There seem to be at least three brands or branches of conservatism in current and recent American politics, only two of which are politically relevant at the moment. Unfortunately, only one, the disempowered group, promotes core American values such as limited government and individual rights. The other two are antidemocratic and anti-egalitarian, each modeled on a top-down, authoritative, patriarchal hierarchy.
I call these first two groups, the ones whose coalition comprise almost all of the modern Republican Party empowered today, the (1) the fascistic-elitists, or 'power conservatives', and (2) the evangelicals, or 'religious conservatives'. I call the third group, the one which is presently powerless and without a voice, (3) the ideological conservatives, or 'Constitutional conservatives' to distinguish them from the other two.
Although they have had significant impact on American history in the not too distant past, as stated, the ideological conservatives today are largely as disempowered, marginalized and irrelevant as has been the American left in recent years. The neocons and Christians have excluded the ideological conservatives because of significant philosophical differences:
Ideological conservatives are not Machiavellian. Nor do they believe that they are born privileged, just successful or otherwise. They do not consider themselves or anybody else to be above the law, and, unlike the neocons, they oppose corruption such as cronyism and stealing from the treasury. They might or might not love the poor, but they do not hate them. Nor do they begrudge them an education or the opportunity to succeed.
I call them ideological conservatives because, unlike the neocons, they are philosophically true to the ideology of founding fathers as described in the Declaration, the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers. Also, unlike the religious and the elitist-fascistic conservatives who, as coalition, run the Republican Party, ideological (or pro-Constitutional) conservatives support other core American values like honest elections, individual and minority rights, governmental minimalism and transparency, separation of powers with checks and balances, absence of foreign entanglements - you know, Americanism, but more libertarian than the progressives and socialists.
If they are Christians, ideological conservatives believe in separation of church and state. They don't often embrace diversity, affirmative action, welfare or integration, but they don't despise them or work to make them fail, just to limit them. They are basically good Americans and likeable people who support the core American concept of protecting the weak and vulnerable, but much less so with tax dollars than liberals and progressives. Senators Jeffords (VT) and Snowe (ME) are probably relics of this race, as perhaps are Senators Specter (PA) and Collins (ME), former Senator Chafee (RI) and maybe in a minor way, ex-Mayor Giuliani (NYC) and Governor Scwartzeneggar (CA). Senator McCain (AZ) used to be one. The stellar example is Representative Ron Paul (TX).
Now, thus far, I've been speaking about the leadership of the two empowered factions. Their followers, or respective bases, of which there is considerable overlap, are ignorant of their master's intentions and are largely without an explicit philosophy so much as a faith in the neocon and evangelical leadership who do. The leadership deceives the base in each case with the use of patriotic and religious language and artifacts such as flags, Bibles, bumper stickers and lapel pins. Thus, though the base is not philosophically Machiavellian like their leadership, by doing their bidding, they unwittingly support that value system.
Consider the difference between the conservative, evangelical leadership and its base of rank and file followers. The conservative Christian leadership includes both hypocritical clerics like Robertson, Falwell, Dobson and Phelps, and neocon laic politicians like Bush, Ashcroft, Frisch and DeLay. The Christian leadership is as un-American as the neocon leadership (Bush, Ashcroft, Frisch and Delay again, but also secular neocons like Cheney and Rove) with whom there is a huge cross-over and overlap. The evangelicals are undemocratic, authoritarian theocrats that embrace the same core values, methods and attitudes as the power conservatives, namely (1) that the ends justify the means, (3) we kow what's best for you, and (3) those not with us are the enemy and must be neutralized.
The base, including the local pastor or minister, is not political by nature, but has been enlisted by the Republicans with the help of their cynical and hypocritical leadership to trust the neocons and to help advance their agenda. They know not what it is that they support. They would be horrified to learn the truth about their leaders' actual beliefs and motives. These are most of the tens of millions of regular church going Americans who are decent by nature, but in their naivety and gullibility, are dangerous to the rest of us.
This relationship parallels that of the secular, neocon arm. The leadership is hostile to principles of liberty and individual rights, but the ignorant, deceived, rank and file "ditto head" is blissfully unaware and without any true philosophy, just blind faith in the good intentions of his masters.