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Buckley Rule — According to Bill, not Karl
What supporting “the rightwardmost viable candidate” meant in WFB’s lexicon.

William F. Buckley, Jr.

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Neal B. Freeman

Victory for Team Goldwater! We all knew what “viable” meant in Bill’s lexicon. It meant somebody who saw the world as we did. Somebody who would bring credit to our cause. Somebody who, win or lose, would conservatize the Republican party and the country. It meant somebody like Barry Goldwater. (And so it came to pass. For the next 40 years, the GOP nominated and elected men from the West and the South. Nixon won twice, Reagan twice, the Bushes thrice. Only in recent cycles has the GOP reverted to its habit of nominating “moderates” favored by the establishment. Dole, McCain, Romney — all of them were admired by the fashionable media until they won the GOP nomination, at which point they were abandoned in favor of the liberal nominated by the Democrats.)

Bill Buckley was careful with words. If he had opted on that June day for the words “rightwardmost electable candidate,” we would all have recognized it as a victory for Team Rockefeller. And life might look very different today. If there had been no Goldwater, National Review might not have become so influential, and if there had been no Goldwater, no National Review, there might have been no Reagan.

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I did not check back every five minutes over the next 50 years to see if Bill had amended his formulation of the Buckley Rule. But in the following year, 1965, he reaffirmed his position by running in New York City as a third-party conservative against a highly electable Republican. I can tell you as the manager of that campaign that there was never a single day, from our first planning meeting in February until the polls closed in November, that Bill considered himself even remotely electable. But viable? Absolutely. He was the best candidate in the country to carry the conservative message into the heart of American liberalism. And for those who needed further reinforcement of the point, five years later Bill’s brother, James, ran for the U.S. Senate as a third-party candidate against a mainstream-Republican incumbent.

We all understand that it is Karl Rove’s mission to promote the Republican party. It was the mission of Bill Buckley to promote the conservative cause. There should be no confusion between the two.

Neal B. Freeman, a former NR editor and columnist, is a contributor to National Review.   



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