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History of the Republican Party

I have written several articles on postings related to politics. A list of links have been provided at bottom of this article for your convenience. This article will, however address different aspects on these political events.

The Republican Party, also referred to as the “GOP” (Grand Old Party), is one of the two major political parties in the United States. It is the second-oldest extant political party in the United States; its chief rival, the Democratic Party, is the oldest political party in existence.

Early Political Parties

Though America’s Founding Fathers distrusted political parties, it wasn’t long before divisions developed among them. Supporters of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, who favored a strong central government and a national financial system, became known as Federalists.

By contrast, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson favored a more limited government. His supporters called themselves Republicans, or Jeffersonian Republicans, but later became known as Democratic-Republicans.

The Federalist Party dissolved after the War of 1812, and by the 1830s the Democratic-Republicans had evolved into the Democratic Party (now the main rival to today’s Republicans), which initially rallied around President Andrew Jackson.

Opponents of Jackson’s policies formed their own party, the Whig Party, and by the 1840s Democrats and Whigs were the country’s two main political coalitions.

Slavery and the Republicans

In the 1850s, the issue of slavery—and its extension into new territories and states joining the Union—ripped apart these political coalitions. During this volatile period, new political parties briefly surfaced, including the Free Soil and the American (Know-Nothing) parties.

The Republican Party emerged in 1854 to combat the Kansas–Nebraska Act and the expansion of slavery into American territories. The early Republican Party consisted of northern Protestants, factory workers, professionals, businessmen, prosperous farmers, and after 1866, former black slaves. The party had very little support from white Southerners at the time, who predominantly backed the Democratic Party in the Solid South, and from Catholics, who made up a major Democratic voting block. While both parties adopted pro-business policies in the 19th century, the early GOP was distinguished by its support for the national banking system, the gold standardrailroads, and high tariffs. The party opposed the expansion of slavery before 1861 and led the fight to destroy the Confederate States of America (1861-1865). While the Republican Party had almost no presence in the Southern United States at its inception, it was very successful in the Northern United States, where by 1858 it had enlisted former Whigs and former Free Soil Democrats to form majorities in nearly every Northern state.

With the election of Abraham Lincoln (the first Republican president) in 1860, the Party’s success in guiding the Union to victory in the American Civil War. Over the course of the Civil War, Lincoln and other Republicans began to see the abolition of slavery as a strategic move to help them win the war. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and by war’s end, the Republican majority in Congress would spearhead the passage of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery.

Frustrated by the inaction of Lincoln’s Democratic successor, Andrew Johnson, as well as the treatment of freed blacks in former Confederate states during the Reconstruction era, Radical Republicans in Congress passed legislation protecting the rights of blacks, including civil rights and voting rights (for black men). These Republican Reconstruction policies would solidify white Southerners’ loyalty to the Democratic Party for many decades to come.

During Reconstruction, Republicans would become increasingly associated with big business and financial interests in the more industrialized North. The federal government had expanded during the war (including passage of the first income tax) and Northern financiers and industrialists had greatly benefited from its increased spending. As white resistance to Reconstruction solidified, these interests, rather than those of blacks in the South, became the main Republican focus, and by the mid-1870s Democratic Southern state legislatures had wiped out most of Reconstruction’s changes.

Progressive Era and The Great Depression

The Republican Party largely dominated the national political scene until 1932. Because of the Republican Party’s association with business interests, by the early 20th century it was increasingly seen as the party of the upper-class elite. With the rise of the Progressive movement, which sought to improve life for working-class Americans and encourage Protestant values such as temperance (which would lead to Prohibition in 1919), some Republicans championed progressive social, economic and labor reforms, including President Theodore Roosevelt, who split from the more conservative wing of the party after leaving office.

In 1912, former Republican president Theodore Roosevelt formed the Progressive (“Bull Moose”) Party after being rejected by the GOP and ran unsuccessfully as a third-party presidential candidate calling for social reforms. After 1912, many Roosevelt supporters left the Republican Party, and the Party underwent an ideological shift to the right. Republicans benefited from the prosperity of the 1920s, but after the stock market crash of 1929 ushered in the Great Depression, many Americans blamed them for the crisis and deplored their resistance to use direct government intervention to help people. This dissatisfaction allowed Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt to easily defeat the Republican incumbent, Herbert Hoover, in 1932.

