The Republican Party, viewed through its quadrennial platform documents, is consistently business-oriented and committed to a strong defense, but has morphed over the past half-
century from a socially moderate, environmentally progressive and fiscally cautious group to a conservative party that is suspicious of government, allied against abortion and motivated by faith.
Influenced by the rise of tea party activists, this year’s platform, adopted Tuesday at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, has shifted to the right, particularly on fiscal issues. It calls for an audit of the Federal Reserve and a commission to study returning to the gold standard. There are odes of fidelity to the Constitution but also calls for amendments that would balance the federal budget, require a two-thirds majority in Congress to raise taxes and define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
The new plank urges the transformation of Medicare from an entitlement to a system of personal accounts, increased use of coal for energy and a ban on federal funding to universities that give illegal immigrants in-state tuition rates.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) expressed skepticism that the lengthy recitation of the party’s positions has much meaning or function.
“Anybody read the party platform? I never met anybody,” Boehner told reporters. He said the document should be no more than one page. “That way, Americans could actually read it.”
Party platforms are not easy to digest. They are the meat missing from a campaign menu dominated by sweet and sour TV commercials. Platforms are aspirational laundry lists, packed with sops to every interest group that makes up a modern party. But in retrospect, they provide a good guide to where a party is heading.
What it means to be a Republican has changed enormously over the past half-century. The GOP opposed a Palestinian state as late as 1992, went silent on the issue for eight years, then endorsed the idea in its past two planks. During the George H.W. Bush presidency, Republicans acknowledged global warming and boasted of efforts to commit billions of federal dollars to finding solutions. The party then spent two election cycles saying there was too much “scientific uncertainty” before accepting in 2008 that humans have a role in altering the climate.
The GOP, like its opposition, has responded to ideological, demographic and social changes by hardening some of its positions and adopting entirely new planks, all part of an effort to create a coalition capable of winning national elections. In the Republicans’ case, that meant adapting and appealing to a new base in the South from the 1970s forward, becoming the dominant party of white suburbia, and finding ways to marry its traditional pro-business foundation with less affluent, more socially conservative voters.