On a Friday in late June in the Texas Hill Country, about an hour outside Austin, some 30 shoeless, mostly libertarian, mostly moderate, mostly Republican guests gathered at the 720-acre, Eastern-inspired ranch of Whole Foods cofounder and co-CEO John Mackey, for a conference on the future of the GOP. It was 9:30 a.m., and another of their hosts, Rich Tafel, founder of the gay conservative group Log Cabin Republicans, had just given the introduction to the first full day of the event, which would run until Sunday midday. During a break, attendees checked their phones and encountered some version of this headline: "5-4 Ruling Makes Same-Sex Marriage a Right Nationwide." "Here we were in this group, trying to imagine the future Right," businessman Ted Buerger tells me later, "and a doorway opened in the middle of those meetings and said, 'What you are trying to create is what is going to be created.' "
The conference, officially called the Conclave on the Future of the Right, was sponsored by the Institute for Cultural Evolution, which, since 2013, has been focused on "depolarizing" American politics. Mackey and Tafel, both senior fellows there, issued invitations to Republican and Republican-leaning independent "thought leaders"—including former Republican National Committee head Michael Steele, Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida , and book publisher and Charles Koch scion Elizabeth Koch—who they believed would be receptive to their vision of a GOP that focuses less on divisive social issues. After decades of subordination to a Republican "base" composed of social conservatives, it seems, libertarians and others who have felt alienated from the party see an opportunity to seize the reins. The aim of this meeting was to engage some of them in a conversation about what their dream party might look like.