1964 Republican Convention: Revolution From the Right

At the ugliest of Republican conventions since 1912, entrenched moderates faced off against conservative insurgents

Barry Goldwater supporters at the 1964 Republican National Convention. (Bettmann/Corbis)
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The moderates circulated a translation of an interview Goldwater had given to a German newsmagazine, in which he was quoted as saying he would tell his generals in Vietnam, "Fellows, we made the decision to win, now it's your problem." CBS correspondent Daniel Schorr then reported, "It is now clear that Senator Goldwater's interview with Der Spiegel with its hard line appealing to right-wing elements in Germany was only the start of a move to link up with his opposite numbers in Germany," with Schorr basing his assertion simply on the fact that Goldwater would be vacationing after the convention at an American military installation that was, coincidentally, in the former Nazi stronghold of Bavaria. (Schorr later said he did not mean to suggest "a conscious effort" by Goldwater to connect with the German right.)

Schorr's report only stirred the hornet's nest: the delegates who had trooped to the conservative Woodstock to nominate Goldwater greeted calls that they abandon him with angry defiance, and their loyalty put their candidate over the top. When Nelson Rockefeller, speaking to the assembled, advocated a platform plank denouncing extremism, galleries full of exuberant conservatives booed him. In his acceptance speech, Goldwater capped off the snub by lustily and defiantly proclaiming: "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And...moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!" He raised the rafters.

The "stench of fascism is in the air," Pat Brown, California's liberal Democratic governor, told the press. His view was widely shared. The political world's near unanimous judgment was that Goldwater's landslide loss to LBJ that November was a disaster for all Republicans, not just conservative Republicans.

But Bill Middendorf would more accurately call his memoir of that year A Glorious Disaster. Out of its ashes and out of the fervent grassroots organizing that delivered Goldwater his unlikely nomination emerged a Republican Party surer of its identity and better positioned to harvest the bounty—particularly in the South—when the American mood shifted to the right during the cacophonous years that followed.

Rick Perlstein is the author, most recently, of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America.


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