J. William Middendorf II: 'A Glorious Disaster, Barry Goldwater's Presidential Campaign and the Origins of the Conservative Movement'

A GLORIOUS DISASTER: Barry Goldwater’s Presidential Campaign and the Origins of the Conservative Movement

Senator Barry M. Goldwater, the colossally failed 1964 GOP Presidential nominee, has had more books written about him (and his quest for the White House) than many elected Presidents. This is due largely to the fact that he was the face of the Conservative revolution and because his candidacy gave birth to Ronald Reagan’s political career.

A Glorious Disaster: Barry Goldwater’s Presidential Campaign and the Origins of the Conservative Movement by J. William Middendorf II is by far the best inside account of Goldwater’s draft and candidacy. Middendorf, who was among the very first persons to participate in the Draft Goldwater movement, later served as treasurer for the candidate’s primary and general election campaigns. Middendorf went on to have a successful career in government in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan Administrations including a stint as Secretary of the Navy (1974-1977).

What makes this book different from many of the other Goldwater campaign memoirs is that the author worked closely with both the Citizens for Goldwater-Miller members (Clif White, Rus Walton, et. al.) and the Arizona Mafia (Denison Kitchel, et. al.) during the general election season. There were very few campaign officials who had a foot in both of these camps because of the bitter feelings held by the Citizens team after the Republican Convention in San Francisco (when the Arizona Mafia essentially took over from the Draft team and exiled the remaining members to the Citizens organization). Because of his dual associations within the campaign apparatus, Middendorf is able to offer a more global view of the dysfunction that undermined Goldwater’s efforts to unseat President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Middendorf tells his story in a linear fashion from the Draft Goldwater days through Goldwater’s defiant November 4, 1964 concession speech and beyond (the author provides a concise aftermath of the election and the broader post-1964 impact of Goldwater). Besides Middendorf’s unique insights into campaign bombshells like the ‘Daisy’ spot, he provides entertaining anecdotes like the story behind the stiff ‘Brunch with Barry’ infomercial (try to imagine Barry Goldwater hosting a conservative version of The View). He also reveals what the candidate really thought of the orange-flavored campaign novelty drink named after him (“tastes like warm piss!”).

Middendorf has not written a hagiography here. There are plenty of passages in the book that are less than complimentary to Senator Goldwater, but most of these scenes have to do with his campaign abilities and his sometimes brusque temperament. The book is written in an engaging, conversational style that moves right along. One of this reviewer’s favorite parts of the memoir is Middenforf’s description of the Citizens Committee’s plan to change the rapidly sinking game of the campaign by releasing a political advertising film targeted directly at LBJ’s perceived morality problems. The film, CHOICE, was vetoed for use by Goldwater days before it was to be broadcast on NBC and it has since become something of a cult collectible for poli-sci nerds.

J. William Middendorf II is retired and resides in Rhode Island.
Scene from the Goldwater campaign - a screen grab from CHOICES

A GLORIOUS DISASTER: Barry Goldwater’s Presidential Campaign and the Origins of the Conservative Movement
By J. William Middendorf II
Copyright 2006 by Basic Books, New York
303 pages

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