Lesson Plan

1964 Republican Convention: Chaos & Conservatism


This six-minute video introduces students to the “civil war” between the Republican Party’s moderates and conservatives that led to one of the most raucous conventions in American political history. After disciplined and combative conservative forces successfully nominated Senator Barry Goldwater, the party’s moderates sabotaged their own nominee at the convention, virtually ensuring President Lyndon Johnson’s landslide victory in November. Vividly illustrating both the electoral high-water mark of American liberalism, as well as the birth of modern conservatism, the video is useful for lessons covering the 1964 election, the rise of the conservative movement, or the political context of the Great Society.


Students will:

  • Analyze and assess the causes and consequences of the division within the Republican Party’s conservative and moderate wings.
  • Summarize, compare and contrast, and draw logical inferences from primary source documents regarding the 1964 Republican Party presidential nominating convention and general election.
  • Collaborate with peers in pairs and/or small groups to discuss, analyze, and assess text and visual primary source documents.
  • Develop a position and present a viewpoint based on historical evidence.
  • Social Studies
  • Civics & Government
  • U.S. History
  • AP U.S. Government & Politics
  • Civil Rights
  • Campaigns and Elections
  • Lyndon Johnson
  • Political Parties
  • 1960s America
For Teachers

Introducing the Lesson

The 1964 presidential campaign initiated several trends that carried beyond that election. The race between Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater produced a significant switch in both Northern and Southern party loyalties. The results pushed Democrats to the left and created the modern conservative G.O.P. that took a significant step to the right with Goldwater. Both campaigns made polished, vicious negative advertising the campaign tool of first resort and showed the collective power of ideologically driven, broad-based grassroots organizers and small donors.

During his first months in the White House, Lyndon Johnson channeled the wave of emotion that swept over the nation in the wake of Kennedy’s assassination. The former Senate majority leader’s legislative skills and dominant style quickly produced the Civil Rights Act, a vision for a war on poverty, plus drawing-board proposals for many other expansions of the federal government’s role.

The war on the Republican side wasn’t against poverty but rather the liberal Republican “Eastern establishment” that had been competing with the Midwestern and Sun Belt right wing for some time. Goldwater’s plain-spoken, small-government rhetoric whipped up the conservative faithful into a frenzied state. While winning the nomination, Goldwater dispatched heavyweights such as New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and Pennsylvania Gov. William Scranton, among others. The San Francisco Republican National Convention in July 1964 thus became a harbinger for both the short team defeat of the G.O.P. and the long-term creation of a conservative modern Republican Party.

Essential Questions

  • To what extent did the presidential election of 1964 reflect and reveal the deep ideological differences within the Republican Party?
  • To what extent did the campaign rhetoric by conservative and liberal party leaders help or hinder the prospect for Republican victory in the 1964 presidential election?
  • To what extent did the presidential nomination of Barry Goldwater in 1964 ignite and influence the subsequent development of conservative dominance in the Republican Party?
  • Despite his landslide loss in the presidential election, to what extent did Barry Goldwater bring the “far right” political ideas and positions to the mainstream within the Republican Party?

Additional Resources

Transcript for "Lessons From the 1964 Republican Convention: Declaring War on the Establishment"Retro Report 
Goldwater’s 1964 Acceptance Speech (excepts)The Washington Post 
Ronald Reagan’s speech “A Time For Choosing,” October 27,1964The University of Virginia Miller Center 
Excerpt from the speech George Romney delivered to GOP delegates at the 1964 conventionCBS News 
Excerpt from former President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s address to the Republican National Convention in San Francisco, July 15,1964 The New York Times 
Political Cartoon: Jules Feiffer,” Why Can’t there Be”Indiana University Bloomington 
Political Cartoon: Edmund Valtman, “Goldwater Republicanism or Rockefeller Republicanism”Library of Congress 
Political Cartoon: Bill Mauldin, "Is He Leaning on It or Holding it Up?"Indiana University Bloomington 
Political Cartoon: Bill Mauldin, “And How Would You Describe Your Domestic Policy, Sen. Goldwater”Indiana University Bloomington 
Political Cartoon: Bill Mauldin, “Mixer”Pritzker Military Museum & Library 
Political Cartoon: Bill Mauldin, “Eh? Wha’s that? speak up!” Pritzker Military Museum & Library 
Political Cartoon: Scott Long,” Now Put One Foot Behind the Other”Indiana University Bloomington 
Political Cartoon: Scott Long, “Honest Abe, It’s Better This Way”Indiana University Bloomington 
Political Cartoon: Bill Mauldin, “Mixer”Pritzker Military Museum & Library 
P​olitical Cartoon: Tom Engelhardt, “A Choice to Echo Through History”The State Historical Society of Missouri 
Political Cartoon: Tom Engelhardt, “Hi-Yo, Silver, Awa-a-a-a-y”The State Historical Society of Missouri 
Political Cartoon: Tom Engelhardt, “Why Not Victory Through Airpower?”The State Historical Society of Missouri 
Political Cartoon: Tom Engelhardt, “At Last, You Lucky People Have a Choice”The State Historical Society of Missouri 

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).

Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.

Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

Analyze how historical contexts shaped and continue to shape people’s perspectives.

Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts.

Construct arguments using claims and evidence from multiple sources, while acknowledging the strengths and limitations of the arguments.

Gather relevant information from multiple sources while using the origin, authority, structure, context, and corroborative value of the sources to guide the selection.

Explain how supporting questions contribute to an inquiry and how, through engaging source work, new compelling and supporting questions emerge.

Skill 1.B: Explain a historical process.

Theme 5: Politics and Power (PCE)

Topic 5.3: Political Parties
Topic 5.8: Electing a President
Topic 5.9: Congressional Elections
Topic 5.10: Modern Campaigns

Questions? Tips? Concerns? Reach out to our Director of Education, David Olson: dolson@retroreport.com