| A guide to|
|Hail to the Chief?|
|Persons of interest|
“”I have just one purpose, and that is to build up a strong progressive Republican Party in this country. If the right-wing wants a fight, they are going to get it... before I end up, either this Republican Party will reflect progressivism or I won't be with them anymore.
Rockefeller Republican (named after former New York Governor and Ford's Vice President Nelson Rockefeller of the Rockefeller family) was a euphemism used to describe members of the moderate wing of the Republican Party. They were the dominant force in the party from the end of World War II until 1964, when the party's conservative elements backed Barry Goldwater for President and did lasting damage to its influence, but remained a powerful wing of the GOP until the late '70s and the ascendancy of Ronald Reagan.
During the New Deal Era, Rockefeller Republicans were geographically concentrated on the East Coast mostly in New York and Pennsylvania. This group of Republicans were nicknamed "The Eastern Establishment" by Movement Conservatives at the height of their power. On most issues they were usually Center-Right to Moderate Conservative when it came to economic issues, Socially Moderate-to-Center Left on social issues, and center-right on foreign policy. Economically they were opposed to government ownership of businesses and Socialism, but supported the New Deal as the ideal form of capitalism in the United States. This is because they supported policies such as moderate regulations on businesses, investing in public infrastructure, supporting the rights of labor unions, and raising the minimum wage. Rockefeller Republicans always dressed their support of the New Deal/Fair Deal/Great Society with "We would like to, uhh, change it, you know?" While they believed in balanced budgets like Goldwater/Reagan Republicans they also believed in investing in education, healthcare, and infrastructure, supporting low-cost public universities and the Interstate Highway System as a way to supply businesses with an educated workforce and modern highways to bolster their growth. Many Rockefeller Republicans came from business and Wall Street, since many of their ranks came from the worlds of business and finance.
While running for office Rockefeller Republicans would contrast themselves with the Democratic Party by styling themselves as the party of "good governance" in contrast to the often corrupt (and often Democratic) political machines of the big cities; they were a "protest vote" in urban areas and often came in as reformers once in office. When it came to social issues like the Civil Rights and feminist movements, they vehemently rejected Social Conservatives like Barry Goldwater and Jesse Helms because they were social liberals with a Very Serious People lens. During the 1964 and 1968 Republican Party primaries, they often ran against the movement social conservatives to expand the Republican Party's base to more minorities. That is why, for example, Gerald Ford wanted someone like Rockefeller as vice president, because he was more socially liberal then Ford. Despite their social liberal views on issues like civil rights and feminism, they were often moderate conservatives on criminal justice issues. This is because, for example, during his 15 years as governor, Nelson Rockefeller doubled the size of New York state police and implemented many harsh laws like the "Rockefeller Drug Laws". While they tended to have Very Serious People views on the social issues of their day, they tended to be more realist in foreign policy.
During the Cold War, they tended to support a realist foreign policy along with espousing internationalist policies that supported international institutions to promote American business interests abroad. Most wanted to use the power of the United States in cooperation with allies to fight against the spread of Soviet communism and help American business expand abroad. They tended to support alliances like NATO and SEATO, along with international foreign aid programs like the Marshall Plan to increase cooperation against the Soviet Union. They tended to be opposed to the liberal internationalism of Woodrow Wilson, but they also tended to be opposed to the isolationism of the paleoconservative old right led by Robert Taft. Throughout the Cold War they were fierce Cold Warriors, but not like Douglas McArthur or Henry Scoop Jackson. This is because Dwight Eisenhower warned of the potential problems of a large military-industrial complex, and Richard Nixon wanted to end the Vietnam War "with honor".
List of historical Rockefeller Republicans
- George AIken. Leader of the Liberal Republican wing in the Senate alongside Jacob Javitts, Aiken was a Senator from Vermont. Aiken supported the Full Employment Act of 1946, sponsored the food allotment bill of 1945, promoted federal aid to education, was pro-civil rights, and favored a minimum wage of 65 cents in 1947. In regards to foreign policy Aiken was an isolationist in 1941 but supported the Truman Doctrine in 1947, and the Marshall Plan in 1948.
