December 2nd, 2019


The 1964 Republican Party Presidential Nomination

I'm reading a new book from the University of Kansas Press Presidential Election series about the 1964 election called Two Suns of the Southwest: Lyndon Johnson, Barry Goldwater, and the 1964 Battle between Liberalism and Conservatism by Nancy Beck Young. While the election ended up with LBJ winning by a landslide (there are no spoiler alerts in US history), I had forgotten about what a dogfight the battle for the Republican Party's Presidential nomination was, and how the Conservative and Liberal elements went head to head for control of the party. Many view it as a turning point in history when the Republicans transitioned from the "party of Lincoln" into its current state.

In 1964, the nation was recovering from the tragic assassination of John F. Kennedy in November of 1963. Lyndon Johnson had succeeded Kennedy and was using all of his skills as the former "master of the Senate" to push through Kennedy's civil rights program, much to the consternation of Democrats from the deep south. Meanwhile, Republicans were a party struggling for an identity, following the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower, a man without a deep ideology other than for a strong role in foreign affairs. The party had been scarred by McCarthyism. Richard Nixon's loss in the 1960 Presidential election, and his subsequent loss in the 1962 race for Governor of California left a void in the leadership of the party.

In 1960 the Republican Party had gained nineteen House seats and two seats in the Senate, but the midterm election of 1962 proved disappointing for the party. It only gained three seats in the U.S. House and lost three in the Senate, leaving the Democrats in control of both houses. At the beginning of 1963 opened, several Republicans were seen as potential presidential candidates. One was New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who had just been re-elected in 1962. Rockefeller met with Republicans in the Midwest in the spring of 1963 to gather support for his candidacy. He was encouraged by the response. Former Governor Goodwin Knight of California opened a Rockefeller campaign office in California, but Rockefeller convinced him to close it on March 29.

Rockefeller's popularity declined when he remarried the much younger Margaretta "Happy" Fitler on May 4 after being divorced the previous year. The Republican Citizens Committee, a caucus of moderate Republicans, decided by July 16 not to support Rockefeller. Undaunted, Rockefeller announced his candidacy and prepared for the first primary, held in New Hampshire. He had the support of that state's former Governor Hugh Gregg.

There were at least four other big name candidates, including conservative Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. Other candidates were United States Ambassador to South Vietnam and 1960 Republican vice-presidential candidate Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., and Governors George Romney of Michigan (father of Mitt Romney) and William Scranton of Pennsylvania. Goldwater headquarters were being informally opened in critical states by mid-1963. He opened an office in Oregon on June 20, and in the summer. By the summer of 1963 he was leading in a number of polls of Republicans.

A conference of western Republicans was held in Eugene, Oregon on October 12, 1963. Both Rockefeller and Goldwater attended. Rockefeller challenged Goldwater to a debate on "how our party can best deal with the vital issues before the American people today." Goldwater refused to debate Rockefeller, stating that believed this would injure party's unity.

Rockefeller began campaigning shortly thereafter. He spent two days in New Hampshire. When New Englander Henry Cabot Lodge declined to enter the New Hampshire primary, things looked good for Rockefeller, because he was concerned that Lodge's entrance would split the liberal Republican vote, resulting in a likely win for Goldwater. On November 7, Rockefeller became the first candidate to officially enter the race.

The assassination of President Kennedy on November 22 resulted in a halt on campaigning. While the campaigns were suspended, former President Dwight Eisenhower called on Lodge to enter the race as a compromise candidate. As the new year began, Goldwater announced his candidacy on January 3, and on the following day, but Lodge was still coy on whether he would run. He publicly renounced the efforts to draft him. Former Vice-President Richard Nixon was still mentioned as a possibility, and so were Governors Scranton and Romney. Harold Stassen entered the race on January 20 but was never much of a factor.

Another interesting candidate was Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, who became the first prominent woman to run for president. But in 1964, the candidacy of a female as president did not attract much support.

