Nelson Rockefeller, was a politician without a national political party in the 1960s and 70s. Because he was an economic Progressive in a party that was moving right on economic policy. And Republicans were moving far away from progressive big government social and economic programs. Especially ones that were centralized at the Federal level. And were looking for politicians that were in favor shrinking the Federal Government and decentralizing power at the Federal level and giving more power to the states and individuals.
Nelson, was essentially a FDR New Deal Progressive Republican, but who was also a Federalist. Someone who believed in public infrastructure, public education, aid to the poor. But who was also a Federalist and wanted these social investments run at the state and local levels. Who was also a big believer in a strong defense and law enforcement and tough law enforcement, as well as equal rights. Who was more of a Progressive on economic policy and equal rights and even national defense. Who was able to win as a Republican, because he was a Northeastern Republican that had a strong Progressive faction, even into the 1960s.
And this debate or discussion about civil rights in the Republican Party in 1960s, is the perfect example of what type of party they were back then. You had the Progressive-Federalists, led by Nelson and others. But you also had a growing Conservative-Libertarian wing, led by Senator Barry Goldwater and other Republicans in Congress. That were strong economic Conservatives and didn’t want big government in people’s personal lives either. But were such believers in property rights that they believed that individuals had the right to deny service people even based on race. And Vice President Richard Nixon, trying to please both factions.