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Goldwater at press conference
Goldwater at a press conference, 1974.
Photo: National Archives

The Conservative Progression: Goldwater to Bush

"Sometimes I think this country would be better off if we could just saw off the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea."
Barry Goldwater, 1961

"What is 'new' about the new conservatives is their militant mood, their appearance on picket lines. "
Tom Hayden, 1961

At the start of the '60s, two factions vie for control of the Republican Party: a liberal faction based in New England, and a new conservative element in the West and Southeast. The new conservative ideology is molded by commentary in the National Review, a political magazine founded in 1955 by William F. Buckley, Jr. (a.k.a., The Godfather of Modern American Conservatism).

In 1960, Buckley hosts the first meeting of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) at his estate in Sharon, Connecticut. The meeting yields the Sharon Statement, a conservative statement of principles (preceding the liberal SDS Port Huron Statement by 2 years).

In 1964, Sen. Barry Goldwater wins the Republican Party nomination, thanks in part to active support by the YAF. By defeating Nelson Rockefeller, champion of the Northeast Republicans, Goldwater effectively neutralizes the liberal faction.

On election night, Goldwater loses by a landslide—but wins in the Deep South, a Democratic stronghold. And four years later, Nixon wins more of the South, reaping the white backlash against Democratic support for civil rights.

At the same time, populations in the South and Southwest are growing rapidly. These regions are historically Republican, and new arrivals adopt local political attitudes.

In 1968, Richard Nixon gets the Republican nomination, but only by partnering with the growing New Right. During the campaign, some political observers suggest that Southern whites, and growth in the Sun Belt, could drive a lasting Republican realignment, even as the "Rockefeller Republicans" wane.

Conservative Watershed Elections
1964Goldwater wins Party nomination
1980Republican Reagan wins Presidency
1994GOP gains control of House & Senate
2000Republican President & Congress

The Rise of the Right

During the '70s, the New Right tightens its grip on the Party base, converts former Democrats in the South, and welcomes evangelical and fundamentalist Christians drawn into politics by "anti-religion" Supreme Court rulings.

The 1980 election puts Ronald Reagan in the White House, and also delivers Republican control of the U.S. Senate. The "Reagan Revolution" establishes a conservative influence that continues in the 21st century.

The Republican Revolution

In 1994, Newt Gingrich promotes his Contract With America, a list of campaign promises endorsed by Republican candidates. The '94 election adds 54 Republican seats to the House. For the first time in 40 years, Republicans control both houses of Congress. TIME names Gingrich their 1995 Man of the Year.

The ultimate New Right victory, control of both the Presidency and Congress, is achieved in 2000.
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