In the New Hampshire primary, a poll taken a few weeks before the primary showed that 60% of the Republicans were still undecided. Goldwater spent twenty-one days campaigning continuously in New Hampshire. He campaigned while wearing a cast (he had surgery on his right foot to remove a calcium spur). Lodge was now a candidate and Goldwater believed that moderate Republicans were divided three ways: among Rockefeller, Lodge and Nixon. According to Young, Goldwater was seen as too much of a loose cannon by the cautious New Hampshire Republicans, and in a record turnout they gave Lodge a solid victory with 36% of the vote to 22% for Goldwater, 21% for Rockefeller, and 17% for Nixon.

In the four-week lull after New Hampshire, Goldwater and Rockefeller both worked on trying to win endorsements in various states. Both worked on a Republican volunteer organization in California, where the two were scheduled to appear on the ballot in the primary on June 2. A poll showed Lodge in the lead in the state with 31% to 25% for Goldwater, 21% for Nixon, and just 12% for Rockefeller. Soon thereafter, both Gallup and Harris released polls showing Lodge as the front-runner with Nixon second and Goldwater a poor third. Scranton stated on April 10 that he was not a candidate, thus reducing the field.

Illinois held its primary on April 14. With the state Republican leadership almost solidly behind Goldwater, only Margaret Chase Smith chose to file for the primary against Goldwater. Goldwater defeated Smith 62-25%, Smith's best primary performance. Lodge placed third on write-ins and Nixon fourth. By this point, Goldwater and Rockefeller had gained a number of delegates in non-primary states and the delegate count was Goldwater 159, Rockefeller 90, Lodge 14.

New Jersey voted on April 21. No candidates filed, so all votes were write-ins. Lodge again placed first with 42% to Goldwater 28%, Nixon 22%, and only 8% for all others. Massachusetts and Pennsylvania voted on April 28. No candidate appeared on the ballot in either. On the day before the two primaries, Rockefeller announced that he would call for US air strikes into Laos and Cambodia to help the government of South Vietnam. Lodge won Massachusetts with 77% of the vote to 10% for Goldwater and only 6% for Nixon. Scranton won his home state of Pennsylvania with 52% to Lodge 21%, Nixon 10%, and Goldwater 9%.

Another large chunk of delegates was chosen in the following month when eight states held primaries. Rockefeller attacked Goldwater as irresponsible and extreme, and as someone who would ruin the Republican Party. Rockefeller also claimed that moderate Republicans were dividing their primary votes among Rockefeller, Lodge, and Scranton, thus allowing Goldwater to win many delegates he otherwise would not win. Campaigning in West Virginia, Rockefeller turned his attack on Lodge who he called "a person who isn't there, who says nothing on any issues".

Goldwater spent the early part of the month in the South. He won 75% of the vote in the first Republican presidential primary in Texas. With his gains in a number of southern states, the American Press (AP) estimated that Goldwater had 209 delegates; uncommitted was second with 143 to Scranton 63, Lodge 43, and 55 for others. Rockefeller had not won a single delegate at the time. Four states held mostly uncontested primaries in the following two weeks. Goldwater won Indiana and Nebraska, Rockefeller won West Virginia, and Governor Jim Rhodes won his home state of Ohio.

The Oregon primary was held on May 15. As one of the most important primaries of the year. All candidates spent time trying to win the state. Lodge took the lead in opinion polls, but Rockefeller pressed on, continuing to attack Lodge for not attacking Goldwater. Two days before Oregon voted, a California poll showed Goldwater leading Rockefeller there by 43-27%. The poll was seen as precipitating a critical Rockefeller win in the Oregon primary. Rockefeller placed first with 33%, followed by Lodge with 28%, Goldwater with 18%, and Nixon with 17%.

In the latter half of May, the only contested primary was in Florida, where a slate of uncommitted delegates unexpectedly defeated a Goldwater slate. However, AP estimated on May 24 that Goldwater led with 304 delegates. Scranton was second with 70, followed by Rhodes with 58. Lodge had 44, and Rockefeller had 39. The uncommitted total was 224. T

Goldwater's strategy was to lock up the delegate votes from the South and the West. If he could win California, he would be able to win the presidential nomination on the first ballot. His support in California public opinion polls remained at 43%. Lodge's supporters agreed to join Rockefeller in California in a "stop Goldwater" movement, but the polls showed only a minimal gain for Rockefeller. As the campaign continued, California voters began shifting to Rockefeller, who took the lead in opinion polls in the week before the primary. But Rockefeller's campaign took a hit when on May 30, Margaretta Rockefeller had a baby son. Newspaper coverage included the information that Margaretta had worked on Rockefeller's staff before the two of them divorced their long-time spouses to marry each other. This was not new information, but it was not pub back in the minds of Republican voters.

