Rise of Modern Conservative Party
At the 1964 Republican convention, the Republican Party nominates Barry Goldwater as its presidential candidate, marking the rise of modern American conservative party.
The Nominating Convention
The nominating convention of 1964 was only the second Republican nominating convention on the West coast, the prior one being in 1956. Barry Goldwater’s major competition for the Republican nomination was Nelson Rockefeller, considered the more liberal candidate. Rockefeller lost because he had divorced his first wife, and his second wife gave birth shortly before the convention. Given the low divorce rate prior to no-fault divorce, his prior divorce and rapid remarriage were scandalous at the time and brought to the forefront by the birth of the child.
The Goldwater campaign was opposed by a group seeking the nomination of William Scranton. Lesser candidates included in the 1964 convention included Michigan Governor George W. Romney of Michigan (father of 2008 Presidential candidate Mitt Romney), Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine and Governor Harold Stassen of Minnesota. Senator Margaret Chase Smith was the first woman placed in nomination for president at any convention for any American political party.
President Dwight Eisenhower gave his endorsement reluctantly after Goldwater won. Herbert Hoover gave his support enthusiastically.
Short Term Impact of the Goldwater Nomination
Goldwater’s strong military stance led to the infamous “Daisy” ad by LBJ, where a little girl pulls daisy petals off during a countdown until the image fades into a nuclear bomb’s mushroom cloud. Goldwater retorted that he did not advocate using nuclear weapons in the Vietnam War, but the ad remained part of the public image of the campaign long after Goldwater was forgotten.
Goldwater faced a significant challenge by running against a sitting president, since incumbents overwhelmingly win re-election. Goldwater lost with 38% of the vote while Johnson won with 61% of the vote.
Goldwater was a Senator from Arizona from 1953 through 1965. He returned to the Senate, re-elected in 1969 and remained there through 1987. He ended up spending five terms in the Senate.
Long Term Impact of the Goldwater Nomination
Prior to Barry Goldwater, the Republican Party was seen as a Northeastern U.S. political club. In fact, Rockefeller’s focus was the industrial Northeast. The Goldwater nomination and the convention in general made the party appeal to a much larger geographic base.
Goldwater advocated a dramatic series of cuts in social programs, such as making Social Security optional. Johnson expanded his platform of the “Great Society” to call for more social programs, eventually adding Medicaid for the poor, loosening the definition of disability required to get Social Security disability benefits and a host of new welfare programs.
Richard Nixon heavily campaigned for Goldwater. Because of this, he was able to tap into Goldwater’s party supporters to win the nomination for president himself in 1968.
Ronald Reagan before the 1964 convention was a well known actor and public speaker, given speeches at corporate events held by companies like IBM. Ronald Reagan had his first major political breakout by giving a televised pro-Goldwater address in October, 1964. Sixteen years later. Ronald Regan won the presidency with a very similar message of limited government, anti-communist foreign policy and free markets.
Barry Goldwater’s candidacy is sometimes held up as the mistake of holding to extremist political views both in the party primary and Presidential race only to lose; Nixon’s strategy is contrasted to Goldwater’s, where Nixon appeared a party purist in the primary and presented a more moderate stance in the Presidential election and won. The successful election of two Presidents using Goldwater’s ideology in a moderated form has kept his small-government, low taxes, strong national defense and similar views alive and well in the Republican party, with some considering the Tea Party the modern reincarnation of the Goldwater Republicans.
Republican Platform of 1964
The Republican platform of 1964 was shaped by the Goldwater conservatives. Goldwater took a hard line against Communism, supported NATO and criticized Kennedy and Johnson for having set up a hotline with the U.S.S.R. and not NATO allies.
The 1964 Republican convention was the only one between 1948 and 2008 that did not include a Nixon, Bush or Dole. (This includes both George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush.)