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Introduction to the New Conservatism

By Evan Brady

The Tea Party. The Party of Lincoln and Reagan. The Grand Old Party. All of these are or have been names for the same entity: the Republican Party of the United States of America. While the party is currently known for its support of both economic and social conservatism, it was once the party of progressives and activists. A party that initially worked to free the slaves and oppose their subjugation under Jim Crow laws and Reconstructionism now works to hinder the voting rights of minorities through gerrymandering and voter ID laws.

So how did the Grand Old Party stray so far from its original roots? How did the conservatism of Reagan escalate into the new conservatism of Trump and the Tea Party movement we see today? Why did Republicans shift from focusing on enabling social mobility to slashing social welfare programs in order to pay for cutting taxes for the rich? I hope to answer these questions over the next couple of weeks by examining previous Republican administrations and comparing them to more recent administrations, such as those of George W. Bush and Donald Trump.

The Republican Party has a long and storied history, with many different administrations following many different beliefs rising to the presidency. In order to understand the ideological shifts that the GOP has experienced over the course of their history, it would be best to analyze prominent figures within the history of the party.

Some names that instantly come to mind when talking about the Republican Party include Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, George H.W Bush, and George W. Bush. All of these men influenced the Republican Party in major ways, and the political party was changed by the time they were out of office.

In modern times, we have a new Republican president with beliefs that would be considered extreme by many previous Republican administrations. Donald Trump’s brief political career, from the first day of his election campaign to the day to day occurrences of his presidency, has brought to light a branch of Republican ideology that is farther to the right than ever before. The rhetoric and policies supported by the Trump administration reflect the sentiments of a sort of “new conservatism” that was first given life by the George W. Bush administration and the Tea Party movement that gained popularity in the 2008 election.

In order to understand how we reached this point in our country’s history, I will be comparing Trump’s presidency and his political stances with those of the men previously mentioned. By doing so, I will hopefully be able to track the changes of ideology in the Republican party, the situations that brought about these changes, and the ways in which the President at the time, whether it was Lincoln or Trump, approached that situation.

The goal of these comparisons is not just to shed some light on the history of the Republican Party. More importantly, I hope to be able to understand why modern day Republicans hold the beliefs that they do, where the roots of these beliefs are, and why the “Party of Lincoln” is so fundamentally different from the man who championed it to the presidency in 1861.

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