Politico Magazine: Opinion: Richard Norton Smith: Nelson Rockefeller’s Last Stand
To understand Nelson Rockefeller’s politics, you have to first understand the politics of the Republican Party up until 1966-67 or so. When the Republican Party officially moved into a different direction politically and became the official right-wing party in America. That had already started in 1964 with Barry Goldwater’s nomination for president, but the 1966 mid-terms is where it started paying off for the GOP in Congress and with governorships around the country.
See the Republican Party that Nelson fit into, was the GOP of the 1950s with Dwight Eisenhower. Nelson Rockefeller was no Liberal at least he wouldn’t be today. He certainly wasn’t a Bernie Sanders Democratic Socialist or Social Democrat either of course. But he also wasn’t a Rand Paul Tea Party Conservative Libertarian of today, or a Barry Goldwater Conservative Libertarian. If there is such a thing even sixty-years ago, Nelson Rockefeller would’ve been a Progressive Republican. And I mean that in the classical sense.
A classical Progressive in the sense of someone who believes in hard work, education and opportunity for all. A safety net for people who fall though the cracks of the private enterprise system. Someone who believed in rule of law and a tough internationalist foreign policy and national security. But someone who also believed in civil rights and equal rights for everyone. Nelson was to the Left of Franklin Roosevelt on social issues especially civil rights. But not as far to the Left of Franklin on economic policy and who wanted to create the next chapter of the New Deal.
Nelson wanted a safety net for people who truly needed it. Not a welfare state to manage people’s lives for them. And for everyone who was physically and mentally able, which is most of the country, he believed those people should get a good education, work hard and be productive. And then get to enjoy the rewards of their production. That if you were on public assistance because you couldn’t find a good job or not qualified to get a good job, that government could help you finish your education so you can become independent.
The Eisenhower/Rockefeller Progressives were no longer running the Republican Party by 1964. When President Eisenhower left office in 1961, Republicans were looking for a new direction and leadership. Senator Barry Goldwater filled that vacuum for them in 1964 and that is the direction they stuck with until President Ronald Reagan left office in 1989. And because of this there was no longer a base of support for Progressives like Nelson Rockefeller to step up and lead the GOP in that direction. Because they were now outnumbered by Conservatives.