Moderate and liberal Republicans are now derogatorily nicknamed RINOS – Republicans In Name Only. How did they become as rare in Washington as those other rhinos – rhinoceroses? According to Kabaservice, the answer lies partly in the failures of the Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford administrations. With the personal discrediting of Nixon came the political discrediting of the centrist branches of the Republican Party in which Nixon had roots as Eisenhower’s vice-president. Similarly, Ford’s loss in 1976 to moderate Democratic governor Jimmy Carter in the quest for the presidency left open the door to right-wing icon Ronald Reagan’s ascension.
Many other factors interceded, of course, and some of have been exhaustively detailed in other works. The rise of the neoconservative and Christianist movements, a backlash against the civil rights movement and the welfare state, and a suburban middle class terrified of crime and disorder are among them. Kabaservice unwisely downplays the role race played in segregating the two parties; when Southern Democrats defected to the Republicans in response to their old party’s embrace of black equality, each party essentially became ideologically monolithic. Democrats were liberals, and Republicans were conservatives. Moderates had nowhere to go.