What in the world happened to the grand old Republican Party? By heritage, I probably should be a Republican. I come, generations removed, from a Republican background. One great-grandfather was a Republican senator from Pennsylvania; another great-grandfather was chairman of the Republican National Committee. My mother's father detested FDR. My father was a supporter of moderate Republican Wendell Wilkie against FDR in the 1940 presidential election.
All of that, of course, is of another era, when Republicans, while still a conservative, pro-business bunch, practiced a form of politics that was, for the most part, moderate and intelligently considered. Even as late as the 1970s, it was possible to be such a thing as a moderate and even liberal Republican, embodied in the likes of Senators Lowell Weicker and Mark Hatfield and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller.
But somewhere in the 60s or 70s, the Republican Party began losing its way, straying from Eisenhower-era moderation. The first uptick in Republican extremism appeared in 1964, when the arch-conservative Barry Goldwater won the Republican presidential nomination. But Lyndon Johnson's trouncing of Goldwater -- with 61.1% of the vote, winning the largest percentage of the popular vote since James Madison -- appeared to relegate Goldwater politics to the fringes. (My father changed party allegiances at about this time.) Thereafter, Nixon, Reagan, and the Bushes all stayed largely within the traditional territory of Republican conservatism.
That changed in the early 21st century with the arrival of the Tea Party. The Tea Party brand of politics tapped into a rural, anti-elitist (anti-woke) anger that had been simmering for a while beneath the decorous surface of traditional political intercourse. Tea Partiers were combative, uncompromising, and politically irreverent, and along came Donald Trump to exploit the assault on reason and commonsense He spearheaded a rapid decomposition of the Republican mainstream, but he alone wasn't responsible for the party's dive into the deep end of the crazy pool. Some of the kookiest kooks in Congress -- guys like Louie Gohmert and Paul Gosar -- were festering blisters on the national scene well before Trump arrived.
Except in rare cases like Utah Senator Mitt Romney, moderate Republicans have sat by silently in allowing their party to get sucked into a vortex of looniness. This is, perhaps, simply a matter of political survivalism, a calculation that reelection is possible only through maintaining comity with an extreme Trumpist cohort. Even after Trumpism's shortfall in the recent midterm elections, the crazies have managed to keep a hand on the House steering wheel, wringing concession after concession from the spineless Kevin McCarthy as he pursued, humiliatingly, the House speakership.
Congress is, of course, the federal government's legislative body. Yet rather than making laws, Congressional Republican headliners prefer to strut about as performance artists. Atop that list, of course, is the benighted Marjorie Taylor Greene. She arrived at Joe Biden's recent State of the Union address bearing a white balloon, to express contempt for the Biden administration's handling of the Chinese spy-balloon contretemps. She then rose up during Biden's speech to shout "liar" in an attention-grabbing display of childish petulance. Imagine a second-grader bringing silly, look-at-me props to school and then acting as a disruptive miscreant from the back of the classroom. MTG in a nutshell.
Of course, a school kid who misbehaves gets sent to the principal. Unfortunately, the Republican Party has no order-restoring principal -- or few principles, for that matter. Guiding today's Republican Party are instead these dictums: make noise not laws, truth is irrelevant, and all liberals are satanic, anti-American evildoers.
As the Tea Party and Trump era has darkened Republican politics, posturing, not passing laws, has been driving the party bus. During Trump's four presidential years, he signed just one significant piece of legislation into law -- a fiscally imprudent tax cut for the wealthy. Health care? Forgotten. Infrastructure? Nope. Immigration policy? Lots of "build the wall" bluster, but no real laws enacted. Foreign policy? Beyond the coddling of authoritarian leaders (Putin, Kim, Orban, Bolsanaro), no significant legislative movement.
Instead, we see Greene on the streets berating a Parkland school shooting survivor, Lauren Boebert proudly flaunting her gun fetishism, Paul Gosar posting a video depicting the assassination of Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Louie Gohmert declaring the January 6 insurrection to be an event perpetrated by FBI infiltrators. And so on.
To be sure, Republicans have passed a few laws, but at the state level, and some are mind-numbing. From the dystopian, book-burning world of Ray Bradbury's novel, “Fahrenheit 451,” comes Florida's "anti-woke" law to remove from schools any books with hints of liberalism, regarding in particular sexual identity or race history. Bookshelves in some Florida schools were reportedly being swept clean. Imagine that -- schools without books.
My great-grandfather, the one-time RNC chairman, also served as personal secretary (precursor to chief of staff) to President Howard Taft, who, thanks to his active position as a trust-buster, was considered by many to be a progressive. That characterization might be open to debate, but these days it is all but impossible even to contemplate the concept of a "progressive" Republican. The Grand Old Party has lost itself down a lunatic rabbit hole from which it will struggle to emerge.
Oliver lives in Warren.