A Speck of Archeology

by Jay Nordlinger

In this primary season, many, many people have cited WFB’s “rule” that you vote for the “rightwardmost viable candidate.” He did indeed invoke this “rule” during presidential seasons. But he could be idiosyncratic. I’ll get to that in a moment.

The other day, I did a Corner post explaining where WFB got the “rule.” As he always said, he heard JKG — John Kenneth Galbraith — say that he was for the “leftwardmost viable candidate.” This was during the ’68 campaign (go most versions of the story). Bill simply flipped that around, saying that he was for the “rightwardmost viable candidate.”

Well, I had an interesting e-mail from a reader who had found a Buckley column from 1966: here. It’s entitled “Ronald Reagan for Prez?” And it begins,

Mr. Robert Novak the other day asked a conservative writer, under informal circumstances, whom would he endorse for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968, to which the reply was: “The right-wardmost of the viable candidates.” “Whom,” Mr. Novak pursued, “do you consider viable? Is Ronald Reagan viable?

Couple things: First, Novak (RDN!) was not a conservative at this point — not really. He was trending. Second, the “conservative writer,” of course, was Bill himself. That’s the way he often did it, especially in the early days.

Again, Bill always claimed that he got the “viable” line from Galbraith — and I’m sure he did. If he got it in ’68, however, he got it dang early in the cycle: because that column is from December 1966 (and it is a very interesting read, needless to say).

One more thing: Bill didn’t always follow his “rule.” It was mainly for presidential seasons, anyway. Remember that he endorsed Al Lowenstein, the left-wing Democrat, for Congress. Bill thought that Lowenstein was an interesting and worthy animal who belonged in the congressional zoo. And a lot of conservatives were ticked at him for his endorsement. Bill Rusher (our erstwhile publisher) said to him later, “There was a perfectly good Republican out there in Long Island, and . . .”

P.S. Actually, Novak was RDSN — Robert David Sanders Novak. That is really getting into the minutiae of conservative media — which, of course, I enjoy.

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