Republicans who imagine that there is still something happening with the Stop Trump movement would do well to consider these names:
- United States Ambassador to South Vietnam (and 1960 Republican vice-presidential nominee) Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.
- Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith
- Former Vice President Richard Nixon
- New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller
- Michigan Governor George Romney
- Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton
These were some of the prominent Republicans who, at different stages in the long 1964 primary process, were advanced by party elites as vehicles for a “Stop Goldwater” movement that sought to avert the nomination of Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater at the party’s national convention in San Francisco.
The “Stop Goldwater” movement of 1964—like the Stop Trump movement of 2016—got an immense amount of media attention. And it scored some primary wins (for Lodge as a write-in candidate in New Hampshire and for Rockefeller in Oregon)—along with some credible second-place results (for Smith in Illinois and for Nixon as a write-in candidate in Nebraska), which were spun as hopeful signs.
But the “Stop Goldwater” movement never really had a proper focus—in the form of one clearly defined challenger to the unelectable front-runner—and it never really got traction. The senator from Arizona kept winning where it mattered. He secured the nomination with ease. And then, as predicted, he failed miserably in November.
It’s important to remember the story of the “Stop Goldwater” movement of 1964 because, by comparison with the Stop Trump movement of 2016, it was a model of coherence and successful political engagement.
The Stop Trump movement is a flailing exercise in self-indulgence that cannot get its act together, let alone chart a path to victory. The movement’s most delusional champions imagined for a brief moment—around the time of the Wisconsin primary—that they could get things going for Texas Senator Ted Cruz, the only Republican contender who is less appealing than Trump. Cruz won Wisconsin, but then started on a losing streak that began with a miserable third-place finish in New York—behind not just Trump but also Ohio Governor John Kasich. Now Cruz has lost five more states.
On Tuesday night, Trump won Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Delaware. And he did not win by a little; he won by a lot. The candidate who pundits once claimed had a 35 percent ceiling is, as of now, winning every state with more than 50 percent, and several of them with more than 60 percent.
But that wasn’t the worst of it for the Stop Trumpers. The movement’s anointed one, Ted Cruz, was not just losing. In at least three of the states, the Texan was running behind Kasich.
Trump was piling up delegates—even, it appeared, in the complicated count from Pennsylvania, where delegates are awarded at the congressional-district level with little in the way of instruction. According to early reports from the Keystone State, Stop Trump–backed contenders appeared to be failing miserably. As Trump pushed toward 1,000 delegates, on his way to the 1,237 needed to win the nomination, Cruz was stuck in the 550 range and Kasich in the 150 range.
At his long and windy press conference on Tuesday night, Trump did not just declare that his remaining rivals had “no path to victory.” He announced that “we are going to win on the first ballot” at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. And he spent much of his time ripping into Hillary Clinton, setting the ground for the race it looks more and more like he will be running as the Republican nominee.
Of course, the Stop Trumpers still hold out hope that they can stop Donald Trump—just as their predecessors held out hope that they could somehow stop Barry Goldwater. But this was another Tuesday, and another disaster for Stop Trump. And the next Tuesdays look to be degenerating into absurdity for the movement.
Early this week, the Kasich and Cruz campaigns agreed to divide up states in order to let each other get one-on-one fights going with the front-runner: Kasich versus Trump in Oregon and New Mexico, Cruz versus Trump in Indiana. But the deal exploded almost immediately, as Kasich said he still thought his Indiana backers should support him, and Cruz avoided urging anyone anywhere to support Kasich. Then it was reported that Kasich had failed to submit materials for inclusion in the official voter pamphlet that was mailed last week to roughly 1.8 million Oregon households.
Within 24 hours, CBS described the Cruz-Kasich arrangement as “a political alliance already tanking.” Trump tweeted: “The Cruz-Kasich pact is under great strain. This joke of a deal is falling apart, not being honored and almost dead. Very dumb!” Trump gets a lot wrong. But he is right about this.
Bill Currier, the chairman of the Oregon Republican Party, explained: “I think this will actually strengthen [Trump’s] base because he’s always been the ‘outsider,’ and so this will strengthen his base and they will feel like Cruz and [Kasich] are ganging up on him, so I think it’ll actually energize them.” That’s probably true.
But there is something else that is definitely true: The Republican Party is melting down, not because of Trump or because of the Stop Trump challenge but because the whole mess is so dispiriting.
Pennsylvania primary exit pollsters asked voters if the contests for the party nominations had energized or divided their party. Seventy-one percent of Democrats said they were energized, while just 24 percent saw divisions.
For the Grand Old Party, it was pretty much the opposite. Only 39 percent of Republicans said Trump-versus-Stop-Trump wrangling had energized their party; 58 percent of Republicans said their party was divided. The 58 percent were right. The party of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower is in crisis. Trump is dangerous, a threat to his party and his country.
And the Stop Trump movement is looking more and more like a fiasco—a 1964 “Stop Goldwater” kind of fiasco.