- John B. Anderson, Illinois Congressman who found Reagan too conservative for his tastes and ran in 1980 as an independent candidate for president. Anderson won over 6% of the vote, not bad for an independent not running on a party ticket. This would be the last major backlash from the liberals in the GOP against the conservatives who soon after took complete control of the party.
- Senator Howard Baker. The GOP's Senate Majority Leader in the early 1980s alongside being Ronald Reagan's Chief of Staff. The first Republican elected in Tennessee since Reconstruction, Baker was known as a relatively Moderate Conservative like Bob Dole. Baker was the first Republican to be elected to the US Senate in Tennessee since the Reconstruction era. During his time in the Senate he was known as the "Great Conciliator" due to being one of the most successful senators in regards to brokering compromises, enacting legislation, and maintaining civility. Baker also had a key role in passing the Clean Air Act of 1970 alongside Edmund Muskie, and was generally in favor of most civil rights legislation.
- William Borah. Senator from Idaho. Was a Centrist in the context of the Progressive Era. While he favored most of President Theodore Roosevelt's Square Deal and New Nationalism policies, he was opposed to Teddy running for a third term. In the 1930s Borah often tried to split the difference between the two parties in regards to economic policies, thereby making him a Rockefeller Republican.
- Edward Brooke, Massachusetts Senator from 1967-1979. The first African-American Senator elected since Reconstruction, Brooke drew Nixon's ire for opposing his nomination of segregationist G. Harrold Carswell to the Supreme Court. He also supported the Equal Rights Amendment and was an early proponent of gay rights.
- Clifford P. Case: Senator from New Jersey who was in office from 1955-1979. Case frequently received the endorsement of organizations such as Americans for Democratic Action, voted in favor of various civil rights measures, was a strong supporter of the labor movement, and was endorsed by both Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. He called his political philosophy "Middle-of-the-Road Progressivism".
- John Chafee. Lincoln Chafee's father who was a former Senator of Rhode Island. During Chafee's time in office he supported the Clean Water Act of 1986, and the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act. While he was mostly focused on environmental legislation Chafee also took a Moderate-to-Liberal stance on budgets, civil liberties, civil rights, foreign policy, gun control, labor unions, public assistance. When it came to social issues Chafee opposed the death penalty, school prayer, and the ban on homosexuals serving in the military.
- Lincoln Chafee. During his time as Senator Chafee voted against the Bush tax cuts, the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, and the Constitutional amendment to ban Gay Marriage. He endorsed George HW Bush in 2004, Barack Obama in 2008, Hilary Clinton in 2016, and ran as a Libertarian in 2020.
- Ed Clark, Libertarian Party presidential candidate for the 1980 presidential election. Was opposed to most of Ronald Reagan's foreign policy, but was a Centrist on most other issues. Described himself as a "Low-Tax Liberal".
- William Cohen. Bill Clinton's second defense secretary. Was more dovish than Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who he frequently clashed with.
- Silvio Conte: Representative from Maryland who voted for strong environmental legislation, voted against the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and protested against pork-barrel spending.
- Thomas Dewey (of "Dewey Defeats Truman" infamy). Dewey was Rockefeller's predecessor both as Governor of New York and the leading figure of the party's moderate wing.
- Everett Dirksen. Senator from Illinois who was the leader of the Republican Party when the Civil Rights Act was passed. Helped to break the filibuster of the Southern senators in Congress to pass the various civil rights acts, and favored Dwight Eisenhower's foreign policy.
- Bob Dole, conservative who leaned moderate and was picked by Ford for VP in the 1976 race to appease both the moderate and Reagan crowd. Bob Dole would like you to know Bob Dole is on here too. (Notably before 1996.)