Emergence of New Conservatism

The relief programs included in FDR’s New Deal earned overwhelming popular approval, launching an era of Democratic dominance that would last for most of the next 60 years. Between 1932 and 1980, Republicans won only four presidential elections and had a Congressional majority for only four years.

 The GOP lost its congressional majorities during the Great Depression (1929–1940); under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Democrats formed a winning New Deal coalition that was dominant from 1932 through 1964. Though the centrist Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was president from 1953 to 1961, actively supported equal rights for women and African Americans, a conservative resurgence led to Barry Goldwater’s nomination as president in 1964, continued with Richard Nixon’s ill-fated presidency and reached its culmination with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

The South saw a major political sea change starting after World War II, as many white Southerners began migrating to the GOP due to their opposition to big government, expanded labor unions and Democratic support for civil rights, as well as conservative Christians’ opposition to abortion and other “culture war” issues. Meanwhile, many black voters, who had remained loyal to the Republican Party since the Civil War, began voting Democratic after the Depression and the New Deal.

After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the party’s core base shifted, with the Southern states becoming more reliably Republican in presidential politics and the Northeastern states becoming more reliably Democratic. White voters increasingly identified with the Republican Party after the 1960s. Following the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, the Republican Party opposed abortion in its party platform and grew its support among evangelicals. The Republican Party won five of the six presidential elections from 1968 to 1988.

Republicans From Reagan to Trump

After running on a platform based on reducing the size of the federal government, Reagan increased military spending, spearheaded huge tax cuts and championed the free market with policies that became known as Reaganomics.

Two-term President Ronald Reagan, who held office from 1981 to 1989, was a transformative party leader. His conservative policies called for reduced government spending and regulationlower taxes, and a strong anti-Soviet Union foreign policy. Reagan’s influence upon the party persisted into the next century. In foreign policy, the United States also emerged the victor in its long-running Cold War with the Soviet Union. But as the economy began to show signs of weakness, the growing national debt helped foster popular dissatisfaction with Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush.

The GOP recaptured the White House in 2000, with the highly contested victory of Bush’s son, George W. Bush, over Democratic contender Al Gore. Though initially popular, particularly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration lost support thanks to growing opposition to the war in Iraq and the faltering economy during the Great Recession.

After Democrat Barack Obama became the first African American to be elected U.S. president in 2008, the rise of the populist Tea Party movement harnessed opposition to Obama’s economic and social reform policies to help Republicans gain a large majority in Congress by 2014.

The 2016 election, in which Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, left Republicans in control of the White House, Senate, House of Representatives and a majority of state governorships. Democrats gained control of the House in the 2018 midterm elections and in September 2019, a formal impeachment inquiry was launched against President Trump for allegedly attempting to involve Ukraine in the 2020 presidential election. 

President Trump was impeached on December 18, 2019 on two articles—abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. On February 5, 2020, the Senate voted to acquit Trump on both charges. 

Since the 1990s, the Party’s support has chiefly come from the South, the Great Plains, the Mountain States, and rural areas in the North. The 21st century Republican Party ideology is American conservatism. Today’s GOP supports lower taxes, free market capitalism, a strong national defense, gun rightsderegulationcapital punishment, and restrictions on labor unions; it opposes abortion rights. In contrast to its support for conservative economic policies and liberal view of government, the Republican Party is socially conservative. There have been 19 Republican presidents, the most from any one political party.

Economic policies

Republicans believe that free markets and individual achievement are the primary factors behind economic prosperity. Republicans frequently advocate in favor of fiscal conservatism during Democratic administrations; however, they have shown themselves willing to increase federal debt when they are in charge of the government (the implementation of the Bush tax cuts, Medicare Part D and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 are examples of this willingness). Despite pledges to roll back government spending, Republican administrations have, since the late 1960s, sustained or increased previous levels of government spending.

Modern Republicans advocate the theory of supply side economics, which holds that lower tax rates increase economic growth. Many Republicans oppose higher tax rates for higher earners, which they believe are unfairly targeted at those who create jobs and wealth. They believe private spending is more efficient than government spending. Republican lawmakers have also sought to limit funding for tax enforcement and tax collection.

