For most of the Republican Party’s lifetime, conservatives weren’t dominant. When it first appeared, the GOP was actually comprised of progressive reformists. Gradually, the Democratic Party took on that mantle, culminating with Franklin Roosevelt and The New Deal. While very popular, a backlash to FDR’s social democratic beliefs was brewing. The declaration of “The Conservative Manifesto” in 1937 signaled their arrival, and starting in the 1950’s things started to change as conservatives within the Republican party began their march toward power. They used the following strategies to take over a party, and then the entire country.
Right wing think tanks and other groups were created and well funded to do research, identify allied judges & politicians and write policy.
Starting in the 1950’s, conservatives to the right of Eisenhower began to organize a sort of shadow government in Washington. A slew of organizations were built in a small amount of time, financed entirely by extremely wealthy benefactors. Among the first was The American Enterprise Institute (1954), the first of many think tanks that would do research that backed up conservative belief with data and statistics. They’d also write well defined policies that candidates could run on and later enact while in office. The John Birch Society (1958) was created during this period, and was less academic and more politically involved. It focused on anti-communism, was against civil rights and advanced a number of conspiracy theories still popular to this day (the push for a one world government being just one example).
The National Review (1955) was a magazine, but functioned more as a gatekeeper for the conservative movement, attempting to undercut the influence of the radical right and John Birch Society, American Conservative Union founded (1964). Both the organization and magazine were founded by William F. Buckley.
In the 1970’s, changes to the law regarding money as constitutionally protected speech saw an explosion in conservative think tanks funded by deep pocketed right wing ideologues.
This is when well known think tanks like The Heritage Foundation (1973) and Cato Institute (1977) were founded. The latter was funded by the Koch family, who would go on to create an entire network of think tanks (Just a few of the more notable examples include: Hudson Institute (1961), Mercatus Center (1980), Heartland Institute (1984), Reason Foundation (1978) and Rockford Institute (1978).