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July 14, 1964 – Republican Convention coverage – NBC Radio/TV – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Convention season is grinding along, and as a reminder it’s been as knock-down and drag-out as ever. But perhaps 1964 was among the most virulent and contentious in 20th century history.
The following is an excerpt from an excellent Masters Thesis on this rather climactic period in our Political history by Christoper Eller in 2017.
“When Republicans gathered at the Cow Palace in San Francisco for their convention beginning July 13, it soon became a convention unlike any other in presidential politics. From a historical perspective, it changed the direction of the Republican Party. Only eight years earlier, Republicans met at the Cow Palace to reelect Dwight Eisenhower, a center-right representative of the power structure. Now, that branch of the party would be laid to rest by the conservatives and the extremists bent on seizing control. Their struggle, between the Northeastern elites and the Midwest conservatives, had raged for years. Candidates like Wilkie and Dewey had reluctantly taken the nomination in years past and time and time again they lost. Even Eisenhower’s unpopularity within the party was muffled by the fact that he won the White House. He had been able to do what no other candidates could do since the onset of the Depression. The convention in San Francisco represented a gateway to a new era, an opportunity to right the wrongs of the past. This was the moment when, after all the begging and pleading, the discipline and unbending devotion paid off. For once, conservatives would have their moment underneath the glow of the television lights from the major networks, and the country would see the new face of the Republican Party.
Hugh Scott came to the podium to propose the extremist amendment, which was applauded by the delegates from the East. Then he introduced Nelson Rockefeller. An applause went up from parts of the crowd. Camera bulbs flashed as Rockefeller raised his arm in acknowledgement. At once, a mixture of clapping and boos competed followed by jeering and horns. The governor pointed and grinned at his cheering section. When the chairman banged his gavel for order, a chant of “We want Barry” came down from the rafters. From his trailer outside the hall where he could see and communicate with his staff positioned inside, Clif White pushed a button to radio his men on the convention floor, demanding that they quiet their delegates. White radioed that they should not boo or appear unseemly, but the delegate were not making the noise. The chanting came from the people in the stands. Rockefeller began his speech by supporting the extremist amendment with everyone in the building at full attention to see what would happen next. “The time has come for the Republican Party to face this issue realistically and take decisive action.” After each sentence, a hail of cheers and jeers rained down on him. Each time he spoke, Rockefeller paused and looked out into the crow before making his move, “It is essential that this Convention repudiate here and now any doctrinaire, militant minority, whether Communist, Ku Klux Klan or Bircher which would subvert this party to purposes alien to the very basic tenets which gave this party birth.” The crowd screeched in anger and discontent, but he continued by warning that “the Republican Party is in real danger of subversion by a radical, well-financed and highly disciplined minority.” Rockefeller and the other moderates were trying to embarrass Goldwater. There were at least ten delegates who were members of the John Birch Society there in the hall. If Goldwater agreed to the amendment, then he would have to reject them. If he disagreed, then it might look like he supported communists or the Ku Klux Klan. A smile ran across Rockefeller’s face. Rockefeller continued to poke and jab at the hostile audience, using words like “liberalism,” “middle course,” and “mainstream” to describe the kind of party that he believed Republicans represented. Members of the audience begged to differ. “During this year, I have crisscrossed this nation fighting for those principles, fighting to keep the Republican party of all the people – and warning of the extremist threat, its danger to the party.” At this moment the chants of “we want Barry” became so overwhelming that he stopped his speech. Again, the chairman banged his gavel to bring order. Anyone watching on television could hear the two men at the microphone bickering about quieting the crowd and keeping the remarks to five minutes in length. After order was restored, Rockefeller began again. With each comment, he riled up the crowd further, goading them into behaving as exactly the kind of extremist reactionaries that the liberals believed them to be. As they yelled in defiance, he unmasked the ugly truth to the cameras, “This is still a free country, ladies and gentlemen. These things have no place in America. But I can personally testify to their existence,” his voice firm and steady, “and so can countless others who have also experienced anonymous midnight and early morning telephone calls, unsigned threatening letters, smear and hate literature, strongarm and goon tactics, bomb threats and bombings, infiltration and take-over of established political organizations by communist and Nazi methods. Some of you don’t like to hear it, ladies and gentlemen, but it’s the truth.” He stood before them with moxie and poise determined to make his point. If it looked self-serving, that would be all right with him if it also meant exposing the opposition in front of the cameras. Rockefeller appeared like a man calling for civility when the audience wanted to wander in the darkness. It was a career defining moment for him. Towards the end of his brief speech Rockefeller gathered momentum for a final attack, “There is no place in this Republican Party for those who would infiltrate its ranks, distort its aims, and convert it into a cloak of apparent respectability for a dangerous extremism.” The crowd rocked in their seats hardly able to control their emotions. Then with an emphatic denunciation, “And make no mistake about it – the hidden members of the John Birch Society and others like them are out to do just that!” Audience members yelled and screamed with great fury. Hammering away, he pummeled them again, “These people have nothing in common with Republicanism. These people have nothing in common with Americans.” With one final wallop he struck his last blow, “The Republican Party must repudiate these people!” The crowd had booed and catcalled mercilessly throughout, but he withstood their indignation and vitriol. It was a magnificent performance captured on every major network. When he walked down the stairs from the platform, he walked away having given his all to roll back the tide of extremism.”
Here is Nelson Rockefeller’s address, as it happened on July 14, 1964.