The 1968 Republican Party Platform Was ‘Woke’

By Mark Jacob

In 1968, the United States had a political party that pushed gun control, supported the FBI, wanted to boost the District of Columbia’s political clout, sought to liberalize the voting system, acknowledged the “frustrations” that led to urban riots, pushed for a federal crackdown on polluters, and endorsed a fairer immigration system.

That party was the Republican Party.

A look at the platform approved at the 1968 Republican Convention shows how far the GOP has devolved in 55 years. Based on the attitudes of today’s Republicans toward Donald Trump, it’s safe to say they wouldn’t have minded Richard Nixon’s dirty tricks, but they might have found Nixon to be too woke.

The 1968 platform called for a more inclusive election system: “We propose to reform the electoral college system, establish a nationwide, uniform voting period for presidential elections, and recommend that the states remove unreasonable requirements, residence and otherwise, for voting in presidential elections.”

The 1968 Republicans didn’t say how they would reform the Electoral College system, so it’s unclear how far they were willing to go. At the time, there were concerns that neither the Republican nor Democratic presidential nominee would get an Electoral College majority in 1968, leaving racist third-party candidate George Wallace to be kingmaker. Electing the president by popular vote would have solved that, but today’s Republicans hate that kind of talk. They adore the Electoral College because it’s allowed them to win the White House with fewer popular votes twice in recent decades. Meanwhile, Republican states are working hard to discourage people from voting, especially in urban areas with many voters of color.

The 1968 platform also stated: “We specifically favor representation in Congress for the District of Columbia.” In 2023, there’s no way they would support D.C. politicians becoming members of Congress, even though the district has more residents than two states, Vermont and Wyoming. The 1968 Republicans used the vague word “representation,” so it’s unclear whether they favored voting members. The district got a non-voting delegate to the House in 1970.  

Back in 1968, Republicans endorsed youth involvement in politics.

 “We believe that lower age groups should be accorded the right to vote,” the platform stated, and three years later the 26th Amendment was ratified, giving 18-year-olds that right. Now political strategist Cleta Mitchell is urging Republicans to make it harder for college students to vote, and GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy is pushing a proposal to sharply restrict voting by 18-to-25-year-olds.

Amid the tumult of 1968, Republicans tried to avoid divisiveness and express sensitivity to civil rights concerns. “Minorities among us—particularly the black community, the Mexican-American, the American Indian—suffer disproportionately,” the GOP said. Just months after the rioting that followed Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, the platform declared: “The Republican Party strongly advocates measures to alleviate and remove the frustrations that contribute to riots.”    

That’s a far cry from the right-wing pushback after George Floyd was murdered and social justice protests ensued.

The 1968 platform has a lot of other ideas that wouldn’t fly with modern MAGA:

  • 1968: The GOP offered its “full support of the FBI and all law enforcement agencies of the federal government.” Now: Leading Republicans want to “defund the FBI.”
  • 1968: “Air and water pollution, already acute in many areas, require vigorous state and federal action, regional planning, and maximum cooperation among neighboring cities, counties and states.” Now: Republicans push rollbacks of environmental regulations. Last year, the right-wing-dominated Supreme Court curbed the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate carbon emissions from power plants.
  • 1968: Republicans support “enactment of legislation to control indiscriminate availability of firearms.” Now: Republicans in Congress wear AR-15 pins. Despite a rash of mass shootings, red states are expanding the ability to own and carry firearms. Half of the states require no permit at all to carry a handgun. (While 1968 Republicans pledged to fight “indiscriminate availability,” they did want to safeguard the right to a gun for “responsible citizens” and said gun laws were primarily a state concern.)
  • 1968: “We will also improve the management of the national debt.” Now: It’s out of control, with Republicans among the major culprits. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan nearly tripled the national debt, and one quarter of the nation’s total debt was created in just four years under Trump.
  • 1968: “Public confidence in an independent judiciary is absolutely essential to the maintenance of law and order.” Now: Republicans’ successful effort to steer the courts in a radical right-wing direction has eroded public confidence.
  • 1968: “The principles of the 1965 Immigration Act—non-discrimination against national origins, reunification of families, and selective support for the American labor market—have our unreserved backing.” Now: After pushing for a Muslim ban and complaining about immigration from “shithole countries,” Trump remains deeply opposed to the principles of that 1965 act. Just last week, he signaled his desire to return to the highly unpopular family separation policy he imposed in his first term.
  • 1968: “Our relations with Western Europe, so critical to our own progress and security, have been needlessly and dangerously impaired. They must be restored, and NATO revitalized and strengthened.” Now: Trump and other Republicans strongly criticize NATO, and Trump as president threatened to withdraw from the alliance.
  • 1968: “Nor can we fail to condemn the Soviet Union for its continuing anti-Semitic actions, its efforts to eradicate all religions, and its oppression of minorities generally.” Now: Trump continues to praise the dictator in Moscow, Vladimir Putin, as a “smart guy.”
  • 1968: “We support a strong program of research in the sciences, with protection for the independence and integrity of participating individuals and institutions.” Now: Republican leaders lie about vaccines and GOP voters’ confidence in science is plummeting. Trump says that if he’s elected in 2024, he’ll bring back Michael Flynn, who suggested that vaccines were being slipped into salad dressing.
  • 1968: “Our party historically has been the party of freedom. We are the only barricade against those who, through excessive government power, would overwhelm and destroy man’s liberty.” Now: Women’s right to control their own bodies was taken away with the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe vs. Wade. When the ’68 Republican platform talked about “man’s liberty,” did it really mean  liberty was for men, not women?

Actions speak louder than words, of course, but party platforms are an opportunity to clearly express ideals. Or at least they were. Republicans didn’t even present a platform in 2020, indicating that the overriding goal for the GOP is not any policy goal but simply attaining more political power.

Mark Jacob, a former metro editor at the Chicago Tribune and co-author of eight books, is a consultant for Courier Newsroom.