The Republican party has been undergoing a radical change over the past decades. While the party had previously united in opposition to any policy put forward by President Obama, the party itself has slowly lost unity in its message, goals, and ideals. There is no greater example of the changing heart and soul of the Republican party than the election and influence of President Donald Trump.
Republican Fault Lines
Mr. Trump's brash, hyperbolic populist message has risen to a fever pitch in the Republican party, fracturing the growing fault lines in the party. Calls for universal healthcare, raises to the minimum wage, economic protectionism, and blatant xenophobia are just some of the numerous political positions Mr. Trump has embraced, in contrast with the established Republican policies.
Compassionate conservatives, neoconservatives, and moderate Republicans have become an endangered species in the Republican party. The once solid unity of the Republican economic message of free trade has been subverted by populist, protectionist calls for tariffs, echoing the early days of the Republican party. Libertarianism has begun to bloom in what was once a party that valued individual freedom, shooing some of the party faithful away to the burgeoning Libertarian Party, who saw record-breaking numbers in the 2016 election. Conspiracy theorists have become endemic in the mind and media of the party, with blatant lies and baseless conjecture becoming integral to party members' political identity.
Former strongholds of political power such as evangelicals have slowly dwindled over the years. The once perceived moral superiority of the party which came from the strong evangelical base has become increasingly tenuous as the obvious moral failings of Republican leadership and politicians are decried as “fake news” and lies, while actual evidence and accusations pile up. Take, for example, the disturbing justifications given by evangelicals in defense of Senate candidate Judge Roy Moore, who faced accusations of pedophilia and sexual assault.
In fact, political pundit and former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon has called for war against the GOP establishment, seeking to start a civil war inside the Republican Party. Outsider candidates, far-right and alt-right candidates have begun lining up to challenge established and incumbent Republicans. In many Republican-controlled states, GOP primaries have become a constantly escalating race for more and more conservative candidates. Old guard Republican politicians have been pushed farther and farther to the right in fear of primary challengers. Good governance, statesmanship, compromise, and bipartisanship have gone from being positive qualities to liabilities for many candidates.
The Times Are Changing
What is certain is that today's GOP is not he same party of your parents or grandparents. Years of gerrymandering have eroded the competitiveness of many Republican-controlled states. Once foundational tenants of personal freedom have withered under oppressive social conservatism. Free market economics have become an a la carte item for the party, only applying to industries that do not control a disproportionate number of counties in states such as West Virginia, Michigan, North Dakota, and Wisconsin.
The heart of the GOP is changing. The Republican Party I once knew and supported has gradually devolved into tribes of bickering figureheads, intent on promoting their political message over the common good of the nation.
But the soul of the GOP can still be saved, with a return the founding principles of equality, justice, and common good which birthed the Republican party almost two centuries ago.
Hunter White is a longterm Republican and cannabis advocate who also writes the Confessions of a Pro-Cannabis Republican series.