Leonard Pitts Jr. answers that question in a Daily Star commentary - but not in a way that you might anticipate. Selected snippets follow.
Once upon a time, when a person identified as conservative, you knew the ideas he or she meant to convey — low taxes, small government, resistance to social change. But a word that once encoded a definite set of values and beliefs now seems utterly bereft of internal cohesion, less a name for an ideology than for a mood: surly, nasty and put-upon.
They don’t like the rest of us. Nor do they seem to like each other all that much, feuding with a bitterness and constancy that would make even the Hatfields and McCoys tell them to tone it down. Yes, ideology still gets lip service, but its importance has become secondary, if that.
How else to explain that people who once considered Christian faith their foundation stone have coalesced behind a candidate who can’t name a Bible verse? Or that people who once valued a grown-up, clear-eyed approach to foreign policy support candidates who want to “carpet bomb” the Middle East and pull out of NATO?
How to explain that people who once vowed to safeguard American moral decency from the nefarious irreverence of liberals — think President Bush chastising “The Simpsons” in the era of “family values” — now put forth candidates who tell penis jokes?
The right is rotting from within, putrefying on its own grievance and rage. It seems bereft of core values and beliefs unless you count its determination to always oppose anything the left supports, up to and including motherhood and sunshine.
Conservatives do not need to be “liberal-lite” — no ideology has a monopoly on good ideas. On the other hand, when your base is the Ku Klux Klan, Ted Nugent and people sucker-punching strangers at rallies, it’s a sign that a little self-reflection is overdue.
For years I have been preaching that conservatism is a legitimate political philosophy (albeit one with which I mainly disagree), but that modern "conservative" politicians are not truly conservative. Pitts is right on about the right.