Read Fabio Rojas' illuminating post on the centrality of Nixonite networks and their priorities within the GOP for well over a half-century. Highlights:
[T]he narrative about Goldwater as the guiding light of the post-war GOP is wrong. Nixon, and his allies, have driven the agenda since the late 1940s. Other Republicans (Eisenhower, Goldwater, Regan) represented factions who, at most, were allowed a seat at the table created by Nixon.
The Nixon network (him and former staffers/appointees) have been in control of the presidency or vice presidency every time the GOP has won the national election. Furthermore, this network has controlled key national security positions very often in GOP administrations.
[T]he consistent theme, going back to the late 40s, is that the Nixon wing has been, almost without major exception, in favor of international interventionism. The GOP seems to have approved of nearly every American projection of power overseas, no matter which party is behind it. It’s fairly rare for policy makers in this orbit to call for pull backs in military interventions or to admit that any significant projection of force was a mistake. This view, of course, requires continual expansion of the executive branch’s power.
[C]onservative politics was not “reborn” after the Goldwater campaign in 1964 and cemented by Reagan. Instead, the Nixonites allowed this new ideological trend to be the face of the party, but they retained control over the institutional functions of the party, as evidenced by Nixon’s resurgence. This observation explains a lot of other puzzling feature of Republican politics. This is not the party of small government, it’s the party of national security. The party of individual liberty and self-reliance is actually the party of “enhanced interrogation.” The idea tying it together is national security, with superficial appeals to whatever helps win the election.
This sounds about right to me. The free marketeers and the culture warriors are useful idiots thrown a bone from time to time to keep the Nixonite establishment entrenched. Moreover, I'd say the U.S. national security apparatus remains shot through with the Cold War Nixonite ethos of Hard-Headed Big Boys Who Keep the World Safe. If the will of the herd and their elected windbags are behind with the program, great. If not, too bad. Even (especially?) Democratic executives are flattered by all the secret briefings, etc. and the gravity of Hard-Headed Big-Boy World-Saving responsibilities into sticking with the program. You can fight the permanent national security apparatus and get nothing in return other than a reputation as a giant pussy existential threat to America who is going destroy us all, or you can let the apparatus publicly act like you're in charge of it while it more or less runs itself, allowing you to focus on the trivial issues you care about, like nationalizing things and raising taxes. Cheney wiping the floor with Obama over torture is a sad sign that it's all still just churning along. The message, I take it, is that the damn hippy kids can appoint bisexual robot Latinas to the Supreme Court and tell GM to make cars that run on fairy kisses as long as they know the Serious People will continue to control the power that matters. All signs point to Obama going along, which, as Nixon knew, is what you can expect from self-impressed Ivy League assholes.
A bit of a digression there. Anyway, read Fabio's post. Nixonites delenda est!