A specter is haunting the Republican establishment—the specter of Barry Goldwater. With recent polling data suggesting that Rick Santorum has surged ahead of Mitt Romney among Republican voters nationwide, the people whose livelihoods depend on Republican electoral victories are terrified by the growing possibility of a massive wipeout in November, much like the one that Republicans experienced in 1964, when Goldwater was their nominee. But even if the magnitude of the Republicans’ defeat this year resembles that previous debacle, the path there will be significantly different.
It was not so long ago that George W. Bush seemed to embody the future of conservatism. He had entered office amid doubts about his rightful place there, but pressed ahead nonetheless with grand ambitions, conducting an ideologically potent foreign war while also promising much at home. Which led some to wonder: Was this lavish spender really a conservative? Bush’s champions rushed in to explain.