Mark Shields: One prediction you can (almost) bank on
Panic has become the uninvited visitor to every meeting of elected Republican officeholders. With Donald Trump now the clear favorite to win the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, Republicans whose own fate and future could well be determined by whether they are forced to run on a November ballot headed by the controversial billionaire are openly nervous.
While watching the 11th Republican presidential debate in Detroit, I remembered having seen this melodrama before. It was more than a half-century ago, and one memorable television commercial from that campaign, I can confidently predict, will, if Trump wins the nomination, reappear in living rooms all over America in September and October.
The TV spot, created by the advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach, opens on a confetti-littered but empty auditorium hall after the crowd has left. The narrator begins, ”Back in July in San Francisco, the Republicans held a convention.” He moves through placards on the floor, picks up one candidate’s poster (that of New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller) and asks: ”Remember him? He was there. … Before the convention, he said Barry Goldwater’s positions can — and I quote — ‘spell disaster for the party and for the country.”’
Continuing slowly across the floor and then picking up a poster of Pennsylvania Gov. William Scranton, the narrator asks: ”Or him? … The day before the convention, he called Goldwaterism a — quote — ‘crazy-quilt collection of absurd and dangerous positions.”’ The next candidate poster we see is that of Michigan Gov. George Romney, about whom the narrator reports, ”In June, he said Goldwater’s nomination would lead to the — quote — ‘suicidal destruction of the Republican Party.”
Having soberly assembled the evidence, the narrator concludes: ”So even if you’re a Republican with serious doubts about Barry Goldwater, you’re in good company. Vote for President Johnson on Nov. 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.”
What made this spot so effective in 1964 was that the scalding criticism of Barry Goldwater, the Republican presidential nominee, did not come from Democrats. The words could not be discounted as unfair partisan attacks. Instead, they were direct quotations from lifelong Republicans, all of whom had won and held major public offices and all of whom had been loyal supporters of the Republican Party.
It doesn’t take Don Draper to update that long-ago spot for 2016. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, a Republican Harvard graduate who, as an Army infantryman, earned a Bronze Star in Vietnam, has said he cannot vote for Donald Trump: ”I think he’s an embarrassment to the party. I think he’s an embarrassment to the country.” J.C. Watts, the former University of Oklahoma quarterback who became the first Republican African-American from the South since Reconstruction elected to Congress, and Mel Martinez, a former national chairman of the Republican Party and former U.S. senator from Florida, are both on record testifying they cannot vote for Trump. The challenge for any advertising agency could be deciding which of Trump’s non-character references to include — Mitt Romney’s or John McCain’s or Jeb Bush’s or any of several dozen others.
For those who may have forgotten, President Lyndon B. Johnson won 61 percent of the popular vote against Barry Goldwater in 1964 while carrying 44 states and the District of Columbia.