RINO, or “Republican in Name Only,” has for the last couple of decades been the pejorative term of choice for conservatives looking for an easy way to describe Republicans who do not adhere to the party’s limited-government, free-market, pro-family stances.
RINOs have existed as long as the Republican Party itself, just under different names. In the 1930s and ’40s they were called “Me-too Republicans,” because they basically agreed with the Democratic Party platform, but believed they could implement it better. In later years they were known as “Rockefeller Republicans,” because they held liberal or moderate views similar to that of former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller.
In modern politics, a Republican candidate who supports universal taxpayer-funded healthcare would undoubtedly qualify as a RINO. So would a candidate who pledges to raise taxes on the so-called “rich” or supports a ban on so-called assault weapons. Any Republican who donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to liberal Democratic politicians and causes would also surely fit the RINO profile, as would any Republican who defends the Kelo Supreme Court decision that allowed the government to seize private property in the name of progress.
Or would he?
Every one of those statements describes Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination and a man whom many genuine conservatives point to as the most fiercely anti-RINO candidate in the current GOP field.
A RINO Under Every Doily
So, how can one spot a RINO?
Conservative “scorecards” have emerged as one of the most common ways. Heritage Action, the political advocacy wing of the staunchly conservative Heritage Foundation, puts out the most well-known and arguably most trusted conservative scorecard. The average Senate Republican only scores a 59 percent on the Heritage Action scorecard, so senators whose lifetime scores ascend into the 90s occupy rarified conservative air.
Americans for Prosperity, the American Conservative Union, Club for Growth, the National Rifle Association (NRA), and National Right to Life are other trusted organizations whose scorecards and rating systems conservatives look to as a way to measure candidates’ bona fides.
Or are they?
Sen. Marco Rubio, the most recent presidential candidate to whom the RINO label has been attached, scored a 94 percent rating from Heritage Action, 98 percent from Americans for Prosperity, 98 percent from the American Conservative Union, 93 percent from Club for Growth, 100 percent from National Right to Life, and received an “A” rating from the NRA.
Rubio was recently endorsed by South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, a Tea Party darling.
The moment Gowdy announced he was backing Rubio, conservatives who had once hailed Gowdy as the ideal candidate for Speaker of the House suddenly declared him a RINO.
Lori Hendry, who hosts a conservative talk radio program, provides a perfect example of the sudden shift:
Trump himself took to Twitter earlier this year to suggest Gowdy could be his pick for attorney general, before returning to Twitter this week to tweet about Gowdy being a “loser” who is probably “finished” politically.
It is not my goal to successfully defend the records of Rubio or Gowdy. I profoundly disagree with Rubio’s participation in the Gang of Eight debacle, for instance. But it did not make him a RINO or negate his impeccable conservative voting record on countless other issues. It just made him flat-out wrong on “comprehensive immigration reform,” and perhaps more than a little naive on the legislative process.
Don’t Blink Now
It is my goal, however, to remind my fellow conservatives that our movement is one of ideas and principles, not of emotion. This truly sets us apart from liberalism, which so often judges policies by intent—how warm and fuzzy they make people feel in theory—rather than by their outcome.
We justifiably despised the personality cult of Barack Obama that emerged as he smugly manipulated low-information voters with hollow promises. Why, then, are we so quick to attach the RINO label to individuals who point out when Trump is so obviously playing the same con game?
A large and growing industry full of “conservative” profiteers exists to manipulate the conservative movement into thinking we are losing. The profiteers bashed congressional Republicans with good reason for not slashing the deficit, but did not say a word when Trump dismissed the need for entitlement reform. They blasted Republicans for not fully dismantling ObamaCare, but sat idly by as Trump unashamedly promoted a single-payer healthcare plan that could have just as easily been proposed by self-avowed socialist Bernie Sanders.
In truth, conservatives are not losing, even though we are not achieving reforms as quickly as we would like. In recent years, we have successfully moved the Republican Party to the Right, to the point that the establishment has no choice (bye, Jeb!) but to view a candidate with Rubio’s conservative credentials as a viable option.
This is not to say the inside-the-Beltway establishment is any less loathsome than it ever was. Their hatred of Ted Cruz admittedly makes me like him even more. But I would not vote for Cruz just because people I don’t like don’t like him. I would vote for him because I believe he is a rock-ribbed conservative with whom I align on almost every policy issue, which is why I happily agreed to play host at his most recent event in Alabama.
But even Cruz has attracted the RINO label at times, particularly from defense hawks who argue his foreign policy veers into libertarian-leaning isolationism. This really gets us to the point: RINO has devolved into a buzzword that basically means “a politician I’m not supporting or a person who supports anyone other than the politician I’m supporting.”
In other words, RINO has entirely lost its meaning, and it’s time for us to get back to debating issues, instead of attaching a useless acronym to anyone with whom we don’t 100 percent agree.