Republicans believe individuals should take responsibility for their own circumstances. They also believe the private sector is more effective in helping the poor through charity than the government is through welfare programs and that social assistance programs often cause government dependency.

Republicans believe corporations should be able to establish their own employment practices, including benefits and wages, with the free market deciding the price of work. Since the 1920s, Republicans have generally been opposed by labor union organizations and members. At the national level, Republicans supported the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which gives workers the right not to participate in unions. Modern Republicans at the state level generally support various right-to-work laws, which prohibit union security agreements requiring all workers in a unionized workplace to pay dues or a fair-share fee, regardless of if they are members of the union or not.

Most Republicans oppose increases in the minimum wage, believing that such increases hurt businesses by forcing them to cut and outsource jobs while passing on costs to consumers.

The party opposes a single-payer health care system, describing it as socialized medicine. The Republican Party has a mixed record of supporting the historically popular Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Environmental policies

Historically, progressive leaders in the Republican Party supported environmental protection. Republican President Theodore Roosevelt was a prominent conservationist whose policies eventually led to the creation of the National Park Service. While Republican President Richard Nixon was not an environmentalist, he signed legislation to create the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 and had a comprehensive environmental program. However, this position has changed since the 1980s and the administration of President Ronald Reagan, who labeled environmental regulations a burden on the economy. Since then, Republicans have increasingly taken positions against environmental regulation, with some Republicans rejecting the scientific consensus on climate change. Arnold Schwarzenegger38thGovernor of California (2003–2011)

The Republican Party rejects cap-and-trade policy to limit carbon emissions. In the 2000s, Senator John McCain proposed bills (such as the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act) that would have regulated carbon emissions, but his position on climate change was unusual among high-ranking party members. Some Republican candidates have supported the development of alternative fuels in order to achieve energy independence for the United States. Some Republicans support increased oil drilling in protected areas such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a position that has drawn criticism from activists.

In 2006, then-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger broke from Republican orthodoxy to sign several bills imposing caps on carbon emissions in California. Then-President George W. Bush opposed mandatory caps at a national level. Bush’s decision not to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant was challenged in the Supreme Court by 12 states, with the court ruling against the Bush administration in 2007. Bush also publicly opposed ratification of the Kyoto Protocols which sought to limit greenhouse gas emissions and thereby combat climate change; his position was heavily criticized by climate scientists.John McCainUnited States senator from Arizona (1987–2018)

Many Republicans during the presidency of Barack Obama opposed his administration’s new environmental regulations, such as those on carbon emissions from coal. In particular, many Republicans supported building the Keystone Pipeline; this position was supported by businesses, but opposed by indigenous peoples’ groups and environmental activists.

According to the Center for American Progress, a non-profit liberal advocacy group, more than 55% of congressional Republicans were climate change deniers in 2014. PolitiFact in May 2014 found “relatively few Republican members of Congress … accept the prevailing scientific conclusion that global warming is both real and man-made”. The group found eight members who acknowledged it, although the group acknowledged there could be more and that not all members of Congress have taken a stance on the issue.

From 2008 to 2017, the Republican Party went from “debating how to combat human-caused climate change to arguing that it does not exist”, according to The New York Times. In January 2015, the Republican-led U.S. Senate voted 98–1 to pass a resolution acknowledging that “climate change is real and is not a hoax”; however, an amendment stating that “human activity significantly contributes to climate change” was supported by only five Republican senators.


In the period 1850–1870, the Republican Party was more opposed to immigration than Democrats, in part because the Republican Party relied on the support of anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant parties, such as the Know-Nothings, at the time. In the decades following the Civil War, the Republican Party grew more supportive of immigration, as it represented manufacturers in the Northeast (who wanted additional labor) whereas the Democratic Party came to be seen as the party of labor (which wanted fewer laborers to compete with). Starting in the 1970s, the parties switched places again, as the Democrats grew more supportive of immigration than Republicans.

Republicans are divided on how to confront illegal immigration between a platform that allows for migrant workers and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (supported by establishment types), versus a position focused on securing the border and deporting illegal immigrants (supported by populists). In 2006, the White House supported and Republican-led Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform that would eventually allow millions of illegal immigrants to become citizens, but the House (also led by Republicans) did not advance the bill. After the defeat in the 2012 presidential election, particularly among Latinos, several Republicans advocated a friendlier approach to immigrants. However, in 2016 the field of candidates took a sharp position against illegal immigration, with leading candidate Donald Trump proposing building a wall along the southern border. Proposals calling for immigration reform with a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants have attracted broad Republican support in some polls. In a 2013 poll, 60% of Republicans supported the pathway concept.

