In Reckless Pursuit: Barry Goldwater, A Team of Amateurs and the Rise of Conservatism

Nicholas J D'Angelo


Before 1964, Barry Goldwater had never lost an election. In fact, despite being the underdog in both of his U.S. Senate elections in Arizona, in 1952 and 1958, he defied the odds and won. His keen ability for organization, fundraising and strategy was so widely respected that his Republican colleagues appointed the freshman senator to chair their campaign committee in 1960, with conservatives and liberals alike requesting his aid during contentious elections. Goldwater himself adamantly believed that in politics, “organization is the whole secret.” For all of these reasons, 1964 seems to be an outlier in the senator’s expansive career. The core qualities of detail, focus and organization present throughout his life were conspicuously absent during the 1964 presidential campaign.

This thesis addresses the question of why Goldwater was unable to succeed in his quest for the presidency, focusing on the roles of ideology and organization. It is a common belief that Goldwater’s conservative ideology was the primary reason for his defeat, but this thesis instead argues that a lack of effective campaign strategy, coupled with poor organization and leadership, was responsible for Goldwater’s failed presidential bid. In strong contrast to his campaigns for the United States Senate, Goldwater demonstrated uncharacteristic reluctance to run in 1964, as well as an overdependence on individuals who were simply unqualified for a national campaign. The thesis explores these areas in both the primary and general election campaigns to argue that it was the lack of an effective campaign organization, not merely his political ideology, which led to Goldwater’s landslide loss.

Research is based on a combination of contemporary media coverage of the campaign, memoirs of instrumental Goldwater aides. Research was conducted using the collection of the Personal and Political Papers of Barry M. Goldwater at Arizona State University, as well as the Goldwater Papers the Papers of Congressman William E. Miller at Cornell University.


Goldwater; Presidential Election; Lyndon Johnson; Conservatism; Political Ideology; American Politics

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