There’s no doubt that the 2016 campaign for president has turned into a classic brawl, and neither major political party may ever be the same after Election Day. The Republicans are saddled with a few candidates who, if chosen, could lead to the splintering of the party for many years to come. And the Democratic contest, reminiscent of past struggles between the left and the right, has the potential to weaken the party indefinitely.
There aren’t too many people still around who remember the campaigns of Republican Barry Goldwater and Democrat George McGovern, both of which caused long-term harm to their respective parties. Goldwater’s campaign succeeded in breaking up a Republican party that had been strong and unified for years. That led, in 1964, to the election of Democrat Lyndon Johnson, which rocked the Republican establishment.
Goldwater was chosen by the party’s right wing, which controlled the convention that year. Goldwater was very much like today’s Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, whose agendas are too extreme for moderates to swallow. Running under the slogan “In your heart, you know he’s right,” Goldwater was determined to ramp up America’s military machine and be ready for war at the drop of a hat. One of the classic political commercials of all time was the one put together by the Democrats, with a little girl picking daisy petals until the end, when a nuclear bomb detonated. The theme was simple: Goldwater was on the verge of destroying the country.
The current Republican campaign is a battle for the soul of the party, with almost all of the candidates trying to win the label “most conservative.” Because primary contests have little connection to reality, the party could wind up with a nominee who would drag the party down to another epic defeat.