Despite claims that they are conservatives, most Republicans are merely reactionaries responding to events. In everything from social issues to economics, many so-called conservatives take positioned stances in order to politically outmaneuver Democrats.
During the 2010 midterm elections, many became great defenders of Medicare in order to deflate Obamacare. During Barack Obama's term, this tendency has gotten worse, allowing modern conservative thought to stagnate.
Indeed they tap every barrel ideologically without giving a thought to what it means in total. When it is convenient, they are libertarians, spouting free market shibboleths from F.A. Hayek. At other times, traditionalism is hauled out - although it is completely inconsistent with the Ayn Randish notions of individual supremacy. And finally they designate the enemy - "liberals." It is nice they are sure what liberalism is, certainly most progressives would be pressed to define it.
When the world is going through massive changes, conservatives mix a strange brew of resentment and what they call freedom. Although they would deny legal protections to some groups, the right celebrates its commitment to personal liberty. For them, freedom is to be given to their diverse and perverse constituencies, not to those outsiders deemed unworthy. These are not ideas, these are talking points, political points to defeat the common electoral for whatever or whoever it is.
It seems 1964 was the tipping point. When Barry Goldwater decided to vote against the Civil Rights Bill, despite supporting previous measures to gain Southern votes, he placed conservatism onto the political rather than philosophical track.
Even Ronald Reagan added very little to conservative thought. His "road to Damascus" moment came when he discovered that his earnings as an actor placed him in a high tax bracket.
In his before "becoming governor of California" 1965 memoir "Where's the Rest of Me," the income levy was the main reason he went from liberalism to conservatism. Jesse Helms, despite his fiery rhetoric against the last vestiges of the sixties Civil Rights movement, supported federal aid for the elderly. Up until 1970, Helms remained a faithful North Carolina Democrat, switching parties with only the greatest reluctance.
Ultimately conservatism is reduced to being only what Democrats are not. They embrace state power only when it is easy to do politically. But the hard stuff is forming an ideology during an era of change.
To go on fulminating against essentially the future is costly. You win elections without purpose - gaining bragging rights and little else. Republicans are held hostage by this crazy-quilt selection of ideas currently masquerading as conservatism.
Indeed, any attempt to moderate the GOP's image within the party is usually by a charge of "betrayal."
From immigration to gay marriage, the political right builds a bulwark. Although their demographics are a nightmare, Republicans have to show obeisance to political primitives. This is a shame because the country needs a strong Edward Burkain conservatism which emphasizes the rule of law and the protection of property and persons.
But a party that embraces every momentary passion cannot build a firm foundation. For more that 20 years, since Bill Clinton's election, the emphasis has been to destroy Democrats and their alleged liberal attachments. Not only has this approach failed, it has left the party without substance. Real conservatism has strong foundations which emphasize good sense rather than choleric outburst.