Fifty years after Goldwater, the Kentucky Senator is trying to repair the GOP's image with African-American voters.
Fifty years ago this week, a divided and feverish Republican Party nominated Barry Goldwater to lead them to victory. Instead, he led them to a smashing defeat.
There are many reasons for that catastrophe, and some on the right enjoyed a hearty last laugh when Lyndon Johnson abandoned the White House. But ridding themselves of Johnson did not mean that Republicans got back the black vote. Black Americans deserted the Goldwater GOP en masse, and they never came back—not even in the party’s ultra-dominant Reagan years. To be sure, the Reaganaut Jack Kemp made African Americans a powerful pitch. But Kemp belongs to a different time, and that time has now been long in passing.
Now it’s fallen to Rand Paul to revive his party’s standing with black Americans. After the splashy performances that sealed his reputation (a filibuster here, a standing ovation at Berkeley there), Paul has settled into something of a grind as the rest of the GOP’s presumptive presidential contenders take turns trying to cement themselves as the party’s antithesis to all things Paul.
Most recently, that’s meant a public poking contest between Paul and Rick Perry over the merits and demerits of Barack Obama’s Iraq policy, such as it is. Their dueling opinion columns crystallized the party’s central conflict: re-litigating the Bush legacy at large.