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Noting that the current Republican Party platform consists of positions that "range from unpopular to very, very unpopular with the public as a whole," Jeffrey Toobin draws an analogy between 2012 and 1964: 

In 1964, Republican insurgents seized control of the party. They recognized that their views were not held by a majority of Americans—at least not yet. As Rick Perlstein wrote in “Before the Storm,” his fascinating history of the Barry Goldwater campaign, the Republican Party was taken over by “a little circle of political diehards whose every move was out of step with the times”—which did not bother them much at all. For their moment, they were political missionaries who came to introduce a nation raised on the New Deal to an alternative approach to governing. Goldwater embraced “extremism” in the fond hope that its time, if not his time, would come. Goldwater and his aides didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about “electability.” They didn’t expect to win, and, emphatically, they did not. Lyndon B. Johnson won sixty-one per cent of the popular vote, and carried forty-four states. 

Paul Waldman adds

[F]or the base of the party, beating Obama may be a secondary goal, and this is where the 1964 comparison makes the most sense. As Ed Kilgore explains, "the conservative activists who dominate the Republican presidential nominating contest are split between those who simply don’t believe adverse polls about Gingrich, and those who would rather control the GOP than the White House, if forced to choose." If this is a conflict between the establishment, which would rather nominate Romney, and the base, which would rather (at this point anyway) nominate Gingrich, then right now the establishment is losing, and they don't have too many ways of stopping Gingrich if he were to win the early contests.

(Photo dated 17 July 1964 shows then presidential hopeful Barry Goldwater (R) and his running mate William Miller accepting the Republican Party nomination in San Francisco. AFP/AFP/Getty Images.)