No one will recall the two weeks leading up to Labor Day 2019 as a turning point in the country’s political history. Vacationers left their lakeside retreats or ended their seashore holidays; parents bought school supplies or moved nervous first-year college students into freshly scrubbed dormitories. Washington was preoccupied with the risible distraction provided by the notion of buying Greenland. The markets fell, then recovered, then fell again. It was, after all, summertime, and for much of the nation it was a splendid, serene summer.

But four disparate events, each with its own gyroscope, were indications of minute but perhaps telling changes in the tectonic balance of the Republican Party, which for its 165-year history has been in the process of one transition or another. In truth, few parties in the world have had so many identities: from anti-slavery insurgency and engine of big government to vanguard of big business and captive of special interests. Then from progressive rebellion and trust-busting insurrection to disciple of normalcy and apostle of isolationism. And, within living memory, from devotion to austerity and devout faith in free trade to massive deficits and protectionism — and from Dwight Eisenhower’s contempt for using the media to Donald J. Trump’s mastery of social media.

For a party that for much of its life, and through most of its identities, has cultivated a reputation as a steady-state political entity, its real identity is one of constant change — from agent of change to bulwark against change and then to agent of change once more. The tumult and upheaval of the past several years is less a departure from its traditions than an extension of them:

First of the mini tremors of late summer was a poll from a Republican firm indicating three-fourths of suburban women favor stricter gun control. This is the group for which the Republicans absolutely, positively, must make inroads if Trump is to win a second term. It is also the group that helped the Democrats take the House in 2018. These findings, from suburbs in Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia, are deeply disturbing to Republican political professionals.

The second temblor was a Los Angeles Times poll that suggested Trump’s populist impulses trouble and perhaps actually alienate a sizable minority of Republicans. About a quarter of GOP voters surveyed said they wish the party would move in a “more traditionally conservative” direction. To be sure, more indicated they supported Trump’s populist impulses than opposed them, but a party where a quarter of its adherents are uneasy with its current guiding philosophy is not on sound footing once its current president departs the scene.

The third development will have no practical effect on the coming presidential election but nonetheless is an indication of divisions within the party. There is no chance former Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois will provide an obstacle to Trump’s glide to renomination, but his candidacy stands as a symbol of the grave doubts conservatives harbor about the ideological direction of the party.

Indeed, hardly anyone will notice when Walsh takes on the president from the Tea Party right. (Hardly anyone noticed Rep. John Ashbrook’s “no-left turns” 1972 challenge of Richard Nixon.) Hardly anyone has noticed former Gov. William F. Weld of Massachusetts is taking on Trump from the silk-stocking right. (Hardly anyone saw his tweet last week that Trump “is a clear and present danger — to our country, to the globe.”)

Incumbent presidents seldom get these kinds of irritations. But note this: Though former Nixon and Reagan aide Patrick J. Buchanan, an agent provocateur par excellence, never had a chance of preventing the renomination of George H.W. Bush in 1992, his pitchforks-and-populism presidential campaign sent social-conservative cultural warriors to the barricades and had an enormous impact on the Republican Party; it is incontrovertible that today’s GOP more resembles Buchanan’s conception of politics than Bush’s.

The fourth element was the report the federal budget deficit was on its way to reaching a record trillion-dollar level for fiscal 2020, which begins Oct. 1. It wasn’t that long ago liberal and conservative Republicans alike — Sens. Warren Rudman of New Hampshire and Phil Gramm of Texas, who agreed on almost nothing but fiscal responsibility — worked together to narrow the deficit rather than widen it. There are no screams of GOP protest about the deficit, and the only yelps about it issue from the Democrats, who have almost no credibility as austerity advocates.

“Republicans traditionally cared about deficits,” said Valerie A. Ramey, an economist at the University of California at San Diego. “The idea hasn’t gone out of fashion worldwide. But it has gone out of fashion in the modern Republican Party.”

Together these elements illuminate new strains in a party that delivered its presidential nomination to a onetime Democratic supporter of abortion rights whose personal comportment bore no resemblance to the austere if not severe profiles of its postwar presidents: disciplined (Eisenhower, the very model of a military man); introverted (Nixon, shy and brooding); faithful (Gerald R. Ford, devoted to his wife and to conventional politics); ideologically coherent (Ronald Reagan, after a youthful romance with Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal); selfless (George H.W. Bush, with an ideology that amounted to little more than service); and self-consciously sober (George W. Bush, after years of near-addiction to alcohol).

The party’s recent failed nominees were a soldier (Bob Dole, nearly mortally injured on an Italian hillside in the waning days of World War II); a Navy aviator (John McCain, imprisoned in solitary confinement during Vietnam); and a Mormon bishop and stake president (Mitt Romney, who neither drank nor swore and personified family values).

The cultural battle Buchanan prompted in his 1992 challenge to Bush often was called a war for the soul of the Republican Party. The Democrats, of course, have their own internal schisms and struggles — and their own war for their party’s cultural soul. But that dispute will be settled, at least until November 2020, through the Democratic presidential nomination process now underway. The struggle inside the GOP will go on as long as Trump holds the White House — and, given his formidable presence as America’s chief executive, may continue long after he has left the presidency.

David M. Shribman is the former executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Follow him on Twitter @ShribmanPG.

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Yawn. Democrats have changed too. They passionately embrace the murder of babies, deviant behaviours, illegal aliens over the American people, communism, total control of everyone's bill of rights.


trump passionately embraced a few porn stars (not to mention the 17 women who accused him of sexual misconduct or the infamous grab them by the p@#$y comment) after his wife gave birth and paid them off for their silence. Nothing deviant about that, huh, Bulldog?


I don't believe there is another person alive including all the persons mentioned who could have withstood the coordinated daily onslaught be a biased press! Add to this the organized attempt by the Democrats(Obama et al) and fawning press to unseat a duly elected President. Give me a break!


So now President Obama is behind this "organized attempt" to unseat trump?!?! Couldn't be for all of the unsavory and illegal activities of his administration, could it?!?!? I think every President has had to deal with the media onslaught so crying that trump is treated unfairly by a biased media is another cop-out. President Obama, President Clinton, President Regan, both President Bush's and many more have never called the press the enemy of the people despite being criticized incessantly. trump is a child who is unfit for office.


Name an illegal activity of his administration. Bet you won't.


Did you forget Michael Flynn lying to Congress about his conversations with the Russians?


That was Michael Flynn's alleged crime. A result of a dubious investigation. Nice reach though


Flynn is a criminal and his crime was committed while he was part of trumps administration. I gave you an answer based on facts. Facts always confuse you.


That dubious investigation caused Flynn to plead guilty. Hmmm...why is that?


Because Mueller was bankrupting Flynn to get said confession. Mueller had unlimited resources. Flynn not so much


Flynn was national security advisor for 25 days, and was under investigation by obama's label, but neglected to tell President Trump that Flynn was under investigation. Like I said nice reach.


So now it's Mueller's fault Flynn broke the law?!?! Mueller is a convicted criminal from the trump administration. Put whatever spin you want on it but those are the facts.

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