To defeat a maverick: Foreign policy, Barry Goldwater and the 1964 presidential election

Jeffreys J Matthews, University of Nevada, Las Vegas


This paper examines Cold War influences on early post-World War II presidential elections, Barry M. Goldwater's rise to Republican presidential nominee, and the contribution of foreign policy issues to the Arizonan's defeat in the 1964 presidential election. World War II and the Cold War increased the importance of foreign policy considerations in presidential elections, and from 1948 through 1964, every major party nominee advocated the militant containment of communism. Goldwater was an ardent Cold Warrior, who had developed staunch convictions on domestic and foreign matters. As a senator, his unwavering conservatism cast him as a "maverick" among other Republicans; however, in 1964 the GOP right wing dominated state and local party machinery and the increasingly popular Arizonan captured the presidential nomination. The margin of Goldwater's overwhelming election defeat was due largely to the public's perception of him as an impulsive radical who would senselessly risk nuclear confrontation in the Cold War. This grossly unfavorable perception was propagated by the senator's numerous Republican and Democratic critics, although Goldwater, himself, bore significant responsibility for the image.