Foreign policy and national defense

Some in the Republican Party support unilateralism on issues of national security, believing in the ability and right of the United States to act without external support in matters of its national defense. In general, Republican thinking on defense and international relations is heavily influenced by the theories of neorealism and realism, characterizing conflicts between nations as struggles between faceless forces of an international structure as opposed to being the result of the ideas and actions of individual leaders. The realist school’s influence shows in Reagan’s Evil Empire stance on the Soviet Union and George W. Bush’s Axis of evil stance.

Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, many in the party have supported neoconservative policies with regard to the War on Terror, including the 2001 war in Afghanistan and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The George W. Bush administration took the position that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to unlawful combatants, while other prominent Republicans strongly oppose the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, which they view as torture.

Republicans have frequently advocated for restricting foreign aid as a means of asserting the national security and immigration interests of the United States.

The Republican Party generally supports a strong alliance with Israel and efforts to secure peace in the Middle East between Israel and its Arab neighbors. In recent years, Republicans have begun to move away from the two-state solution approach to resolving the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. In a 2014 poll, 59% of Republicans favored doing less abroad and focusing on the country’s own problems instead.

According to the 2016 platform, the party’s stance on the status of Taiwan is: “We oppose any unilateral steps by either side to alter the status quo in the Taiwan Straits on the principle that all issues regarding the island’s future must be resolved peacefully, through dialogue, and be agreeable to the people of Taiwan”. In addition, if “China were to violate those principles, the United States, in accord with the Taiwan Relations Act, will help Taiwan defend itself”.

Social policies

The Republican Party is generally associated with social conservative policies, although it does have dissenting centrist and libertarian factions. The social conservatives support laws that uphold their traditional values, such as opposition to same-sex marriage, abortion, and marijuana. Most conservative Republicans also oppose gun controlaffirmative action, and illegal immigration.

Abortion and embryonic stem cell research

A majority of the party’s national and state candidates are anti-abortion and oppose elective abortion on religious or moral grounds. While many advocate exceptions in the case of incest, rape or the mother’s life being at risk, in 2012 the party approved a platform advocating banning abortions without exception. There were not highly polarized differences between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party prior to the Roe v. Wade 1973 Supreme Court ruling (which made prohibitions on abortion rights unconstitutional), but after the Supreme Court ruling, opposition to abortion became an increasingly key national platform for the Republican Party. As a result, Evangelicals gravitated towards the Republican Party.

Most Republicans oppose government funding for abortion providers, notably Planned Parenthood. This includes support for the Hyde Amendment.

Until its dissolution in 2018, Republican Majority for Choice, an abortion rights PAC, advocated for amending the GOP platform to include pro-abortion rights members.

Although Republicans have voted for increases in government funding of scientific research, members of the Republican Party actively oppose the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research beyond the original lines because it involves the destruction of human embryos.

Civil rights

Republicans are generally against affirmative action for women and some minorities, often describing it as a “quota system” and believing that it is not meritocratic and that it is counter-productive socially by only further promoting discrimination. Many Republicans support race-neutral admissions policies in universities, but support taking into account the socioeconomic status of the student.

Gun ownership

Republicans generally support gun ownership rights and oppose laws regulating guns. Party members and Republican-leaning independents are twice more likely to own a gun than Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents.Newt Gingrich50thSpeaker of the House of Representatives (1995–1999)

The National Rifle Association, a special interest group in support of gun ownership, has consistently aligned themselves with the Republican Party. Following gun control measures under the Clinton administration, such as the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the Republicans allied with the NRA during the Republican Revolution in 1994. Since then, the NRA has consistently backed Republican candidates and contributed financial support, such as in the 2013 Colorado recall election which resulted in the ousting of two pro-gun control Democrats for two anti-gun control Republicans.

In contrast, George H. W. Bush, formerly a lifelong NRA member, was highly critical of the organization following their response to the Oklahoma City bombing authored by CEO Wayne LaPierre, and publicly resigned in protest.


