The New Yorker: Opinion: Jeffrey Frank: Rand Paul and the Eisenhower Dream
Back in the day, before, lets say, the Religious Right era, the Republican Party was essentially a classically conservative, if not conservative, libertarian party that used phrases like “Get big government out of my wallet, bedrooms, classrooms, and boardrooms, to paraphrase Barry Goldwater, and former U.S. Senate Leader Bob Dole believed in that as well, despite his effort to appeal to Christian Conservatives in his 1996 presidential campaign.
But up until the late 1980s or so, the Republican Party not only had this conservative tradition but also a progressive faction that voted for parts of the safety net from the New Deal and Great Society but would never go along with a massive Scandinavian socialist welfare state, although it approved of a modest safety net for those who needed it. The party also voted for and supported the civil rights legislation of the 1950s and 1960s and was really the Party of Lincoln up until the late 1980s or so.
By the 1970s, with the Goldwater Conservatives and the Nixon Federalists now in control of the Republican Party, they still believed in many of these things, especially as they related to the safety net, but they were Federalists who believed social policy is best handled by the State and local governments and that the Federal safety net in a lot of cases would be best managed at those levels where they would be more efficient.
By 1980 or so, what is today called the religious and neo-right was now part of the Republican Party, and the party cannot win in the short term without them, especially since they aren’t doing much to bring in non-traditional Republicans, who aren’t nearly as far to the Right as the predominantly Anglo-Protestant Southern voters, especially on social issues. The Republican Party has now become the party of the libertarian Mountain West, Bible Belt South, and rural America.
Much different from where they were just 50 years or so ago, when Republicans were expected to be able to win statewide in New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, California, and other places and when the Republican presidential nominee was expected to carry those States. The Conservative Libertarian faction is still alive and well and perhaps even growing in the Republican Party, but not big enough to govern the GOP by itself without the neo-right.