Many Republicans like to believe that the torch of conservatism has been passed along undimmed through the decades, and that those who now guard the sacred flame can trace their conservative lineage directly to past giants like Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, and Robert Taft.
In fact, the meaning of conservatism has changed drastically with each handoff. The conservatism of Senator Taft – son of President William Howard Taft, leader of the GOP’s right wing during the ‘40s and early ‘50s, three-time unsuccessful contestant for the Republican presidential nomination – had little in common with the current version of conservatism.
Indeed, “Mr. Republican” (as Taft was widely known) likely would have failed the ideological litmus test too many Republicans now seek to apply to would-be party members.....