What was so extreme about Barry Goldwater?

I’m trying to educate myself on the history of the Republican Party, particularly its conservative wing. I know that Goldwater’s nomination was the conservatives’ high watermark for many years, and that establishment Republicans at the time were aghast at running someone so far to the right of the mainstream. My question to the board is, what were Goldwater’s most extreme views? What did Johnson mean when he said “In your guts, you know he’s nuts?” Thanks!

Most people thought his idea to use nuclear weapons in Vietnam was extreme.

He personally didn’t believe in not letting Black people vote, or refusing to sell your house to a Black person, or not letting Black people shop or go to school like everyone else, but did believe that when the federal government forced equal treatment under the law it was somehow the greater evil.

Since this is GQ not GD or the Pit I won’t comment further, lest the forum moderator be compelled to enforce the greater evil.

This is what I remember about him from when I was a young kid, and while it seems like a really bad idea now, at the time he was serious about using tactical nukes. I don’t remember anyone else at the time thinking this was a good idea.

Barry Goldwater believed in freedom.

From this site, we learn that Goldwater believed in freedom from religion:

Goldwater believed in gay rights.

Goldwater believed in women’s right to choose abortion.

Goldwater understood the need for government protection of the environment.

Compare the sanity of a GOP “extremist” in the 1960’s with that of the post-rational GOP! :mad:

For what it’s worth, my father, a political moderate of the era, kept a Goldwater button pinned to his well-thumbed paperback copy of Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. He never explained the joke to me but I got it as an adult.

OT, but I think I’m the only Doper who met him.

In 1964, liberals were ascendant. Goldwater was a real conservative. If he’d run in 1980 he would have had a chance, things had changed. But in 1964, a real conservative had no chance. Richard Nixon at the time was about as conservative as you could be and run for President.

I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!

Acceptance Speech as the 1964 Republican Presidential candidate.
I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is “needed” before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents’ “interests,” I shall reply that I was informed that their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.

The Conscience of a Conservative (1960)

Moderator Note

septimus, political jabs are not permitted in General Questions. No warning issued, but don’t do this again.

General Questions Moderator

Comment deleted.

Please explain the joke.

I’ll type very slowly. :smiley:

My father, a political moderate, thought Goldwater so extremely rightist that the appropriate place for his button was on a book about the Third Reich. My father was a very measured and deliberate man and this is about as extreme a comment as I can recall him ever making. My point was that this was a viewpoint of an intelligent, educated and considered political middleman in the era.

You may laugh now.

I think he can basically be described as a libertarian and military hawk. For example, he would have thought that a few people dying from salmonella infection was a reasonable price to pay to avoid having the government try to prevent it. And yes, he wanted to nuke VietNam

septimus, all those quotes you’ve given are from much later in Goldwater’s life, not from around the time he ran for President. It’s hard to tell what he believed on those issues in 1964. He didn’t talk like that back then.

The thing about Goldwater’s comment on using nuclear weapons in Vietnam is that it not only constituted using nuclear weapons but would represent an escalation of the Vietnam war; he made the one comment about it in May of 1964. At that point, even Johnson would not have admitted planning a major escalation in Vietnam (which of course he actually was planning to do, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to tell the truth about it.)

The use of nukes was not then quite as outrageous an idea as they would later become, but it was pretty controversial. However, much of the perception of Goldwater as an extremist was not just that but his wanting to escalate Vietnam.

As history shows, Johnson was just as keen on escalating the Vietnam War - he secretly ordered the Ho Chi Ming trail bombed at almost exactly the same time Goldwater made his ill advised comments on using nukes for the same purpose - but LBJ was smart enough to not say so in public. Johnson spend all of 1964 secretly increasing America’s involvement in Vietnam, and once safely elected, stopped being secretive about it and just went all in. He was just way more clever than Goldwater.


Nuclear war was taken very seriously in 1964. In 1962 nuclear war was threatened as a major exchange between the US and USSR over missiles in Cuba. Americans thereafter considered nuclear exchange a very serious matter. Goldwater’s comments about using nukes in Vietnam amounted to hundreds of nails in his presidential ambition coffin. He lost in a landslide because he was regarded as nuts. This was a truly reckless thing to say or consider. [Marge Schott/]Other than that, and he desire to not enforce civil rights, he seems like a pretty decent guy. [Marge Schott]

Johnson had a field day with Goldwater.

He countered the Goldwater campaign slogan “In your heart, you know he’s right” with the lines “In your guts, you know he’s nuts”, and “In your heart, you know he might” (that is, he might actually use nuclear weapons as opposed to using only deterrence).

Is it true that Nixon posted nukes in the Vietnam area during the tensest time?