1964: GOP Conservatives Trounce the Moderates
Barry Goldwater, an outspoken Arizona senator and conservative hero, clearly had his nomination wrapped up long before Republicans opened their 1964 national convention at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. Still, the GOP remained deeply divided among moderate and conservatives as they battling for the soul of the party on the convention floor.
Some moderates found a voice in New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who claimed that Goldwater was an "extremist threat" that would drag the party down in defeat in the November election.
Goldwater supporters fought back, booing and jeering Rockefeller during his convention speech calling for moderation even though he had already withdrawn his candidacy for the GOP nomination. Other moderates rallied behind Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton to challenge Goldwater and what they called his "absurd and dangerous positions." Scranton forces threw down the gantlet: they wanted an open debate at the convention between the two.
From the Collection of Ken Rudin
Goldwater refused and won the nomination on the first ballot.
The Arizona senator then delivered a speech that stubbornly stuck to his conservative principles as he blasted Democrats, led by President Lyndon Johnson, for being soft on communism, weak on national security, and spurring the moral decline of the nation.
And Goldwater offered few words of reconciliation toward moderates in his own party. "Let our Republicanism so focused and so dedicated not be made fuzzy and futile by unthinking and stupid labels," he declared. "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice and let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."
Moderates, led by Rockefeller, looked to soften the Republican platform with a string of amendments addressing civil rights and nuclear weapons. One measure called for clearly distancing the party from extremist groups that included the John Birch Society and the Klu Klux Klan. It failed. Other efforts to show clear support for advancing the civil rights of minorities and to end discrimination under law were coolly received or rejected.
That November, Barry Goldwater and his running mate William Miller lost the presidential election in a landslide to Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey. But their defeat helped create the conservative movement that would later elect Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush.