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Exculpating the Republican Party, 1960s Edition

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One thing that many people “know” about the 1964 Republican presidential nomination is that Nelson Rockefeller lost, despite being a frontrunner, because of his marriage to the late Happy Murphy. One obvious problem with the narrative is that if the rejection of Rockefeller was based on “character” reasons, the support should logically have gone to ideologically similar candidates like Romney or Hatfield. Instead, it went to Goldwater. This is because more important than his affair and marriage was that he was a liberal on civil rights:

The day before the Rockefeller wedding, and the day after Birmingham exploded, Joseph Alsop of the Washington Post, one of the era’s leading pundits, concluded that “Rockefeller’s heaviest single handicap” was his aggressive and consistent liberal record on race. This was especially true after Birmingham, which shocked the nation and convinced many in the Republican Party that they needed to stay far away from the controversial issue of civil rights. Alsop noted that Rockefeller’s strength as a candidate was a concern among party professionals, who believed his nomination would forfeit all support from southern states—and a fair amount of support in other regions, too, for that matter—in the general election. A remarriage, in Alsop’s opinion, would give some Republicans cause to rethink Rockefeller’s nomination and to reconsider Goldwater, who, they believed, could successfully carry every southern and border state. While nominating Goldwater would most likely mean losing the urban North, some Republicans preferred to take that chance.

If we’re going to pretend that Rockefeller getting steamrolled by Goldwater was about something other than his ideology being too liberal for Republicans in 1964, I’d prefer that we cite his fascist architectural tastes and leave poor Happy alone…

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