The 1964 Republican National Convention was nearly a mirror image of what’s going on in Cleveland this week, but in some ways, it was so much worse.
It was nearly 10 p.m. on July 14 when Nelson Rockefeller took the podium at the Republican National Convention at the Cow Palace on the suburban edge of San Francisco. The New York governor and scion of one of America’s richest families represented the now entirely extinct liberal wing of the GOP, and the dying-off started that year, if not that very night.
[jump] Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater rode the anger of republican outsiders pissed off about the welfare state and the Civil Rights Act to the party’s nomination that year. Rockefeller voted for the Civil Rights Act, and was part of the Eastern establishment that grassroots republicans wanted to stick it to. When Rockefeller stood up to denounce extremism, he was trolling Goldwater’s supporters big time.
“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,” Rockefeller said.
Goldwater delegates countered by banging on metal chairs and chanting “We want Barry!” They weren’t going to let some effete East Coast snob badmouth Klansmen and Birchers that way and get away with it. Goldwater was counting on these people, even if he did so with a wink and a nod.
“The venom of the booing and the hatred in peoples’ eyes was really quite stunning,” Rockefeller aid Doug Bailey recalled. “I remember I was standing next to an officer from the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, who was there to keep the peace, and there he was, with his pistol unsheathed, booing along with everyone else.”
“I couldn’t dare take my eyes off that guy, because I had no idea what he was going to do,” Bailey later added. John F. Kennedy had been assassinated only months earlier.
“I felt like I was in Nazi Germany,” Tanya Melich, then a research director for ABC, said. “It was really scary.”
Rockefeller was nearly booed off the stage (sound familiar?), but hung in there to deliver his closing line.
“I move the adoption of this resolution,” Rockefeller said, simply.
The atmosphere at the convention grew so bad for republicans who cared about things like civil rights and helping poor people that Michigan Governor George Romney stormed out of the Cow Palace, dragging his 17-year old son Mitt with him. The New York delegation also up and left.
And things got a lot worse at the 1964 con than just booing the shit out of Rockefeller for daring to utter the phrase “Republican liberalism.” A year later, former President Dwight Eisenhower revealed that his niece was “molested” on the floor of the Cow Palace.
“I saw my own niece run to me with tears in her eyes because she was molested on the floor where she had a minor job,” Ike recalled in a speech given to the Republican National Committee in 1965.
According to a UPI report, Ike’s niece was accosted by a couple of drunks and chased out of the Cow Palace. She ran to a trailer where her uncle was waiting to make a speech before the delegates. She was “considerably upset” according to UPI’s sources. Eisenhower’s niece was identified in the press as “the daughter of Mrs. G. Gordon Moore, Eisenhower’s sister.”
Today, we’d call this sexual assault, or sexual harassment at the very least, although the lack of consequences for the molester delegates would probably still be chalked up to a boys being boys or a few bad apples. While it will be tempting to see whatever the hell is going on in Cleveland this week as something new, we’ve been down this road before.