Twenty years before the "San Francisco Democrats" were reviled with such devastating gusto by Jeane Kirkpatrick, there were the San Francisco Republicans. The Grand Old Party held its 1964 national convention in the cavernous Cow Palace that July. The nominee was Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater. While Barry was no [real-estate developer], the party's path to Cleveland arguably began in San Francisco 52 years ago.
The Republican Party then was still a mass American political party, with conservatives, centrists, and liberals. As the Party of Lincoln, it retained the remnant of decades of support by African-Americans. In 1960, Richard Nixon, with a strong civil rights record and the initial backing of Daddy King, neglected to call Martin Luther King Jr. in jail (John F. Kennedy did), a blunder that some scholars have said cost him the presidency. Even so, Republicans, including conservatives from the Midwest, had been essential to enacting the 1964 Civil Rights Act and, a year later, the Voting Rights Act. Without them, Lyndon Johnson would never have been able to overpower the segregationist Southern wing of his own party.
But Goldwater and his supporters staged a revolution in the run-up to the convention, with conservatives capturing the party machinery for the first time since the 1930s. These were not conservatives such as Ohio Rep. William McCullough, a key leader in passage of the Civil Rights Act. Instead, their lineage went back to the reaction against the New Deal, Sen. Joe McCarthy, and "the paranoid style in American politics," a term coined by the political scientist Richard J. Hofstadter in his famous 1964 essay.
It had received little traction with Republican presidential candidates Wendell Willkie, Thomas Dewey, Dwight Eisenhower, or even anti-communist Dick Nixon. But thanks to William F. Buckley's National Review (founded in 1955) and Goldwater's 1960 book, The Conscience of a Conservative, ghostwritten by Brent Bozell, the movement had received new life. It was conservatism 2.0. Behind its appeal were more than anti-communism, a call for low taxes and smaller government, and the perennial claim of Democratic foreign-policy weakness. A special magnet for many disaffected white voters was the right's opposition to the civil rights gains of the era.