The idea of being Conservative has always been synonymous with the Republican party. Being a Conservative means that you hold specific principled ideas. These ideas include the belief in limited government, personal responsibility, free markets, and strong national defense. Over the last few years, the Republican party has strayed from these beliefs, resulting in the growing perception that Republicans are racist bigots whose only motive is to retain power.
This seismic shift to the right has split the Republican party in two. There are the “Trump Republicans” whose 2016 movement took the nation by storm. They prefer a more authentic non-traditional form of politics, that revolves around the demonstrative antics of Donald Trump. Then there are the so-called “Establishment Republicans” who refused the partisan political movement of Trump and his followers. These establishment Republicans resemble the traditional principled conservative that has historically been representative of the Republican party.
The so-called “founder” of Conservatism was an English lawmaker by the name of Edmund Burke. Burke thought society should be governed by a “moral order” among the people of England and was a staunch believer of individualism.
Conservative politics have been embedded in American government since our creation in 1776, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that there was an organized Conservative movement with beliefs that differ from those of other American political parties.
In 1955 the National Review Magazine was founded by William F. Buckley Jr. – one of the first Conservative news outlets. Buckley’s ideas promoted fusion between Libertarians and Traditional Conservatives, subsequently creating the groundwork for the Republican Party.
After the magazine’s founding, the Conservative movement picked up steam. The first true Conservative to run for the office of the Presidency was Senator Barry Goldwater from Arizona in 1964. Goldwater defeated Liberal Republican, Nelson Rockefeller, in the Republican primary that year. Goldwater’s victory had substantiated the idea that the Conservative movement was the face of the Republican party.
Goldwater lost the Presidential election that year to Lyndon B. Johnson, but his nomination in and of itself was a statement that American Conservatism was one of the premier ideologies within the country. Four years later Republican Richard Nixon was elected President, but Nixon was not associated with America’s newfound Conservatism. Nixon was classified by most as a Liberal as he increased government spending and advocated for a more significant role in government.
The face of the Conservative movement was elected President in 1980. Ronald Reagan. Reagan famously stated in his inaugural speech that, “government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem.” Reagan’s actions made him the exemplar of the Conservative movement and furthermore, the Republican party. While in office he cut taxes, increased the military budget, and initiated a policy rollback of Communism. Not only was he an exemplary as a policymaker, but he was a role model in being a man of the highest character.
Reagan’s legacy was carried on in full by George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush around the turn of the century. The Bush’s policies resembled those of Reagan, but more importantly, their character and moral aptitude were kept to the highest standard.
Today the Republican
Party is turning away from being the party of respectable traditionalists with esteemed character. Republicans are more frequently being perceived as racists bigots who behave in an unsuitable manner. This is solely due to the rise of Donald Trump.
When Donald Trump was chosen as the Republican nominee for the 2016 election, he inevitably became the face of the party. At that moment, the Republican party would forever become tied to the grotesque and non-traditional behavior of Trump. And the moment that Donald Trump was elected as the 45th president of the United States was the moment the Republicans were forced to choose between supporting a man with a concerning lack of moral aptitude, and an opposing party whose policies virtually always contradict your own political ideology.
The vast majority of Republicans swallowed their tongues and voted for Donald Trump. But that decision brought the Republican party where we are today; a party divided. This party is divided between the traditional and non-traditional, the ability to tolerate crude behavior from our leaders, and the use of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric.
In the next decade, the Republican party will be fighting for what its future is going to look like. Will the shift to the right continue, and result in a party focused on Populism and less about policy and rhetoric? Or will it come back to its roots, and focus more on policy and tolerance?
Only time will tell, but for the sake of the Republican party, it is imperative that they return to the identity they embodied during times of great conservative governance. This needs to be a party of Reagan and Bush and not the tumultuous and provocative party of Donald Trump.