the state governors, and an estimated 33 percent of the total national vote, which will remain hardcore GOP no matter what. More and more people, including some high-level Democratic Party leaders, are beginning to worry about it. No one wants a one-party system of government in this country, least of all the Republicans.

But the fact remains that the fissioned and fractured Grand Old Party has been unable to pull itself together since the Goldwater campaign won in San Francisco and the Johnson presidential landslide that followed.

A score of post-election autopsies have been performed on the trampled Republican elephant, and most all agree that the prescription needed to revive the party is massive doses of unity and leadership, plus a transfusion of dynamic political proposals as issues to entrance the electorate.

However, despite a series of national and regional meetings of the GOP leadership, the party seems to be operating under a kind of voodoo hex. The top Republicans—Eisenhower, Goldwater, Nixon, Scranton, Romney, and Rockefeller—all make the proper incantations about joining together to rebuild the party, but thus far the GOP organization, despite the best efforts of the veteran Ray Bliss as the new National Chairman, has not come alive.

It's obvious that the Republicans are still suffering from a bad case of schizophrenia. The party personality is still split between various grades of rampant conservatism and just as many brands of GOP liberalism. If it were only political differences which divided the Republicans, the problems could be compromised and solved—a sometimes painful process the Democrats have to undergo after virtually every election. No, what ails the GOP is something much more profound, and sometimes even frightening.

Several potentially powerful and obviously well-financed groups of self-proclaimed right wing conservatives—or worse—have taken the Republican label unto themselves in some parts of the country. These groups are trying to transform the GOP from a political party in the American tradition into what they call an instrument to fight the international communist conspiracy with counter-conspiracy. To these fearful men, all politics are a conspiracy from the New Deal, through Eisenhower's Crusade to Johnson's Great Society—all is a plot to make America a socialist state which they say then will be taken over by the Soviets, or the Chinese Communists, or Fidel Castro or some such.

So vociferous have these right wingers become, and so pervasively have they peddled their conspiratorial politics under the GOP label, that actor Ronald Reagan, the darling of the Southern California conservatives, found it necessary the other day to repudiate the support of the John Birch Society in his yet unannounced campaign for governor of California.

And today, Kentucky's Senator Thurston Morton, head of the Senate GOP campaign committee, followed suit. Morton charged that the Birchites now are engaged in a "precinct-by-precinct" conspiracy to take over the national Republican organization. "A lot of good, patriotic people are being misled," the Senator continued. "It's the Birch Society that's infiltrating the GOP, not the Democrats." Morton said the Republicans should kick all Birchites out on their tails "because they're as dangerous as the Ku Klux Klan and the Communist Party."

Birch Society founder Robert Welch has made no secret that he adapted his organization's cell structure and undercover strategy from Mao Tse-tung's handbook on Communist revolution.

Judging from Senator Morton's revelations today, it becomes more clear who has put the hex on the Republican Party's attempt to revive itself into a vigorous organization able to provide effective opposition to the majority Democrats and to preserve the two party system in the nation.

The tragedy, if it can be called that, is that these right wing super-patriots have so little faith in the American system they pretend to preserve. They should read up on the history of political plotting. The record of the Bolsheviks, Stalin, and Trotsky, proves that when conspiracy meets counter-conspiracy, the result is corruption, betrayal, or worse.

Political conspiracies are defeated by exposure and truth about their goals, which is the reason the Communists never had a chance in this country.

This is Bill Downs, substituting for Edward P. Morgan, saying good night from Washington.