The 1968 Election & the Disappearance of Republican Moderates

42%. It’s the percentage of the voting electorate that currently identifies as “independent,” according to a recent Gallup poll, and it’s a number that seems especially just during this polarized political season. One might portend that as this number grudges forward, both Republicans and Democrats would conduct a concerted effort to charm these election-deciding voters. However, the 2016 election and the GOP platform especially represent a complete and total departure from moderation.

The new platform adopted by the Republican National Convention is reported to be the most extreme in history. This comes as a surprise after GOP party leaders showed a willingness to reform and a desire to disband the perception that the GOP doesn’t care about people and doesn’t like or want minorities in the country after the 2012 election. But, indeed, nativism has prevailed as the platform embraces Donald Trump’s approach to immigration and a jingoistic foreign policy underpinned by protectionism atypical to the GOP. Furthermore, the platform’s stance on LGBT issues, abortion, religion, federal land, and much more has veered decidedly to the right, disaffecting the party’s centrist base.

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center is honored to have welcomed Michael A. Cohen, an author, columnist and regular commentator on both national politics and American foreign policy for his undoubtedly captivating lecture on “Nelson Rockefeller, the 1968 Election & the Disappearance of Republican Moderates.” We looked at Rockefeller’s three runs for the White House, with a particular focus on 1968, and examined how Rockefeller’s inability to convince the party’s rank-and-file to support him mirrored the larger decline of Republican moderates as a political force. Together, we traced the stout divisiveness and extremity of today’s politics back to the defeat of Rockefeller and the recession of GOP centrism.

Michael Cohen is a columnist for the Boston Globe and World Politics Review and the U.S Political Correspondent for the London Observer. He is the author of American Maelstrom: The Election of 1968 and the Politics of Division and Live from the Campaign Trail: The Greatest Presidential Campaign Speeches of the 20th Century and How They Shaped Modern America. His work has been featured in publications such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Daily Beast, Politico, Foreign Affairs, the Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, Dissent and many more.  He has also been featured on CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, Good Morning America NOW, Fox News, BBC TV, Al Jazeera, The Brian Lerer Show, To the Point with Warren Olney, Pacifica Radio, Sirius/XM Radio’s POTUS and Wall Street Journal Radio.

Submitted by Taylor Morrell ’19, Rockefeller Center Student Program Assistant for Public Programs

The views and opinions expressed and any materials presented during a public program are the speaker’s own and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Rockefeller Center or constitute an endorsement by the Center.