I have been immersed in national politics in Washington for five decades. Over my time here, as an academic, a congressional staffer, a think tanker, and a commentator and public figure, I have gotten to know and worked with a wide range of key actors in politics and policy. I have seen up close the changes in our politics and culture. Nothing has been more striking or significant than the transformation of the Republican Party, from a moderately conservative party to a very conservative party to something else entirely.
One sign of this change? A five-term Republican congressman from Colorado, elected in the Tea Party wave in 2010 and now a Trump loyalist, was recently defeated in a primary by a candidate who runs Shooters Grill, where servers are encouraged to carry firearms, and who has indulged the QAnon conspiracy theories and who is now endorsed, not repudiated, by the National Republican Congressional Committee. Another? The current buzz surrounding Tucker Carlson as the party’s hope in 2024—even as he takes sudden leave from his show to go fishing, after one of his writers was tied to racist and misogynistic posts on an internet message board.
Few of the dozens of Republicans in high office I have known and admired over five decades—in a party not my own and holding views that, in many cases, I did not share—would be represented in the Republican Party of today. While some of my friends and mentors were and are moderates, others were proud conservatives, who genuinely believed in fiscal discipline but also valued government, albeit in a limited form. But the radical and unconservative idea that all government should be disdained, that tax cuts that blow up the debt are just fine, would be anathema to them.