Ronald Reagan Officially Agrees to Support Barry Goldwater in His 1964 Presidential Campaign, Launching His Own Political Career

“I would very much like to lend a hand in your campaign and as you can well imagine I am convinced that Barry is the only true Republican...".

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His efforts for Goldwater electrified conservatives and led directly to his own calling as champion of conservatism

Originally a New Deal Democrat, Reagan campaigned for several Democratic candidates, including President Harry S. Truman. He served on the board of a union, the Screen Actors Guild, and then later became its president. However,...

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Ronald Reagan Officially Agrees to Support Barry Goldwater in His 1964 Presidential Campaign, Launching His Own Political Career

“I would very much like to lend a hand in your campaign and as you can well imagine I am convinced that Barry is the only true Republican...".

His efforts for Goldwater electrified conservatives and led directly to his own calling as champion of conservatism

Originally a New Deal Democrat, Reagan campaigned for several Democratic candidates, including President Harry S. Truman. He served on the board of a union, the Screen Actors Guild, and then later became its president. However, as the 1950s progressed, his views became increasingly conservative. His second wife, Nancy Davis Reagan, had grown up in a conservative household, and GE’s executives, who were then employing him, supported conservative principles of limited government, free markets, and anti-communism. By 1962, Reagan had changed from a Cold War liberal to a Republican when he famously remarked, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The party left me.” By July 1963, Reagan was already delivering talks promoting Conservatism, and had even selected a title for them: “A Time for Choosing”. He focused on the importance of a strong defense against Communism, and the need to create peace in the world through American strength. He said that a government could not control the economy without coercing people. He also talked about the high tax burden of Americans and the increasing national debt.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, conservatives felt that the Republican Party had largely cast itself as a watered down version of the Democratic Party, and saw Conservatism as increasingly looked upon as un-intellectual in academia. A conservative revival was spawned in this era as William F. Buckley’s newly founded National Review became an outlet to promote conservative principles. Then a staunch, old-fashioned conservative Senator from Arizona named Barry M. Goldwater began to shake the political establishment. A bespectacled, articulate figure, Goldwater was a fierce anti-communist and a critic of labor unions and the welfare state.

On Friday, January 20, 1964, at the press conference from the patio of his home in Phoenix, Goldwater officially announced his intention to seek the Republican nomination for the presidency. His main opponent would be New York’s liberal Governor, Nelson Rockefeller. Soon after, Goldwater left for New Hampshire, beginning a 19-day campaign swing, ahead of the state’s March 10 primary. Later in January, he came under fire for some of his comments. While criticizing President Johnson’s plans to cut funding for manned-bombers, he claimed that long-range missiles were “not dependable”. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara blasted the remark and accused Goldwater of “damaging the national security”. Next, Rockefeller took exception to Goldwater’s suggestion that it was not beneficial for the United States to remain in the United Nations in the wake of its admittance of Communist China. At the end of February, seeing the way the negative New Hampshire wind was blowing, Goldwater began to downplay the importance of that primary, commenting that any result above 35% would be a “strong showing”. He projected that the June 2 California Primary would be a better test of the strength of the field ahead of the national convention in July. After the loss in New Hampshire on March 10, Goldwater focused his efforts on California, remarking that it was “the only primary [he was] interested in.” He traveled to the state to vie for the endorsement of the 14,000 member California GOP at the party’s annual convention on March 15.

Theodore Humes was a Pennsylvania politician and future director of the Securities and Exchange Commission under Nixon. He lived in Arizona for a time, and in 1964 was a campaign aide to Barry Goldwater. Days in advance of the March 15 convention, he suggested that  Reagan make a statement endorsing Goldwater, obviously along the lines of his talk. This is Reagan’s historic response, saying he would do so.

Typed letter signed, on his personal letterhead, Pacific Palisades, California, March 10, 1964 to Humes. “I would very much like to lend a hand in your campaign and as you can well imagine I am convinced that Barry is the only true Republican candidate. However, I have one question with regard to your request. There could be a kickback against you on the basis of my being a carpetbagger. What would you say if I could perhaps cook up a brief sentence about Barry Goldwater your opponents could not hit us over the head on the charge that I was an outsider interfering in your local or state politics? Let me know your thinking on this. Best regards, Ronnie.” During his political career, Reagan was constantly attacked for being an actor who had no place or business being in politics. When Reagan uses the term carpetbagger in this letter, he is likely referring to this type of criticism, coupled with a concern about allegations that he is a dilettante with no idea about issues that concern people in their localities.

Goldwater won the backing of the party at the California convention, increasing his visibility, financial contributions, and the number of volunteers for his California campaign. Reagan became co-chair of California Republicans for Goldwater. On March 16, 1964, a newspaper reported that Reagan would give “A Time for Choosing” at a meeting of the San Marino Republican Women’s Club, and he surely made similar presentations at other venues before the California primary, which Goldwater narrowly won. But perhaps because of Reagan’s concerns about being considered a novice or carpetbagger, Reagan gave no major, national endorsement at that time, nor at the national convention in July. Instead such an endorsement was kept as an ace in the hole, for use later. Reagan did, however, stump his state giving his speech between Goldwater’s nomination and the presidential election.

On October 27, Reagan went on national television to endorse Goldwater in a way contemplated in this letter, and delivered his “A Time for Choosing” speech. It was one of the most effective political speeches in American history, mesmerizing a nationwide audience. Despite Goldwater’s loss, Reagan’s charisma had electrified conservative Republicans, and it initiated his own political career. He was encouraged to run for governor of California in 1966, and defeated two-term governor, Edmund G. Brown, who had beaten Richard Nixon just four years earlier. Reagan won a second term as governor, and the Republican presidential nomination in 1980. His election as president that year constituted a triumph of the conservative revolution, a success that can be directly linked to his making his statement for Goldwater.

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