Republicans have historically supported the War on Drugs and oppose the legalization of drugs. More recently, several prominent Republicans have advocated for the reduction and reform of mandatory sentencing laws with regards to drugs.

LGBT issues

Republicans have historically opposed same-sex marriage, while being divided on civil unions and domestic partnerships, with the issue being one that many believe helped George W. Bush win re-election in 2004. In both 2004 and 2006, President Bush, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and House Majority Leader John Boehner promoted the Federal Marriage Amendment, a proposed constitutional amendment which would legally restrict the definition of marriage to heterosexual couples. In both attempts, the amendment failed to secure enough votes to invoke cloture and thus ultimately was never passed. As more states legalized same-sex marriage in the 2010s, Republicans increasingly supported allowing each state to decide its own marriage policy. As of 2014, most state GOP platforms expressed opposition to same-sex marriage. The 2016 GOP Platform defined marriage as “natural marriage, the union of one man and one woman,” and condemned the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriages. The 2020 platform retained the 2016 language against same-sex marriage.

However, public opinion on this issue within the party has been changing. Following his election as president in 2016, Donald Trump stated that he had no objection to same-sex marriage or to the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. In office, Trump was the first sitting Republican president to recognize LGBT Pride Month. Conversely, the Trump administration banned transgender individuals from service in the United States military and rolled back other protections for transgender people which had been enacted during the previous Democratic presidency.

The Republican Party platform opposed the inclusion of gay people in the military and opposed adding sexual orientation to the list of protected classes since 1992. The Republican Party opposed the inclusion of sexual preference in anti-discrimination statutes from 1992 to 2004. The 2008 and 2012 Republican Party platform supported anti-discrimination statutes based on sex, race, age, religion, creed, disability, or national origin, but both platforms were silent on sexual orientation and gender identity. The 2016 platform was opposed to sex discrimination statutes that included the phrase “sexual orientation.”

A group of LGBT Republicans are the Log Cabin Republicans.

Voting rights

Virtually all restrictions on voting have in recent years been implemented by Republicans. Republicans, mainly at the state level, argue that the restrictions (such as purging voter rolls, limiting voting locations, and prosecuting double voting) are vital to prevent voter fraud, claiming that voter fraud is an underestimated issue in elections. However, research has indicated that voter fraud is very uncommon, as civil and voting rights organizations often accuse Republicans of enacting restrictions to influence elections in the party’s favor. Many laws or regulations restricting voting enacted by Republicans have been successfully challenged in court, with court rulings striking down such regulations and accusing Republicans of establishing them with partisan purpose.


In the Party’s early decades, its base consisted of Northern white Protestants and African Americans nationwide. Its first presidential candidate, John C. Frémont, received almost no votes in the South. This trend continued into the 20th century. Following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Southern states became more reliably Republican in presidential politics, while Northeastern states became more reliably Democratic. Studies show that Southern whites shifted to the Republican Party due to racial conservatism.

While scholars agree that a racial backlash played a central role in the racial realignment of the two parties, there is a dispute as to the extent in which the racial realignment was a top-driven elite process or a bottom-up process. The “Southern Strategy” refers primarily to “top-down” narratives of the political realignment of the South which suggest that Republican leaders consciously appealed to many white Southerners’ racial grievances in order to gain their support. This top-down narrative of the Southern Strategy is generally believed to be the primary force that transformed Southern politics following the civil rights era. Scholar Matthew Lassiter argues that “demographic change played a more important role than racial demagoguery in the emergence of a two-party system in the American South”. Historians such as Matthew Lassiter, Kevin M. Kruse and Joseph Crespino, have presented an alternative, “bottom-up” narrative, which Lassiter has called the “suburban strategy”. This narrative recognizes the centrality of racial backlash to the political realignment of the South, but suggests that this backlash took the form of a defense of de facto segregation in the suburbs rather than overt resistance to racial integration and that the story of this backlash is a national rather than a strictly Southern one.

