In a desert garden of prickly pear and wispy paloverde trees, a larger-than-life statue of Barry Goldwater gazes into a scorching Arizona sky. The Republican titan – deemed by many the father of modern conservatism – holds in one hand a cowboy hat, a nod to his roots in the American West and his commitment to self-reliance. The other hand rests on a camera case.

Senator Goldwater loved taking photographs. He captured more than 15,000 images of the Arizona desert and Native Americans, using his mother’s Brownie box camera when just a boy. His friend, the great landscape photographer Ansel Adams, called him “a fine and eager amateur” who compiled a pictorial record of “historical and interpretive significance.”

Visiting the Goldwater Memorial in Paradise Valley near Phoenix, one can’t help but wonder what the former presidential candidate would think if he focused his lens on Arizona’s Republican Party today.

Why We Wrote This

Once a GOP stronghold, Arizona is now purple – and a battleground between traditional and MAGA Republicans. This conservative divide could shape the future of the Republican Party and the coming elections.

He was famously trounced as the GOP presidential nominee in the 1964 contest against President Lyndon B. Johnson. But his conservative ideals set the stage for another proponent of small government – Ronald Reagan. And the five-term senator put his state on a rightward path that would span decades, with mavericks like the late Sen. John McCain taking up his mantle.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

The Barry Goldwater Memorial, on Aug. 19, 2022, in Paradise Valley, Arizona. Goldwater, a conservative Republican, represented Arizona in the U.S. Senate for three decades.

In recent years, however, the Grand Canyon State has turned from Sedona red to sunset purple, becoming a must-win swing state for both parties. It tipped narrowly to Joe Biden in 2020 and is now represented in the U.S. Senate by two Democrats. 

That Republican erosion has ignited an existential “battle for the soul of the GOP,” says independent Arizona pollster Mike Noble.

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