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(CNN)The current drama in the GOP is the latest and most concrete evidence that the party is undergoing a very painful evolution.
Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the daughter of a former vice president and a power in her own right, was excised from House leadership because she would not stop criticizing former President Donald Trump’s continued lying about his 2020 election loss.
Republicans under Abraham Lincoln were the party that ended slavery. Southern states began seceding before he could be sworn in. Republicans under Dwight Eisenhower were the party of Cold Warriors, and then under Ronald Reagan they became the party of ever-smaller government.
Republicans under Trump became the party that appealed to White supremacists and made protecting Confederate statues a campaign issue.
Once the party specifically pushing the importance of the Constitution and the rule of law, it is now unacceptable for party leaders like Cheney to do anything but tolerate the attempted overthrow of valid election results — the bedrock principle that makes the American political system work. The result is that a major US political party is now wedded completely to an anti-democratic ideology.
More than 100 Republicans who have had it are creating a new organization. They include George Conway, who helped run the Lincoln Project of disaffected Republicans bent on defeating Trump in 2016, but they are far from a mass movement. They aren’t even really calling themselves a party.
“I don’t think a third party necessarily works in the kind of political system we have,” Conway told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday night. “But there is a need for people who have a conservative to moderate point of view and want to believe in the rule of law and they need a place to go and a place where they can organize and support candidates that are consistent with that.”
The split between Republicans willing to stand for the truth and those happy to accept its attempted overthrow does not necessarily signify a complete reorienting of US parties, which have been moving and evolving since government leaders first split into factions in the early 1800s.
The briefest possible history of US political parties
US history is full of splinter parties and at least one complete party implosion, but the wreckage has always formed back into the two-party system.
If you were to recap it as succinctly as possible, it might look like this:
Early on, Federalist supporters of a stronger national government opposed Democratic-Republican defenders of the primacy of states.
Federalists faded away and Democratic-Republicans split into Jacksonian Democrats and Whigs, who were united against Andrew Jackson, who they viewed as a wannabe king, but ultimately split apart over slavery. Along the way there were others, like the Know Nothings, which started as a secret society.
Opposition to adding slave states in the West largely created the Republicans, who later faced splintering of their own with Bull Moose Progressives led by Theodore Roosevelt, who was frustrated at the direction his party took after he left the White House and was worried about ties between business and politics.
That a faction of Republicans was once progressive seems ironic today, since Democrats like to be referred to as progressive, but that’s only after they faced their own splinters, like Dixiecrats, old Southern segregationists in the 1940s. The South, and in particular White voters, was a growing part of Republicans’ strategy.
Now the South has gone from largely Democrat to Republican, although a changing population is upsetting that dynamic in some states.
The North and the West Coast have moved from being dominated by Republicans to Democrats and what largely separates Democrats and Republicans is how involved the government should be in guaranteeing racial and economic equality.
Parties change because the country changes
Ronald Brownstein writes this week for CNN abut
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