The Party’s 21st-century base consists of groups such as older white men; white, married Protestants; rural residents; and non-union workers without college degrees, with urban residents, ethnic minorities, the unmarried and union workers having shifted to the Democratic Party. The suburbs have become a major battleground. According to a 2015 Gallup poll, 25% of Americans identify as Republican and 16% identify as leaning Republican. In comparison, 30% identify as Democratic and 16% identify as leaning Democratic. The Democratic Party has typically held an overall edge in party identification since Gallup began polling on the issue in 1991. In 2016, The New York Times noted that the Republican Party was strong in the South, the Great Plains, and the Mountain States. The 21st century Republican Party also draws strength from rural areas of the United States.

Ideology and factions

In 2018, Gallup polling found that 69% of Republicans described themselves as “conservative“, while 25% opted for the term “moderate”, and another 5% self-identified as “liberal“.

When ideology is separated into social and economic issues, a 2020 Gallup poll found that 61% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents called themselves “socially conservative“, 28% chose the label “socially moderate“, and 10% called themselves “socially liberal“. On economic issues, the same 2020 poll revealed that 65% of Republicans (and Republican leaners) chose the label “economic conservative” to describe their views on fiscal policy, while 26% selected the label “economic moderate”, and 7% opted for the “economic liberal” label.

The modern Republican Party includes conservativescentristsfiscal conservativeslibertariansneoconservativespaleoconservatives, right-wing populists, and social conservatives.

In addition to splits over ideology, the 21st-century Republican Party can be broadly divided into establishment and anti-establishment wings. Nationwide polls of Republican voters in 2014 by the Pew Center identified a growing split in the Republican coalition, between “business conservatives” or “establishment conservatives” on one side and “steadfast conservatives” or “populist conservatives” on the other.

The Republican Party of Today

The Republican Party’s refusal to write a platform for 2020 was a watershed moment. Instead of issuing a traditional document, GOP leaders put out a memo essentially saying that their only goal was Donald Trump’s reelection. That move revealed the current Republican Party to be completely untethered from the one that governed during the Reagan and Bush administrations.

The post-election drama shows this break even more starkly. Trump has refused to concede the race, falsely claiming the election is rife with fraud. Republicans in Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and other GOP officeholders have overwhelmingly gone along with this, refusing to acknowledge President-elect Joe Biden’s clear victory and supporting Trump’s baseless legal challenges. The few prominent Republicans who have called on Trump to admit defeat, for the most part, have “former” in their titles.

One could argue that these two camps represent different factions of the Republican Party, motivated by different ideological visions for the party or representing different interest groups competing for influence. But that’s not exactly right. In some ways, it makes more sense to see these as almost completely different Republican parties. The Republican Party of 2012 — the one that nominated Mitt Romney for president and recommended moderation and an embrace of immigrants after his loss — bears staggeringly little similarity to the Republican Party of 2020.

The GOP of the Reagan/Bush era, ranging from 1980 to 2008, broadly embraced economic conservatism (low taxes, reduced business regulation) and international engagement (robust trade, willingness to use force abroad) as governing philosophies. It also was generally a party that embraced democratic values —acknowledging the legitimacy of its opponents, demonstrating some forbearance in the use of its powers, supporting democratic elections, and so forth.

I don’t want to romanticize or oversimplify the GOP of that era. It was certainly riven by factions. Christian conservatives pushed the party toward more explicit regulation of people’s private behavior, especially on abortion and sexual orientation. Neoconservatives pushed the party toward aggressive and often disastrous foreign escapades.

Economic conservatives preached fiscal responsibility under Democratic administrations while running up record deficits when they were in power. Party demagogues such as Newt Gingrich smeared opponents and employed extreme tactics in governing. The party often looked the other way at bigotry in its own ranks, and its candidates sometimes used dog whistles to procure the white racist vote. And the party tirelessly fought internally over immigration, individual liberties and other key issues. But for the most part, it was a party that adhered to democratic values. Its internal fights played out in nomination contests and its fights with others played out in free and fair elections. (And the party even deposed Gingrich as House speaker.)

The GOP after the Obama administration was a very different entity. As a recent study from the V-Dem Institute found, the party itself hasn’t shifted much ideologically in recent years, but it has become far more illiberal. It has become less committed to pluralism and minority rights, while becoming more likely to demonize its opponents and encourage political violence. It is populist in its orientation, seeing virtually all conventions and traditions as inherently suspect. And its primary goal is the advancement of its leader.