- John Foster Dulles. Senator from New York, who was Thomas Dewey's foreign policy adviser in both the 1944 and 1948 presidential elections.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower
- Paul Findley. Anti-war activist, Cofounder of Center for the National Interest, Critic of America's foreign policy in the Middle East in regards to the Israel-Palestine Conflict, pro-civil liberties, pro-civil rights, pro-fiscal responsibility, pro-healthcare reform, pro-New Deal/Great Society, pro-public housing, and pro-social programs.
- Charles Evan Hughes. Former governor of New York, and former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. During his time as governor of New York, Hughes implemented several progressive reforms who was endorsed by Theodore Roosevelt. During the New Deal Era, he was often a Centrist who split the difference between the Liberal "Three Musketeers" and the Conservative "Four Horsemen".
- Robert M. Lafollete JR: The son of the Progressive Party presidential candidate Robert M. La Follete. Favored most of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal policies and Harry S. Truman's Fair Deal polices, but opposed both of their foreign policies.
- Gerald Ford
- Charles Goodell, New York Senator from 1968-1971. A vocal opponent of the Vietnam War, he was targeted by Nixon for defeat in 1970; he ultimately lost to the Conservative Party's James Buckley (brother of William F. Buckley).
- Mark Hatfield, governor of Oregon from 1959-1967 and senator from Oregon from 1967-1997, was considered too liberal for most Republicans and was rejected by Nixon over Spiro Agnew for Vice President. With Democrat George McGovern (Nixon's future opponent in 1972) he sponsored the Hatfield-McGovern Amendment to end the Vietnam War. It would have cut off all funding to the war effort by the end of 1971. Unsurprisingly, this failed.
- Margaret M. Heckler. Ronald Reagan's Health and Human Services Secretary, she often voted in line with Liberal Republicans such as Silvio Conte and Charles Mathias.
- Jacob Javits. U.S. Representative and a U.S. Senator and attorney from New York. According to one methodology, he is considered the most left-wing Republican in the house from 1937-2002.
- Nancy Kassebaum. Senator from Kansas and daughter of Alf Landon who focused on passing bipartisan legislation. Kassebaum was heavily considered by George HW Bush to be his running mate in order to replace Dan Quale, and passed the Kennedy-Kassebaum Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. She was considered a moderate-to-liberal republican by the general public, although Kassebaum was placed by govtrack us as more Conservative than Republicans such as Lowell Weicker.
- Jack Kemp, football player turned New York Congressman, George H.W. Bush's HUD Secretary and Bob Dole's running mate in 1996. While a staunch champion of supply side economics, he was consistently liberal on racial issues, especially affirmative action and immigration reform. This led Kemp's fellow Republicans to brand him "the bleeding heart conservative."
- Henry Kissinger was Rockefeller's foreign policy adviser until Nixon recruited him away with an offer as National Security Adviser. Kissinger voted for Rockefeller over Nixon in the 1960 and 1968 primaries.
- William Lemke. Representative from North Dakota. A Progressive populist who was a moderate supporter of the New Deal. Lemke championing the causes of family farmers, and often co-sponsored legislation to protect farmers against foreclosures during the Great Depression. Lemke co-sponsored the Frazier–Lemke Farm Bankruptcy Act, and often formed alliances with Populists such as Father Charles Coughlin and Huey Long.
- John Lindsay, Mayor of New York City from 1966-1973. The original limousine liberal, Lindsay became a Democrat for his quixotic Presidential bid in 1972.
- Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., Senator from Massachusetts, Eisenhower's UN Ambassador and later John F. Kennedy's Ambassador to South Vietnam. Also, Nixon's gaffe-prone running mate in 1960 and Chief Negotiator to the Paris Peace talks with North Vietnam after 1968.
- Pete McCloskey, California Congressman from 1967-1983. A vocal critic of Vietnam, he challenged Nixon's reelection in 1972 and was the first Republican to call for Nixon's impeachment. He also derailed Pat Robertson's presidential bid in 1988 by exposing Robertson's wartime "heroics" as a fraud.
