The Myth of Barry Goldwater

I want to address an inaccurate story that keeps getting thrown around in discussions about presidential impeachment or resignation. The story goes something like this. Richard Nixon was bound and determined to stay in office. Then he got a visit from some Republican Senators, led by Barry Goldwater. They informed Nixon that they would not support him any longer and, by doing so, convinced the President that he should resign. Why aren’t there more profiles in courage like Goldwater, people say now, who will stand up to their party leaders?

The answer is that Goldwater was no profile in courage. The famous visit came a few days before Nixon’s resignation. Watergate had gone on for more than two years at that point.  During most of that time, Goldwater supported the President. Only after the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to give his tapes to the special prosecutor and Nixon released the “smoking gun” tape did Goldwater get the “courage” to go to the White House and tell Nixon he should resign.

More important, this meeting did not, in fact, convince Nixon to resign. We know from many accounts that he was already considering that step before the Senators showed up. Part of the confusion, I think, stems from the fact that his resignation speech offered his “lack of political support in the Congress” as the reason for his resignation, which may have led people to think that he only learned this from the Goldwater visit.  But that’s ludicrous–everyone in Washington knew that his support collapsed after the release of the critical tape.

Basically, Goldwater was just the undertaker at the funeral.  The political body was already dead.

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7 Responses

  1. Brett Bellmore says:

    I think you wrong him; He merely waited on proof. Given it, he acted.

  2. Gerard Magliocca says:

    Lots of people reached that conclusion WAY before he did. Now did he do anything wrong? No. The point is that turning on a party leader is a hard and rare thing.

    • Brett Bellmore says:

      Eh, reaching a conclusion in advance of the proof looks really prescient if the proof eventually arrives. Somewhat less so if it never does. Either way, it’s not an ideal basis to operate on.

    • Margaret Ryznar says:

      My gut would have said that it’s hard to turn against a party leader, but it’s really interesting nonetheless to remember that there are no recent examples of it.

  3. Joe says:

    He waited on the fait complait of Nixon having no chance of surviving politically. If that is the “proof” referenced, fine enough.

    That is nothing to begrudge him. It just doesn’t make him a “profile in courage,” which is what is being addressed by the article.

    It is harder to say there wasn’t enough “proof” beforehand that Nixon warranted removal. But, perhaps, if one is an ideological supporter, or he has the same enemies you had, your test will be higher.

    • Joe says:

      Fait accompli.

    • Brett Bellmore says:

      “But, perhaps, if one is an ideological supporter, or he has the same enemies you had, your test will be higher.”

      Exactly. It takes little courage to conclude that a President you already disliked has to go. Little evidence, either.

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