Having purged their ranks of liberals, moderates, and many ancient and honorable conservatives whose service antedated the Reagan era, Republicans have whittled themselves down to a reactionary party angry at the modern age, fearful of the future, and terrorized by the radical Tea Party. The Tea Party is not actually a party, of course, but a revolutionary movement of malcontents who seem to despise or fear the way the world is trending and to hold an older generation of Republicans responsible for it. Their response has been to eliminate Republicans whose conservatism they judge to be impure.
What they call conservatism seems a great deal like the sentimental longing for those mythic good old days with which depressed codgers belabor the young on long car trips. In Tea Party types it seems like nostalgia for a past when social security meant ending life in a poorhouse and health care meant knowing a doctor who made house calls. During the past five or six years old-line Republicans whose conservatism failed to meet the new purity standards have found themselves sandbagged in primary elections by cunning Tea Party minorities and replaced by Republicans of the new breed.
This development has been a mighty force in the restructuring of the Republican Party. Its influence is visible in this year’s party platform with its surly attitude toward women’s issues, its barely concealed hostility toward the burgeoning immigrant population, and its subliminal dream of repealing a hundred years of progressive government. The passion for turning back the calendar and revisiting the joys of keeping cool with Coolidge, if not the gloriously tax-free age of Mark Hanna and President McKinley, is not a passion, one suspects, that thrills Mitt Romney to his pragmatic Mormon roots. Indeed, the purified conservatism that now afflicts the Republican Party seems so alien to Romney’s personality, character, and history that his candidacy seems bizarre.
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