- George W. Norris. A leader of Liberal/Progressive causes in Congress, Norris is most famous for sponsoring the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933 during the Great Depression. During the Great Depression he became known for his intense crusades against what he characterized as "wrong and evil", his liberalism, his insurgency against party leaders, his non-interventionist foreign policy, and his support for labor unions.
- Charles H. Percy, Senator from Illinois from 1967-1985. First gained prominence as an advocate for low-income housing and remained extremely liberal on racial issues throughout his career.
- Larry Pressler. Former Senator from South Dakota. Supported various civil rights initiatives while in the Senate, pro-veterans benefits, voted for George W. Bush in 2000, voted for John Kerry in 2004, voted for Barack Obama twice, and voted for Hilary Clinton in 2016.
- Nelson Rockefeller.[citation NOT needed]
- George Romney, Governor of Michigan from 1963-1969 and Nixon's HUD Secretary, known for his devotion to civil rights. His 1968 presidential bid was upended by his criticism of the Vietnam War, specifically his comment that he'd been "brainwashed" by military and diplomatic officials about the war.
- Richard Schweiker, Pennsylvania Senator from 1969-1981; in 1976 Ronald Reagan offered the Vice Presidency to Schweiker in a bid to win the Pennsylvania delegation away from incumbent Gerald Ford, and create a liberal-conservative east-west Republican coalition; Schweiker later took the liberal panty-waist position of Secretary of Health and Human Services under Reagan which Reagan took a meat-axe to.
- Hugh Scott, Senator from Pennsylvania from 1959-1977. Pretty much the archetypical Rockefeller Republican: pro-civil rights, pro-public housing, anti-Nixon, hawkish on foreign policy, a critic of the Vietnam War.
- William Scranton, Governor of Pennsylvania from 1963-1967 who challenged Barry Goldwater's nomination in 1964. Later chaired the Scranton Commission to investigate the Kent State shootings and served as Ford's UN Ambassador.
- Margaret Chase Smith, Senator from Maine best-known as the first Republican to publicly denounce Joe McCarthy. She was also the first woman to campaign for a major party's presidential nomination in 1964.
- Arlen Specter, late Senator from Pennsylvania who was one of the last remaining moderates in the party during the 1980s-2000s. Specter actually began his career as a Democrat, but in 1965 he became a Republican to run for Philadelphia District Attorney, due to the city's Democratic machine declining to endorse him. Amusingly enough, he switched back to the Democratic party in 2009 due to his fear of losing a primary challenge from the right by Pat Toomey, a turn of events that likely signaled the final collapse of the "Moderate Republican" as an electorally viable position.
- Harold Stassen. Before becoming a perennial presidential candidate, Stassen was a progressive Governor of Minnesota, a signatory of the United Nations Charter and an aide to Eisenhower.
- Arthur Vandeberg. Senator from Michigan. Voted for most of Harry S. Truman's foreign policy initiatives, represented the Liberal Internationalist wing of the Republican Party. He also voted for various New Deal/Fair Deals, civil rights measures, and social security.
- Stephen M. Walt. One of the founders of the International Relations theory of Neorealism, according to Walt himself he was once a registered Republican who is now an independent. Walt is anti-NATO Expansion, anti-regime change war, pro-balancing the budget, pro-combating climate change, pro-ending regime change wars, pro-international institutions like the UN, and pro-social safety net programs.
- Earl Warren, Supreme Court Chief Justice from 1953-1969, following four terms as California Governor. In California, his administration implemented New Deal-style programs which made him one of the most popular governors ever there. As Chief Justice, he oversaw sweeping civil rights reforms as a result of the Court's continuous rulings striking down segregation laws.
- Wendell Willkie, Indiana businessman, economist and 1940 Presidential candidate. He won the Republican nomination during a brokered convention; he endorsed intervention in World War II when most Republicans remained isolationist, and became an Ambassador-at-large for FDR after the election.