Just over two million people voted in California's Republican primary.In the end, Goldwater won the California primary by only 3%. But it gained him 86 delegates, just 30 delegates short of a majority. South Dakota chose 14 delegates on the same day as California, but an uncommitted slate defeated a Goldwater slate by a 2:1 margin.

With all primaries held, Senator Goldwater had won 38% of the vote in the primaries. More importantly, his organization's successful work in non-primary states meant that he had 49% of the delegates. Gov. Rockefeller won 22% of the primary vote, 75% of which came from California. Favorite son candidates and unofficial candidates won 40% of the vote, leading the pundits of the day to conclude that Republicans were dissatisfied with their choices.

As the Republican convention approached, Senator Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania started a movement to draft Governor Scranton on June 6. The following day, Scranton stopped to visit former President Eisenhower while on his way to the National Governors Conference in Cleveland and Eisenhower encouraged Scranton to officially enter the race. Scranton did so on June 12. Rockefeller dropped out on June 15 and endorsed Scranton.

In the week between June 7 and June 13, 13 states chose 225 delegates. Many uncommitted delegates began to slowly announce their intentions and on June 9, 16 from Florida announced that they were for Goldwater. Scranton made a swing throughout the nation to speak with as many delegates as possible. He won endorsements in Ohio and Maryland. Michigan's Governor George Romney announced that the state's delegation would meet separately with Goldwater and Scranton before deciding how to vote.

On June 18, Goldwater gave a speech in the senate in which he stated that he would vote against the Civil Rights bill. Senator Kenneth Keating of New York called Goldwater's position was a repudiation of Abraham Lincoln and founding principles of the Republican Party. Governor Scranton criticized Goldwater's position on civil rights and challenged Goldwater to a debate. Goldwater did not take the bait. Scranton purchased a 30-minute time segment on NBC that aired on July 7 in which Scranton spent most of the time discussing attacks from the Goldwater forces.

The 28th Republican National Convention was held in the Cow Palace, San Mateo California, from July 13 to July 16. The 1956 Republican National Convention had been held there. AP polled all delegates and found that Goldwater had a comfortable majority of them, even though a Gallup poll showed Scranton leading Goldwater among nationwide Republicans by a 60-34% margin. Oregon Governor Mark Hatfield then delivered the keynote address. He set out the party's case for defeating President Johnson.

The second day was consumed with speeches and the platform vote. Senator Hugh Scott offered the first amendment at 10:00 p.m., condemning the Ku Klux Klan, the Communist Party, and the John Birch Society. Governor Rockefeller sought to address the convention on this amendment, and Goldwater delegates booed him loudly to drown him out. The convention took a standing vote to defeat the measure. Scott then offered a stronger civil rights plank, which was defeated 897-409. Goldwater supporters voted down several other minor amendments, and at 12:36 a.m., the proposed platform was approved.

On the third day of the convention, the presidential nominations and balloting took place. The roll call followed. Goldwater took the lead with Alabama and never lost it. At the end, Goldwater had 883 votes to just 214 for Scranton, 114 for Rockefeller, and 97 for all others. Most delegates switched their votes to Goldwater. Then Governor Scranton took the stage. He called for the nomination to be made unanimous, calling on his supporters "not to desert our party but to strengthen it."

In his acceptance speech, Goldwater famously said:

"The task of preserving and enlarging freedom at home and of safeguarding it from the forces of tyranny abroad is great enough to challenge all our resources and to re-fire all our strength. Anyone who wants to join us in all sincerity, we welcome. Those who do not care for our cause, we don't expect to enter our ranks in any case. And let our Republicanism, so focused and so dedicated, not be made fuzzy and futile by un-thinking and stupid labels. I would remind you that 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."

Many GOP moderates took offence to Goldwater's speech and many of them would defect to the Democrats in the fall election.