From the archives: William F. Buckley's GOP

As the Republican presidential candidates jockey for position, 60 Minutes revisits a 1981 profile of William F. Buckley, Jr., the father of modern conservatism

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Decades before Donald Trump, Ben Carson or Ted Cruz became key players in the Republican Party, William F. Buckley, Jr. helped forge the ideology of the modern GOP. The National Review founder, television host and conservative columnist, who died in 2008, envisioned a movement united around small-government, anti-Communist ideals. The so-called "Buckley Rule," promising his magazine's support to "the rightward-most viable candidate" is still invoked as a test for those seeking office.

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William F. Buckley, Jr. CBS News

At a time when House Republicans are in a state of turmoil and Paul Ryan is stepping in to lead a bitterly divided caucus, we thought it was an appropriate moment to revisit 60 Minutes' classic Buckley interview, a wide-ranging, often funny, conversation about the fundamentals of conservative thought.

Morley Safer interviewed Buckley for the profile in the video player above, which aired just two days before Ronald Reagan took office in January 1981. Buckley, who called Reagan a political "godchild," seemed positively gleeful at the idea of him as president.

"It is, by our standards, a marvelous accomplishment that someone the mere mention of whose name brought nothing but laughter from most liberals over a period of 15 or 20 years is all of a sudden president-elect of the United States," he told Safer, in his trademark mid-Atlantic drawl.

Political columnist George Will explained Buckley's role in the evolution of conservatism: "Before there was Reagan, there was Goldwater. Before there was Goldwater, there was National Review. And before there was National Review, there was the idea of National Review in the mind of Bill Buckley," he told Safer.

Despite his growing influence, however, Buckley seemed content to remain behind the scenes. "How come you're not in the Cabinet?" Safer asked him. "Or did you turn something down?"

"Well, I turned it down preemptively," he answered. "Short of being president, there's no reason in the world why an adviser to the president has to live in the White House rather than at 150 East 35th Street, publishing a journal which the president reads."

Safer visited Buckley at that address, home to the National Review, which he founded in 1955 with his share of the Buckley family fortune, most of which came from oil. Safer describes the huge Buckley clan as the "flip side of the Kennedys," a staunchly conservative, politically-minded Catholic family with its own New England compound -- an estate in Sharon, Connecticut.

"Has there ever been a liberal Buckley?" Safer asked him. "What would you do if one came along and openly proclaimed to be?"

"Pray for him," Buckley said playfully.

What about the accusation that conservatives lack compassion, Safer asked him. Buckley bristled at the thought.

"Conservatism begins by saying you must not trifle with the individual," he said. "If I listen to one more speech by somebody who voted for a hundred-billion-dollar deficit and is talking about the plight of poor people, I come as close as I ever do to throwing up."

Throughout the interview, Buckley seems to enjoy sparring with Safer, frequently breaking into a mischievous grin.

National Review was founded to "resist rampant liberalism," Safer said. "Is liberalism finished now?"

"No, no," laughed Buckley. "Neither is original sin."