What changed? There’s a good case to be made that race was at the center of this shift. White Americans, and especially white Republicans, increasingly identify themselves as belonging to a particular racial group, and many see that white identity as being under threat. Barack Obama’s presidency, as he suggests in his new memoir, magnified that threat in many conservative voters’ minds. The Democratic Party’s candidates weren’t just offering a different idea for governance; they were threatening the place of whites in the social order. Suddenly, the old rules of political engagement — which were fine for debating taxes and spending — weren’t good enough. When whites are told they are no longer the top racial group, it becomes a no-holds-barred competition, and good governance and democratic values get cast to the side.

We saw some of this in the rise of the tea party, which didn’t necessarily disagree with other Republicans on many policy issues but pushed for more confrontational tactics. We saw it in the government shutdown of 2013 and the threat to the government’s credit rating. And prior to Trump’s election, we saw it most distinctly in McConnell’s refusal to even hold hearings, much less a vote, for Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, along with his refusal to confirm many of Obama’s federal court appointments.

Trump is, of course, the embodiment of this new Republican Party and its illiberal orientation. He demonizes his opponents and, as he has been signaling since 2016, he does not acknowledge the legitimacy of any election he doesn’t win.

Some may wonder why the prominent Republicans who did endorse Biden and do recognize Biden’s victory seem to have so little influence on the party’s direction. The answer is simple. Those in the new GOP no longer see the Reagan-Bush Republicans as members of the same party.

January 6 was a very, very bad day for Donald Trump (but not necessarily for the rest of the country)

One can never really predict the future, but yesterday sure felt like one of those turning-point days in American history, one in which a switch is thrown and we all move onto a very different track than the one we had been traveling on.

Over the past month, I had puzzled over the President’s motives in deciding to continue—and to intensify—his attacks on the legitimacy of Biden’s victory.  Was he actually hoping that he’d get a January 6 Miracle?  That Mike Pence would say “I will not count the certified electoral count from Arizona [and Georgia, and Pennsylvania]” and throw the election into the House? Could be. Or perhaps he was merely positioning himself for a post-presidency role as movement leader, Republican kingpin, or television star? Or perhaps it was just the simple inability of a very, very insecure man to accept the public humiliation of an electoral defeat, with no greater strategic goal in mind?

But whatever his motives were (or are), it seemed pretty clear that one virtually certain outcome of his provocations would be that the Republican Party would be rent in two. Thanks to his pressing the issue, Congressional Republicans would have no place to hide. He would force a totally unnecessary and entirely futile “are-you-with-me-or-are-you-against-me moment” on every one of them. And he would be taking names.

And so it happened—in a manner almost unimaginable a few days ago*—and the Republican Party has indeed been rent in two.  It looks to me, though, like the President may have miscalculated a bit, and that, here again, he has come up short, and is left holding the smaller of the two portions.

* If you imagined that the President of the United States would send a message saying “We love you, you’re very special” to armed rioters who had forcibly occupied the US Capitol, your powers of imagination are superior to mine.

I watched most of the Senate debate yesterday and last night, and the sight of the Republican Senators, one after another—McConnell, Toomey, Lee, Loeffler, Daines, Romney, Paul, Portman, Sasse, Graham, …—publicly repudiating the President, refusing to do the one thing everyone knew he wanted them to do, was absolutely breath-taking. It was as though they had all, suddenly, awoken from a bad dream, after four years in which they had collectively cowered in the corner, afraid to say a single word that might draw the ire of the Capo, lest he direct his terrible fury at them.

How many of them would have done so had not a majority of their colleagues also done so is an interesting question we’ll never be able to answer. But the fact is that the majority of their Republican colleagues, for once, did not cave in, and one can’t help but think that the collective nature of the response help strengthen some of the backbones involved.

It was the answer to the question that many of us had been asking for years:  When, if ever, would they push back?  What, if anything, is over the line?  Is there anything—short of shooting someone on Fifth Avenue—that would make them say “Enough is enough”?

The President, intentionally or not, finally found the line—with two weeks to go in his presidency—that only the True Believers would cross.

