Scorpions in a Bottle
From MURRAY KEMPTON
rr HE circumstances of Senator Goldwater's I declaration of candidacy were as engaging as he always is. He ended with the mysterious ejaculation, `what the hell is this?'—an indica- tion that hitches in his public ceremonies, like the creep of Socialism, leave him more peevish than angry. He continually interrupted his post- declaration news conference with an elaborate personal greeting to any old friend from the attendant press who rose to question him, an indication that he was faintly embarrassed to have anyone he knew find him on this scene. He had begun his adventure with what he still calls `this president thing' more apologetic than confident, as ever the simple earnest American sent downstairs against his Will to contend with the leak in the cellar.
Senator Goldwater's formal declaration co- incided with a Gallup poll which showed Presi- dent Johnson would have beaten him three to one if the election had been held last week. These figures are unimaginable in a two-party political system, but their enormity does rather illuminate the Republican problem. Senator Goldwater offered further illumination; he would not, he said, have sought the nomination if he did not feel assured that the Republicans would get at least 45 per cent of the total vote with him as their candidate. Anything less, he felt, would permanently damage the 'conservative' (that is, intractable) 'cause' he represents. He thus begins by offering as encouragement the prospect that, if nominated, he would lose by only seven mil- lion popular votes.
None of his welcomes to the field were more heartful than those of Governor Rockefeller, his great antagonist. The Governor stands in desperate need of Senator Goldwater; what strength he can show in the March New Hamp- shire Republican primary will have to come less from persons who will vote for him as a positive figure than from those who will vote against Senator Goldwater as a negative one. All through December, Rockefeller's aides, to whom most news is bad in any case, had been disturbed at the prospect of the worse news of all, a Gold- water declination. The Senator seemed to have thought seriously about giving up the fight. Mr. Kennedy's death had made him the target of hundreds of letters from Americans who, in the terrible frustration of their need to blame some- body for what was otherwise only an absurdity, settled on the radical right and Senator Gold- water as its most conspicuous totem. He seems to have treated these letters not as unwarranted affronts but as wounds not necessarily un- deserved, for in him we deal with a man anxious to be liked and easy to convince that to be dis- liked is to be guilty.
He had, of course, always been an illusory can- didate; what had happened to him in the winter of 1963 for dubious reasons would almost cer- tainly have happened to him in October of 1964 for perfectly sound ones, and all too probably would have happened to him in the spring primaries against a Rockefeller who, whatever his diO3ilities, would remain rich, implacable and a point of expression for anti-Goldwater sentiment. Goldwater, representing as he does one faction in the Republican Party and cut off as he would be until November from the votes of that other Southern faction of the Democratic Party, would always have been vulnerable as a primary candidate in New Hampshire and California against any one opponent around whom, for convenience, other Republican elements could rally.
Were things now what they were last Novem- ber, Senator Goldwater would still be facing a spring at worst uncertain and at best un- profitable. He and Rockefeller are scorpions in a bottle; the Governor can hardly win the Republican nomination even if he beats Gold- water in New Hampshire and California; and the Senator almost certainly cannot win if he loses to Rockefeller in either State. It would seem that the time has passed when Rockefeller had anything to win in these primaries; the time is still here when Goldwater has everything to lose.
The Republicans profess themselves glad of the Goldwater-Rockefeller contest, because, without it, their pre-Convention discussions would quite fall out of the papers. Even so, before spring is out, they may wish they weren't being noticed so much. It is a risky business for them to have the Republican debate confined to candidates as wounded as Rockefeller and Goldwater are. Each is an amiable man; yet, in the circumstances of their common frustra- tion, it cannot be long before their differences pass from the principled to the personal.
Each already seems to see the other's as the face of the main enemy. The day after Senator Goldwater announced, Governor Rockefeller set about him in New Hampshire: Goldwater's frequently expressed, although lately tempered, distaste for the graduated income tax' and the United Nations would, said the Governor, if brought to the White House, endanger the peace and security of the nation. He demanded that Goldwater debate him. The Senator used to reply to such challenges by saying that Repub- licans should not debate one another but unite against their common enemies the Democrats. But Goldwater answered this time that he wouldn't debate Rockefeller because it would be like debating a Democrat.
The struggle for control of each party has, over the last decade, had its most important tests in direct votes in party primaries rather than within the structure of the leadership. General Eisenhower could not have been nomin- ated if he had not won slightly more than his share of primaries from Senator Taft. Governor Stevenson was given the Democratic nomination by the professionals in 1952; in 1956, he had to fight for it through cruel and desperate primaries; he could not have been nominated without them. Mr. Kennedy, of course, fought every primary in 1960; he came to the Demo- cratic Convention too far ahead to be stopped by any of those who had avoided that test. Presidential primaries are not, of course, nation- wide; they are confined to a few States with peculiar laws; but, as their weight has increased, the nominating process has come to represent a balance between the will of ordinary party mem- bers and the needs of party professionals.
But we have never before had primaries fought between two men in fundamental dis- agreement as Rockefeller and Goldwater seem to be or between two factions neither os which can conceive a time when it might have to accept the captain 'of the other as the nominee of the whole party. The Republicans then must endure a spring when the rancours which were only whispered in December emerge ugly and public in May;, and, when these primaries are over, Republican professionals are almost bound
to feel that the only way to choose a candidate is to act as though they had never happened.
The professionals seem more and more, by com- mon consent, to be discounting all participants in these unfortunate events to come and to be settling on the nomination of Governor Scranton of Pennsylvania, who looks deceptively like a Frances Hodgson Burnett boy grown up and who has a private manner more like Adlai Stevenson's and a public philosophy more like John F. Kennedy's than any candidate in either party. All the efforts of Senator Goldwater and Governor Rockefeller seem then to lead to no prospect except the nomination of a Kennedy Republican. There is a sense that part of Senator Goldwater already knows something like that; he has always been an incongruous combina- tion of the professional politician with the amateur political thinker. The words of his declaration were an amateur promise of a new beginning; but the face and the tone were those of the professional who knows that there is always the same old ending.