March 29th, 2010
11:39 AM ET

Risk for GOP comes from extreme fringe

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/POLITICS/03/24/congress.threats/story.capitol.police.jpg.jpg caption="Police stood guard outside the Capitol before the recent health care vote to deal with threats of violence." width=300 height=169]

Julian E. Zelizer
Special to CNN

As he stood before the delegates of the 1964 Republican Convention in San Francisco, California, Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, the party's presidential nominee, said, "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

The delegates, who had booed New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller when he called for the party to respect moderation, were thrilled. Many of Goldwater's supporters were determined to push their party toward the right wing of the political spectrum. They felt that their party leaders, including President Eisenhower, had simply offered a watered-down version of the New Deal.

Yet Goldwater soon learned that extremism could quickly become a political vice, particularly to a party seeking to regain control of the White House. The right wing of the Republican Party in the early 1960s inhabited a world that included extremist organizations, such as the John Birch Society, that railed against communism.

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Filed under: Julian E. Zelizer • Republicans • Tea Party
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