Fast forward 8 years and the group of right-wing ideologues and reactionaries who assembled in The Cow Palace would be instantly recognizable to any of us as the forefathers of the contemporary Republican Party. If there is a year zero for the vast conservative regression that has consumed the GOP and rendered null and void anything approaching bipartisan compromise in Washington, it would be 1964. It was in this year that the Republican Party nominated Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona as their candidate for President, opening up a Pandora’s box of zealotry and unreason that not even Mr. Conservative himself would be able to stop in the years to come. At the time, Goldwater and his rabid following full of John Birchers and budding Reaganites were seen by the national press and much of the political world as a dangerous aberration—an accident of electoral politics that was doomed to failure and repudiation by an American public that would never endorse such brazenly bigoted and anti-labor views.

Up until the Republican National Convention in 1964, many political observers and members of the media thought that Goldwater would soften around the edges and begin gravitating closer to the center. Aside from his narrow victory in California over New York Governor and progressive Republican leader Nelson Rockefeller, the primary season had been a disaster for Goldwater, as he came across to many as a trigger-happy extremist who was categorically unfit for the Presidency of the United States. During the campaign’s opening salvo in New Hampshire, Goldwater’s foot took up permanent residency in his mouth, advocating that Social Security be made voluntary and speaking openly of how it would have been propitious for America to have dropped low-yield atomic weapons over North Vietnam 10 years earlier to defoliate the trees. When a student asked him if he believed government should care for the poor, Goldwater responded by asking if the student knew of anyone who was in need, but not receiving help. The student told Goldwater that yes, he did, and the Arizona Senator shot back at him, “Then why don’t you try to help him out, why don’t you do what you’re supposed to do?”(1)