American political parties are vessels. They can take on passengers and they can discharge them. There is no necessary reason why conservatives should be Republicans. Nor is there any necessary reason that environmentalists should be Democrats. If you care more about the environment than you do about the Democratic Party, then you will welcome Republicans who support the environment and may well vote for them over a Democrat.
What’s going on now is that the Republican Party needs a new set of passengers. To attract those new passengers they will have to get some people off the vessel. It’s not that they don’t have enough room for them. They can accommodate all the passengers who want to get on and ride. The reason they have to push some passengers off is because those passengers are so unpleasant to be around that no one wants ride with them. Those unpleasant passengers are the extreme conservatives. They have to be purged.
This is how I think people should think about the so-called schism between Republicans who want to win and Republicans who want conservative purity. If you oppose gay rights, you oppose gay rights. You don’t care that the issue is hurting a political party. Same for abortion rights or gun control or immigration reform or any issue that serves as the prime motivator for political behavior.
In our system, with winner-take-all elections, the job of a party is to cobble together a plurality of the votes in any way possible. There are no unshakable principles for a party. They may remain stable or they may completely flip sides relative to the other party. Fifty years ago, the Democrats were a southern party with union and urban support in the North. Fifty years ago, the Republicans usually didn’t even bother to run candidates in the South.
So, what we’re seeing now is really a debate between people who believe things and people who want to win. As a party, the Republicans will need to win votes from young people who support gay rights. They will need to win a greater share of the minority vote. They cannot do that if they continue voter suppression campaigns and efforts at boosting their share of the white vote through racial polarization. They can’t behave like conservatives and win, so they will have to stop being so conservative. The natural response will be for conservatives to leave the party.
But they currently control the party. So, this will be a process.