The Ever-Shrinking Middle Ground: Nelson Rockefeller in the Face of Reaganism

by Todd Holmes

Jan 1, 2011
The chants of "We Want Barry" echoed throughout San Francisco's Cow Palace arena on the afternoon of July 14, 1964, searing the evident shift among the delegates of the National Republican Convention as much as the hopes of the New York governor who stood before them. Just a few years earlier, Nelson A. Rockefeller (NAR) was considered the unquestionable frontrunner for the 1964 GOP nomination. By that July afternoon, however, he resided in the crosshairs of the conservative Right, attempting to issue a formal repudiation of extremist elements that were "wholly alien to the broad middle course" of "mainstream" Republicanism. The rightward drift of the party could not have been clearer to Rockefeller. For amid the interrupting chants of "We Want Barry," he undoubtedly realized that the moderate Republicanism he had championed in his public career now stood as isolated as the podium he clung to. Barry Goldwater's defeat at the hands of Lyndon Johnson four months later offered little vindication for the New York governor. Within a year, new political chants would arise in California that further propelled the wave of polarization in the GOP. Such chants were neither from the Right nor directly associated with the heated issues of civil rights, Vietnam, or student protests. Rather they were the chants of "Huelga" (strike) led by Cesar Chavez and 2 encompassing a new political issue that would ultimately split the business-labor coalition of Rockefeller's middle-ground: grapes.
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