This political evolution can be considered part of an overall rightward lurch in American politics, but some of the most important characteristics involved cannot best be described in right-vs.-left terms. There are, for example, certain uses of the imperial presidency, with regard to which, as Heilbrunn aptly puts it, “next to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, Nixon was a piker.” Perhaps the most salient set of characteristics comprises a self-righteousness, an associated denial of legitimacy to political opponents, and a further associated resistance to compromise. These were the characteristics to which Jeb Bush was referring when he observed that Reagan, “based on his record of finding accommodation...as would my dad” would have had difficulty winning acceptance amid “an orthodoxy that doesn't allow for disagreement, doesn't allow for finding some common ground.” Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, in their recent work on dysfunction in the American political system, put it succinctly and bluntly:
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
The contrast between old and new is just as stark between some present-day Congressional leadership and Everett Dirksen, who as Republican leader in the Senate—although he was a strong conservative on fiscal matters—worked closely and effectively with his Democratic counterparts and also was a key source of support for major aspects of Lyndon Johnson's foreign policy.
The attributes of the new breed of conservatism have major implications for the foreign policy postures of today, including the positions of this year's presumptive Republican presidential nominee. The self-righteousness and resistance to compromise show through. Those positions include unbridled confidence in the all-purpose efficacy of U.S. military power, spending to expand that power substantially without regard to either specific uses of that power or fiscal implications, acceptance of permanent conflict with adversaries (including even the legacy Cold War adversary, Russia), rejection of engagement with adversaries, and contracting out a major portion of U.S. foreign policy to the government of Israel. (“The actions that I will take will be actions recommended and supported by Israeli leaders.”) This is very different not only from what Richard Nixon did but also from what conservatives who opposed Nixon favored.