He may declare war on the Infidels who refused to join him in the coming months and years, or others may do so on his behalf.  We shall see. But he would be doing so from a much, much weaker position than he was in just a few days ago, because his “base,” all of a sudden, is a lot smaller than it was before. The Party turned its back on him; only seven of 52 Republican Senators, once the line was drawn, crossed it at his behest. Fifteen percent—of Republicans. And I’m pretty confident that no more than the same small fraction of the Republican electorate—more than, say, that 15%—will stand behind a president (let alone an ex-president) who sent his love and good wishes to armed rioters** who had forcibly occupied the US Capitol.

**Although many commentators are using the term “insurrection” to describe yesterday’s events, I prefer calling it a “mob riot.”  To my ears, “insurrection” connotes that someone has a plan. It may not be shared by others, and it might not even make a lot of sense; but once the gates are stormed, someone has a step 2: Take over the TV station, or run the new flag up the flagpole, or take opponents into custody (or shoot them on sight), or issue a declaration, … Something.  From what I could see, it didn’t look like anyone (let alone the collective) had a plan yesterday for their assault on the Capitol other than generally whooping it up and getting their picture taken sitting in Nancy Pelosi’s office. This event looked quite a bit like the takeover of the University Administration Building at Columbia in 1968; it was much more serious than that, of course, because it was directed at the US Capitol, and because many of the rioters were, apparently, armed, but the perpetrators seemed to possess the same general cluelessness of what the point of the exercise was.

Donald Trump cannot control the Republican Party from that 15% perch. Two days ago the Republican Party was securely within his grip.  Today, it is not.

As it turns out, the forces he unleashed gave him no place to hide.

What the Republican Party will look like in the aftermath of this debacle is anybody’s guess. But I do think the rioters may actually have—inadvertently, to be sure—performed a great service for the country. I am among those who believe that the country needs something it has not had for some time: A functioning, principled, conservative Republican Party. The events of January 6 have exposed for all to see the anti-democratic and dictatorial heart of Trumpism, and helped to push push it off to the fringe of the political landscape where it belongs. For that, we should all be grateful. (Updated 1/10/2021)

Resources:, “History of the Republican Party,” By Wikipedia Editors;, “Republican Party,” By editors;, “Op-Ed: What broke the Republican Party?” By Seth Masket;, “The Death Throes of the Republican Party,” By David Post;


Republican presidents

As of 2020, there have been a total of 19 Republican presidents.

start date
end date
Time in office
16Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865)IllinoisMarch 4, 1861April 15, 1865[a]4 years, 42 days
18Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885)IllinoisMarch 4, 1869March 4, 18778 years, 0 days
19Rutherford B. Hayes (1822–1893)OhioMarch 4, 1877March 4, 18814 years, 0 days
20James A. Garfield (1831–1881)OhioMarch 4, 1881September 19, 1881[a]199 days
21Chester A. Arthur (1829–1886)New YorkSeptember 19, 1881March 4, 18853 years, 166 days
23Benjamin Harrison (1833–1901)IndianaMarch 4, 1889March 4, 18934 years, 0 days
25William McKinley (1843–1901)OhioMarch 4, 1897September 14, 1901[a]4 years, 194 days
26Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919)New YorkSeptember 14, 1901March 4, 19097 years, 171 days
27William Howard Taft (1857–1930)OhioMarch 4, 1909March 4, 19134 years, 0 days
29Warren G. Harding (1865–1923)OhioMarch 4, 1921August 2, 1923[a]2 years, 151 days
30Calvin Coolidge (1872–1933)MassachusettsAugust 2, 1923March 4, 19295 years, 214 days
31Herbert Hoover (1874–1964)CaliforniaMarch 4, 1929March 4, 19334 years, 0 days
34Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969)KansasJanuary 20, 1953January 20, 19618 years, 0 days
37Richard Nixon (1913–1994)CaliforniaJanuary 20, 1969August 9, 1974[b]5 years, 201 days
38Gerald Ford (1913–2006)MichiganAugust 9, 1974January 20, 19772 years, 164 days
40Ronald Reagan (1911–2004)CaliforniaJanuary 20, 1981January 20, 19898 years, 0 days
41George H. W. Bush (1924–2018)TexasJanuary 20, 1989January 20, 19934 years, 0 days
43George W. Bush (1946–)TexasJanuary 20, 2001January 20, 20098 years, 0 days
45Donald Trump (1946–)New YorkJanuary 20, 2017Incumbent3 years, 261 days

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