- Lowell Weicker, former Senator & Governor of Connecticut who is probably best-remembered for his role on the Senate Watergate committee. Ironically, his Democratic opponent for the 1988 Senate race, Joe Lieberman, defeated Weicker by running to the right of him. Weicker subsequently abandoned the GOP and won election as Governor as an Independent.
- Larry Wilkerson. Colin Powell's former Chief of Staff, Wilkerson could be viewed as one of the last genuine Rockefeller Republicans alongside Powell himself. Wilkerson is anti-Neoconservatism and anti-Neoliberalism when it comes to foreign policy, moderate on economic issues, and moderate on social issues. Endorsed Wesley Clark in the 2004 Democratic Presidential Primary election, Jim Webb for the 2006 Virginia Senate race, Barack Obama instead of John McCain in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, voting for Hilary Clinton in 2016, and was willing to give advice to Bernie Sanders in 2020 due to agreeing with his views on foreign policy.
Where are they now?
They are largely gone, having been driven out by the rise of neoconservatism, neoliberalism, and the Religious Right, as well as by the tax revolts of the 1970s. Today's "moderate" Republicans (like Olympia Snowe, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and formerly Chris Christie) are often dismissed as "RINOs" by the activist "movement conservatives" that have taken over the GOP since Reagan, despite said so-called RINOs not really being that much different on overall substance. As a result, what had once been among the most solidly Republican areas of the country, like New Jersey and western New England, are now among the most solidly Democratic, as these areas were hotbeds of the Rockefeller wing of the party. The endangered species status has also been placed in states of the Upper Midwest, where Rockefellers used to be similarly prevalent. During the 1964 Republican primary in which Goldwater was opposed by Nelson Rockefeller himself, Rockefeller's campaign manager asked him to "summon that fabled nexus of money, influence, and condescension known as the Eastern Establishment [i.e., liberal Republicans]." The candidate's reply: "You're looking at it, buddy. I'm all that is left."
Today it can effectively be argued that the centrist wing of the Democratic Party (Bill Clinton, Barack Obama) is most similar to the Rockefeller Republicans in policy and ideology. Indeed, in the world that is not the United States, Obama has been compared to the "one nation Toryism" of Benjamin Disraeli, and he's even been explicitly linked to old-styled Rockefeller Republicans. Now in the 2020 presidential election, some could argue that the Blue Dog and New Democrats who were running in the Democratic Party primaries could be viewed as Rockefeller Republicans. This includes Moderate-to-Conservative Democrats such as Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, and Amy Klobuchar. The divide between the "Old Guard" Conservatives and the "New Guard" Progressives of the Democratic Party is actually very similar to the various clashes between Moderate-to-Liberal Republican Thomas Dewey, and the "Old Guard" Conservative Robert A. Taft. Only time will tell whether or not the rise of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez's the Squad will make the GOP revive the Rockefeller Republican wing of their party. While running for President, then-candidate Donald Trump was considered by some to be a moderate Republican (albeit in an admittedly weird way). However, his outstanding flip-flop populism and definite Alt-right quirks disqualify him from being counted as a Rockefeller Republican outright. Maybe Trump will one day be remembered as the first "Trump Republican", but that won't
necessarily be a good thing.
- Blue Dog Democrats
- Cloth coat Republican
- Radical Republicans
- South Park Republicans
- Wikipedia had an article on the Main Street Republican Caucus, the heirs of the Rockefeller Republican tradition.
- He was appointed to fill Robert Kennedy's seat after Kennedy's assassination
- His son, sadly, never lived up to the family name.
- The Reagan Election and Mandate: Their Fiscal Policy Implications for the Welfare State, James Fendrich & Douglas St. Angelo, The Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, Vol.8 Issue 3, December 2014, pp. 12-18 pdf.
- Richard Norton Smith, On His Own Terms: A Life of Nelson Rockefeller (2014) p. xxi.
- Is Barack Obama a Tory?, BBC
- Cheer Up, Republicans, Slate
- Barack Obama, Left Conservative, The New Yorker
- How Liberal is President Obama?, The New York Times