After the 1964 defeat of the Republican presidential candidate, Senator Barry Goldwater, political pundits started writing about the end of the Republican party as an effective political instrument.
Lyndon Johnson defeated Goldwater in 1964 by a margin of about sixteen million votes. Four years later that margin disappeared; Republican candidate Richard Nixon won the presidency by roughly five hundred thousand votes. And four years after that the same Richard Nixon, running for re-election, defeated the Democratic candidate, Senator George McGovern, by a margin of almost eighteen million votes.
One must ask whether presidential elections depend principally on the personalities of candidates, whether the country changed that much politically in a period of only eight years, or whether the political parties changed that much.
If one concludes that personality is the dominant factor, the party search between elections should be for the right man or woman. Yet in the elections since the death of Franklin Roosevelt, with the exception of the choice of Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, personality does not appear to have been the principal force in determining the outcome. If it were, one would have to believe that John Kennedy's margin over Richard Nixon in 1960 would have been larger and also believe that Nixon's margin over McGovern in 1972 would have been smaller.
Undoubtedly the country changed in eight years, but not enough to explain the voting swing from 1964 to 1972. This leaves only the political parties as possible causes of the swing.
What happened to the Republican party? Certainly its leader, President Nixon, made significant changes in his past positions. Despite his long support of the cold war, by 1972 he took credit for a