Here is a 2018 video where former Senator Jeff Flake talks about his book “Conscience of a Conservative” where he criticizes the current state of the Republican Party. A small group of conservatives like Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, Justin Amash, George Will, Jennifer Rubin, David Brooks and Sarah Longwell are fighting for a sane conservative movement that is not captive to racism, anti-immigrant bias and religious intolerance. They see their Republican Party is captive to an extreme element of the Right that puts ever more stringent ideological purity tests on conservative Republicans and punishes any Republican politician that collaborates with Democrats on any issue.
This is one of my biggest concerns about the current state of the Republican Party. Our democratic republic only works when progressives, moderates and conservatives debate on how to solve the county’s problems. No one side has a monopoly on truth. Progressives are right some of the time and wrong some of the time. Moderates are right some of the time and wrong some of the time. Conservatives are right some of the time and wrong some of the time. Our democratic republic is premised on the idea that people of differing views are able to compromise and find areas of common ground. The problem with Donald Trump and the increasingly extreme right wing Republican Party is that they are trying to eradicate any areas of common ground on which moderates and progressives can collaborate. And they no longer agree with moderates and progressives that issues like climate change are even a problem.
Most people are not purely progressive or purely conservative. Most people that I know are progressive on some issues and conservative on other issues. Social liberal/fiscal conservative Republicans and independent minded conservatives have become marginalized in a GOP that puts loyalty to Donald Trump above a reasoned debate of differing views..
The Republican Party used to be more ideologically diverse. There used to be liberal Republicans and moderate Republicans along with conservative Republicans. About seventy years ago, when the Democrat Party was still dominated by Southern segregationists, the Republican Party were often better on civil rights than the Democrats. During the 1960s, when Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, many segregationist Democrats began to switch to the Republican Party. These newly converted Republicans brought their states rights, fundamentalist Christian beliefs to the Republican Party and this began a slow transformation of the Republican Party.
One of the changes was in regards to civil rights. In the mid 1960s, Lyndon Johnson needed the votes of moderate Republicans to counter the opposition of segregationist Democrats to get his civil rights legislation passed. As more segregationists switched to the Republican Party, Republicans began looking for ways to attract Southern white voters. In 1968, Republican Jackie Robinson (the Brooklyn Dodgers great who integrated Major League Baseball) joined other black Republicans in criticizing Republican nominee Richard Nixon’s tactic to using coded racist language to appeal to Southern white voters. In 1988, Lee Atwater fashioned a racist campaign for the George H.W. Bush campaign against Michael Dukakis. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush had to fight back a strong challenge from Pat Buchanan in the Republican primaries, who had an overtly racist and homophobic campaign.
In the 1970s, another movement that changed the Republican Party was the rise of the Christian Right. Christian fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell, Phyllis Schlafly and Anita Bryant organized Christian conservatives to fight against the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion rights and gay rights. Moderate and conservative Republicans like Jill Ruckelshaus and Barry Goldwater who supported women’s rights and gay rights fought unsuccessfully against the Christian Rights’ takeover of the GOP.
In the 1980s and 1990s, there was still a large segment of moderate Republicans. But after Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House in 1994, the extreme Right of the Republican Party began to put ideological purity tests that pushed out moderate Republicans and conservative Republicans who are insufficiently conservative. In the early 2000s. Jeff Jeffords and Lincoln Chaffee, the last true moderate Republicans, left the Republican Party after pressure from conservative activists. In the early 2010s, the Tea Party segment of the Republican base voted out of office conservative Republicans like Utah Senator Bob Bennett and Virginia Representative Eric Cantor for being insufficiently conservative and for their willingness to work with Democrats.
Even though I’m a liberal, it’s in all of our interests for conservatives like Jeff Flake to fight for a sane conservative movement and a Republican Party that sees Democrats as competing friends and not implacable foes. Progressives and moderates need sane conservatives whom they can share the same reality and offer alternative ideas on how to solve problems in this country.