Using the word Republican is not as easy as you might think. Usually we want to use fewer terms, but in this case the Republican party split apart at the seams leaving people on the right and left confused. Making some distinctions will be helpful.
We must say up front that there are Republicans who are just regular people, who don’t think Trump should be King for life and don’t believe Liberals run sex rings out of pizza joints and eat babies. Many of these voters have been pulled into the culture of the right and are not really aware of, or adherents to, it’s deeper ideology or dangerous actions.
Historical Republicans were the party of Lincoln and the abolitionists. That changed in the 50s and 60s as a large chunk of racist Southern Democrats left the Democratic party over its broad civil rights activism. The Republican party embraced them and gained a great deal of power.
Yesterday’s Republicans began in the late 60s and 70s as largely economic Republicans who believed business did not have enough political clout. With immense financial and logistic support from the business world (see Democracy in Chains) they wholeheartedly embraced the notion that the “free market” was inherently benevolent and morally good and so should be left alone, meaning without citizen control —directly or through elected representatives. This crop of Republicans embraced the use of psychology in propaganda, misdirection, lies, dirty tricks and media blitzkrieg to win elections. It’s tempting to think this turn to the dark side started with Trump, but it’s been around in one form or another since the 70s (Fox News and talk radio have been around for decades). These methods won the Republican party more and more elections and a rabidly loyal base.
The problem with gaining power by using psychology to manipulate, distract and fool people is that those people eventually think they have power. Shakespeare’s Hamlet has the phrase for what happened next to the Republican party: “Hoist with his own petard”, meaning the bomb maker is killed with the bomb he’s making. The Bible weighs in with (paraphrased) “Live by the sword, die by the sword”. The the loss of their party to Today’s Republicans was entirely a disaster of their own making.
Today’s Republicans —the extremist, militant, racist, anti-democracy ones found Yesterday’s Republicans not pure enough and replaced them with their own candidates. Today’s Republican party therefore, is the Frankenstein monster created by Yesterdays Republicans and like the fictional monster, (spoiler alert! ) it chased them and killed them off. (Unlike the fictional monster, Today’s Republicans are not the sympathetic character the monster was in Mary Shelly’s original.)
If the Lincoln Project is to be believed, Yesterday’s Republican party is “irredeemable” and Today’s Republican party must be completely dismantled.
In the light of this mess, what terms can we use to make clear which Republicans we are talking about?
Republicans: Today’s off-the-rails-on-the-crazy-train Republicans. They own the party lock stock and barrel.
Adrift Republicans: those thrown overboard or who have left on their own since Trump arrived. There are also the few that remain in the party but think today’s extremists need some push back. Adam Kinzinger above falls into this category.
Republican Strategists: the folks whose manipulation and lies fuel today’s Republicans.
The GOP/RNC -the current party apparatus.
Wishful Thinkers: Those who have left the party, still call themselves Republicans, and desperately cling to the dim possibility they can rebuild the party.
Former Republicans: Yesterday’s Republicans who acknowledge their part in creating today’s Republicans, reject extremism and manipulation and embrace America’s founding principle of ultimate citizen authority in government and economics.
Conservatives: This term is used by all stripes of Republicans and is now too muddled to really mean much. However it is still useful to describe Yesterday’s Republicans worldview of resistance to change and hands-off free market ideology.
There is also the issue of how those above describe themselves. I would suggest that any of above who voted for Trump the second time are, by that action, today’s Republicans.