There is no getting away from politics during the year in which we elect the next president. And I cannot help but be fascinated by the metamorphosis that the Republican Party is undergoing. Actually, it is more like the year 1968 again. One leader has emerged who has grabbed hold of a key issue that appeals to a lot of ordinary folks. The Democratic Party has made its poorer members angry again and many are flocking to the Grand Old Party; just like in 1968. But the Republican Party is so complicated now. There are so many splintered groups within groups.
I’m from Texas where everyone’s a self-identifying Republican. It just depends on what sort of Republican you are. Are you a Christian conservative? A so-called “Tea Partier”? A libertarian? Are you a progressive? A new-liberal militarist?
Back in my childhood, we had only two Republican-Party factions:
1. Progressive Republicans
First, there were the progressives—what were called the “Eastern Establishment” Republicans. These were moderate New Dealers and internationalists who had supported President Franklin D Roosevelt before and throughout the Second Great War. They included big names, like Gen’l. Henry Cabot Lodge, Nelson Rockefeller and Thomas Dewey. Gen’l Eisenhower was counted among their number. Some of this faction’s older members were Alf Landon, Wendell Wilkie, William Borah and the senior Henry Cabot Lodge. Even William Randolph Hearst was an original progressive Republican. Senator Robert La Follette was its leader. Though he takes a backseat to Col. Roosevelt in the history books. The progressives were always split on the subject of entry into the world wars. But once the United States of America entered the Second Great War, it was almost impossible to tell a progressive Republican apart from a Roosevelt Democrat.
2. Conservative Republicans
Next, we had the conservative faction of the Republican Party. These were the isolationists who opposed entry into the World War, opposed United States militarism, opposed labor unions, opposed big public spending and who supported big business. Today, we might call them “libertarians”. But they grew out of the faction of Republicans who believed in government-business partnerships, rather than government control of businesses. The early members included such presidents as Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. Its leaders who came later were Robert Taft and Gen’l Barry Goldwater. This faction of the Republican Party was effectively destroyed by one of President Roosevelt’s old political hitmen, President Lyndon Johnson, in the 1960s. Today this conservative faction is only a silent minority dwelling in political alcoves and ridiculed by the press during primary-electoral debates.
The Religious Element
One odd facet of the Republican Party has always been its overlay of religious fundamentalism. This ran through the party’s veins to varying degrees. It was a spectrum that ranged from total nonchalance to total Christian theocracy. We had our Christian and secular progressives and our Christian and secular conservatives. The secular side wanted religious freedom and fewer laws and regulations. The zealots wanted to ban dancing on Sundays, illegalize wine and spirits, throw queers in prison, teach prayer and creation over science, end abortions, enforce censorship laws, halt all prostitution and halt all gambling. Although they were not bothered by the pagan goddesses of Liberty, Columbia or Justice (not to mention the obelisk in Washington) that are everywhere in American iconography, they were successful in adding the Judeo-Christian God’s name to our money and to our pledge of allegiance. And the Ten Commandments have found their way into adorning some court houses. What the Republican Party did not condone prior to the 1970s was mobilizing the far-right religious people as their own factional base. They were kept divided by earthly issues.
A New Base and Mixed Factions
I count myself among the old conservative faction of Republicans. I grew up in a family that supported Harding, Coolidge and Hoover. We were Episcopalians, which means we were nominally Christian. I would give us a 2 on a faith and piety scale of 1 to 10. The first presidential election in which I voted was 1944. I voted half-heartedly for Thomas Dewey. Esq. But my family and I had wanted to see Gen’l MacArthur run. And my father pulled for his nomination. We were disappointed over the following years in the direction that the Republican Party was headed. Gen’l Barry Goldwater was our last hope when he ran in 1964. Not only did the Goldwater faction of the Republican Party lose all power that year, but we also lost our last good (in my opinion) Republican president when Herbert Hoover died. In 1960 and 1968, I supported Cdr. Richard Nixon mainly because I thought he bridged the gap between the party’s factions. As it turned out, he represented no faction. He was just a Dr. Frankenstein-like political construct who rearranged our party into something ugly, mean and stupid. I never supported another candidate through donations in a general election. In the 1980s, I lost interest in any political participation when I saw Republican Party leaders openly pandering to religious zealots and poor white bigots. By then, the Bush family had effective control behind the dull gaze of Sir Ronald Reagan. I supported Cdr. Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996. In 2008 and 2012, I supported Dr. Ron Paul. But that is the extent of my political motivations. Whilst I am still an official Republican today, I tend more toward the Libertarians.
And the more the Republican Party shifts around to build support here or there, the more I can only just see glimmers of the old two-sided establishment. The progressive platform of the party was peeled away once the people were motivated by other factors, like fear, nationalism and religion. Today’s Republican Party is simply interested in empire where the States can act as world police. Col. Roosevelt would be proud. The party has no ambitions beyond that other than to do whatever it takes to get elected. The true head of the party establishment right now is still the Bush Family. Going back to Prescott Bush, theirs was a family of Eastern-Establishment Republicans. They’ve had a stake in the executive branch since 1980. Now JEB Bush has been trounced in the primary in a year that should have been his to get the party’s nomination. When that failed to happen, the Bush’s and Clintons (leaders of the Democrats) united. Now they can finally be allies in addition to being personal friends of each other. As for the Republican Party, one patrician house has given way to another. We shall see what the House of Trump makes of it all.