There is an excellent, balanced article in The New York Times entitled, "For G.O.P., Hard Line on Immigration Comes at a Cost," by John Harwood (March 07, 2014) that I encourage people to read...especially conservative Republicans. What may surprise many people is the fact that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was supported by 80% of Congressional Republicans compared to 60% of Congressional Democrats. It was, in essence, a long standing version of what Republicans traditionally believed and supported. Yet, contemporary Republican leaders rarely talk about this landmark piece of legislation as representing Republican principles. They seem to side with the few Southern Republicans in Congress at that time who voted with the Dixiecrats in the Democratic Party against this bill. This was a harbinger of things to come in the Republican Party.
In this New York Times column, Mr. Harwood describes how the Republican Party has alienated people of color since the passage of this important legislation. He notes that this has not always been the case. For example, Vice President Nixon received about 32% of the African-American vote as late as 1960, and I must note that President Eisenhower received 39% of the African-American vote in 1956.
However, the 1964 election was a turning point when Senator Goldwater ran for president and refused to support the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Beginning with that election, Harwood notes that the non-white Republican vote for president has significantly declined. To understand how the 1964 election was a turning point for the party, one must understand that African-American Republicans from Southern states, a community who had traditionally supported the party, were frozen out of the 1964 Republican Convention and replaced by "states-rights" (i.e. segregationist) Republicans at the convention (see Lea M Wright, "The Conscience of a Black Conservative: The 1964 Election and the Rise of National Negro Republican Assembly."). Republican and baseball great, Jackie Robinson, commented upon attending the 1964 Republican Convention that, "A new breed of Republicans had taken over the GOP. As I watched this steamroller operation in San Francisco, I had a better understanding of how it must have felt to be a Jew in Hitler’s Germany." Traditionally, the Democratic Party, not the Republican Party, was the party of states-rights, and the Republican Party was the national party of civil rights.
Geofrey Kabaservice has written an excellent book that documents the decline of the moderate wing of the Republican Party and the rise of extremists in his book, Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party. He notes that the last election where the conservatives were not the guiding force of the party was the 1960 election, which is also the last time a Republican President received a significant number of African-American votes.
This was not inevitable, though. Although African-American voters have consistently supported Democratic candidates, other people of color have supported Republican candidates. For example, Harwood notes that many contemporary Republicans have received significant support from Hispanic voters (e.g. President George W. Bush). I also want to add that Republicans such as Jack Kemp have showed that Republicans can win elections with significant support from non-white voters when they provide alternative policies to public problems based both on a free-market basis and with effective government.
However, modern day conservatives often show contempt for those with whom they disagree, and this is not only towards Democrats, but also towards traditional Republicans. Such an attitude alienates many people, including people of color. Indeed, these conservatives claim to be "Reagan Republicans," but do not follow President Reagan's support of the so-called "11th commandment": Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican. Reagan was certainly a conservative ideologically, but he was also civil to his political opponents, and did not deride traditional Republicans.
In contrast, the prejoritave label, RINO (Republican In Name Only) is often used by modern conservatives against Republicans who show respect and consideration not only for Democrats, but also for those who are politically weak and vulnerable in society, such as immigrants. Conservative talk radio hosts often talk in an Orwellian way of Republicans as traditional supporters of states-rights (not true), and critical of civil rights measures (also not true), and label traditional Republicans who support both free-market economics and good government as RINOs. I cannot recall an exodus of Republicans from the party when Reagan was president, and yet we have seen such an exodus over the past decade as conservative activists continue to eliminate traditional Republicans from the party. If these Republicans eat their own, why would anyone trust them in power?
What motivates such conservatives? We can see how, beginning with the 1964 presidential convention and election, civility and respect, as well as concern for vulnerable people in society, is often looked down upon by an increasing number of conservative activists. One reason may be because many conservative activists admire the seductive morality of Ayn Rand, who said it was immoral to support the politically weak and vulnerable in society (keep in mind immigration policy), rather than Jesus Christ and His disciples who advocated supporting the poor in society. When a person despises such people, it is not hard to despise and look down upon their political opponents, as well. In many ways, Rand's morality is now the standard of conservative politics.
My Grandfather, a Texan born in 1899, and a common worker with a 10th grade education, told me that he became a Republican through his admiration of President Theodore Roosevelt. Contemporary conservatives often deride President Roosevelt for his progressive policies. President Abraham Lincoln, too, was criticized for expand the power of the presidency, and thus, violating the US Constitution. The way contemporary conservatives criticize Roosevelt implies that Lincoln was also a RINO because of his support for the supremacy of national power over state power regarding civil liberties and civil rights. However, Lincoln is too much of a national icon for conservatives to criticize, so they have tried to redefine Lincoln as a modern states-rights conservative.
Where is the party of modern Lincoln, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and yes, real Reagan Republicans today? A Republican Party controlled by states-rights conservatives is not my grandfather's Republican Party. In many ways it is more like a neo-Dixiecrat Party.