The Election of 1964


Lyndon Johnson (486 Electoral Votes)
Barry Goldwater (52 Electoral Votes)

Occasionally a presidential election reorients American politics, although not always in ways that are apparent at the time. At the time, Lyndon Johnson’s landslide victory in 1964 over conservative Republican Barry Goldwater seemed to solidify a Democratic lock on the presidency. (From 1932 through 1964, Democrats won seven of the nine presidential elections.) Johnson used his victory, and the huge Democratic congressional majorities that came with it, to advance an ambitious liberal reform agenda that included civil rights, Medicare and Medicaid, Head Start, and much more. However, the civil rights initiatives split the old Democratic Party as white southerners deserted to the Republicans. Goldwater pointed to a new path for the Republican Party by winning five states of the old Confederacy (outside the South he carried only his native Arizona) after he voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And actor Ronald Reagan’s stirring speech for Goldwater at the end of the campaign launched his political career as a conservative champion two years later. Of course, then there was Vietnam. Johnson slyly suggested that Goldwater would dangerously escalate the war. Johnson’s major, and ultimately futile, escalation of the war in 1965 and after split the Democrats even more, discredited them as a ruling party, and divided the country as a whole more deeply than anything since the Civil War. With a new southern strategy and rekindled conservative principles, Republicans were to win five of the next six presidential elections.

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