I never use the phrase “GOP” (except now, apparently). I don’t like it because it’s not true.
The “Grand Old Party” is supposed to be the party of Lincoln and Roosevelt. But as I’ve voraciously been consuming the definitive autobiographies and books on these and other Presidents, I can’t draw a line from Lincoln to Republicans today. I could maybe have an easier time with Democrats, but it would take a wild line through and around issues of slavery.
The best theory to explain this that I can come up with is partially due to Grover Norquist, who mused in Leave Us Alone that a lot of voters vote for one party or another because their father did and their grandfather and great-grandfather before that. In other words, a lot of people vote party-line like the way children often assume the religious beliefs of their parents.
This happens everywhere but has been particularly sticky in the south. This still explains Kentucky today. When you wonder how Kentucky votes for a Democratic governor in what should be a reliably red state up and down the board, it’s because people are still voting at least partially on their family’s civil-war era tradition when Democrats were the more like the “Republicans” (by a modern definition).
My theory is the country changes, the electorate changes, but the south is always the laggard by a wide margin. And there are enough of them, plus Texas and Oklahoma, maybe Indiana, that it puts a dent in the course of the country’s leadership.
Most people have a casual understanding of the “flip” in the parties’ beliefs and core voters, mostly around the Civil War and later Nixon’s election. But for years before Nixon, to put it bluntly, many southern voters were somewhat unaware that the Democrats weren’t really the bearer of their character and beliefs anymore. Eventually, they caught up. I suspect we may be another 75 or 100 years away from another flip like that. This is a generations-long process that is altered only by death and slow, steady, change.
So when I hear the phrase “GOP”, I hear the Republicans of today taking credit for things their forefathers did under the same label but with entirely different context and pretenses. That’s offensive to early Republicans. It’s like if the producers of the Jason Bourne films said they were proud of the work they did in early James Bond films. You don’t get to take credit for that. You weren’t even there, so sit down and shut up.
As one example, Theodore Roosevelt wouldn’t recognize either party today. He could arguably be considered an independent today, and some may consider him one of his time (George Washington was our only true independent President, as he never declared a party and has been the only unanimous vote-getter in the electoral college). Roosevelt wanted big government projects in Panama and around the US. He wanted to bust up large trusts and monopolies like railroads and banks. He also wanted a big, strong, and world-dominating military. Roosevelt wasn’t keen on racial discrimination either and was the first President to welcome a black man to the White House.
Roosevelt was most proud of his achievements in civil service reform, which stopped the practice of appointing people to lush government jobs without real qualifications. He weakened the parties by stomping on their machinery in races small and large.
Trump has Roosevelt’s portrait hanging in the Oval Office and he says he admires him and Andrew Theodore most. Theordore Roosevelt was a conservative, not a Republican. He conserved nature and limited resources, was a populist and true champion of miners, coal workers, and factory workers. He had no use for big corporations running afoul of laws both real and moral. If he were alive today he’d punch Trump in the face and call him a sissy for not being able to kill a moose with his bare hands.
There’s no comparing the Republicans of today to 1950, 1910, or 1864 or the Democrats of today to 1963 and 1944. Heck, Andrew Jackson was a “Democrat”.