While LBJ won 44 states and more than 60 percent of the vote, Goldwater's conservatism would find victorious expression in both the 1980 Reagan Revolution and today's Tea Party. In fact his famous speech is striking for how, with a few tweaks, it could come from a contemporary conservative without raising eyebrows.
Ronald Reagan's "Challenge," 1976
The last Republican presidential nomination to be decided at the convention was the 1976 battle between President Gerald Ford and former California Gov. Ronald Reagan. Their primary had been brutal: Reagan charged Ford was soft on the Soviets while the incumbent painted his challenger as dangerous. "When you vote Tuesday, remember, Governor Ronald Reagan couldn't start a war. President Ronald Reagan could," one Ford ad intoned.
The two candidates arrived in Kansas City, where the convention was being held, three days early to lobby delegates. Ford ultimately won the nomination after a tough floor fight.
After he had given his acceptance speech, Ford aimed for a unity moment by inviting Reagan to appear on the platform with him and say a few words. Walking from his skybox through the labyrinthine passages of the convention hall, Reagan asked aide Mike Deaver what he should say. Governor, Deaver replied, you'll think of something.
He did. "I believe the Republican Party has a platform that is a banner of bold, unmistakable colors, with no pastel shades," Reagan told the crowd in very brief, off-the-cuff remarks. "We have just heard a call to arms based on that platform." He went on to recount how he had been asked to write a letter for a time capsule to be opened in 2076. It dawned on him, he said, that those reading the letter "will know whether we met our challenge" to avoid nuclear war and preserve liberty. "Whether they have the freedoms that we have known up until now will depend on what we do here."
What Reagan didn't do was explicitly endorse Ford, whom he "utterly and completely" overshadowed, says Reagan biographer Craig Shirley.
Ted Kennedy's "Dream" That Never Died, 1980
Four years after the Reagan-Ford fight, the Democrats had their own knock-down, drag-out primary battle as Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy sought to unseat President Jimmy Carter. Kennedy took the fight to the convention in Madison Square Garden in New York even though the president had enough delegates to win. Kennedy hoped to overturn a rule requiring that delegates vote for the candidate to whom they were pledged during the primaries. After winning the rules fight, the Carter team gave Kennedy a speaking slot as part of the deal to get him to concede.
Kennedy's conclusion is probably the best-remembered sound bite of his career: "For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end," he said. "For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."
Sitting at his desk, working on Carter's acceptance address, chief speechwriter Hendrik Hertzberg watched the dramatic conclusion and muttered allowed, "Uh-oh." Hertzberg, now at the New Yorker, recalls that the Carter people were not annoyed by the speech as much as by Kennedy's running in the first place when Chappaquiddick had made him unelectable. "As for the convention, the speech was OK," he says. "What was not was Ted's petulant, unpleasant demeanor during the closing 'unity' tableau."