He has been called "Mr. Conservative." "You may remember some of the things Barry Goldwater said in his [1964 presidential] campaign -- honest, true, blunt things," writes New Right strategist Richard A. Viguerie, who credited the Arizona Republican senator with giving "vitality" to conservatism.
But now Senator Goldwater is hurling some of that "blunt" language at Mr. Viguerie's New Right for its outcry against Judge Sandra Day O'Connor, President Reagan's choice for the US Supreme Court.
"A lot of foolish claptrap has been written and spoken" about Judge O'Connor, said Goldwater last week on the Senate floor. (Earlier he had said other things , not printable in this newspaper, about Moral Majority's opposition to Judge O'Connor, an Arizonan.)
The flap over Mr. Reagan's nominee, the first woman ever designated for the Supreme Court and an apparent moderate on women's rights and abortion, has brought out the cracks in the conservative coalition. While conservatives unite on cutting government spending, they divide on the importance of the "social issues" like abortion.
In fact, there are several strains of conservatives, according to Herb B. Berkowitz, spokesman for the Heritage Foundation, a think tank that tries to span all of the groups on the right of the political spectrum.
Goldwater and columnist William F. Buckley Jr. represent the traditional "old right," says Mr. Berkowitz. They favor a big military, a tight federal budget, a limit on government, and maximum individual freedom. They divide on abortion with some, especially Roman Catholics, favoring a ban.
A second group, "neo-conservatives," includes intellectuals and ex-liberals who, says Berkowitz, are "fed up with social programs that don't work" and who favor a strong defense.
Third comes the New Right, including Viguerie and Howard Phillips's Conservative Caucus as well as Moral Majority and anti-abortion organizations. "They are very much into social issues, says Berkowitz. And "they are not afraid of TV cameras."
He says that many of the New Right tactics copy those that the political left used in the 1960s: "When they're upset, they let everybody know."
And the New Right is extremely upset over the choice of Judge O'Connor, who has never been identified as the pro-life advocate that many New Right conservatives had hoped for. Emotions were as hot as the sultry summer day last week when members of a dozen or more groups crammed a press conference to proclaim their disappointment.
Opponents focus on Judge O'Connor's record as an Arizona state senator when she failed to take a pro-life stand on abortion and once favored the Equal Rights Amendment. She is also criticized for failing to take a sufficiently strong stand for capital punishment and for calling tuition tax credits for private schools unconstitutional.
Although the New Right captured publicity, they have yet to capture a committed senator to fight the nomination and have not won much support from other factions of the conservative movement, either.
"I'm surprised at the vehemence" of the opposition, says John Chamberlain, a columnist and longtime member of the traditional right. "She sounds pretty good to me on balance."
However, the New Right is far from conceding defeat. "We're the advance guard, the early warning sensors for the rest of the conservatives," says John D. Lofton Jr., editor of Conservative Digest, a Viguerie publication. He adds that he objects to charges that conservatives are divided. It is more a matter of priorities, he says, and the New Right puts social issues higher.