by Mark Ciavola
In a year when Republicans stand to make major gains in Congress, potentially taking back the House and making a good run at the Senate, the term “RINO” is being hung around the necks of moderates nationwide. What exactly is a “RINO”, and is it something Republicans should be so obsessed with?
“RINO” stands for Republican In Name Only. The term is meant to suggest that these politicians frequently side with Democrats against traditionally Republican issues like low spending, low taxes and small government. But aren’t we all Republicans In Name Only? After all, the only action required to become a Republican is to check a box on your voter registration form. “Republican” is a party affiliation, and while for some it implies a set of values, it is not an ideology. There are moderates, fiscal conservatives, social conservatives and hard-right Republicans who are both fiscally and socially conservative. The term “Republican” may place you somewhere on a linear value scale, but it does not lock you into one of the above mentioned groups. And why should it?
Let’s take a look at some of those frequently targeted as “RINOs”:
There is perhaps no greater focus of “RINO” anger than the two female Senators from the state of Maine, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. Many conservatives believe these two women should be replaced by more conservative Republicans. But would hard-right Republicans be able to win in a state that is populated by many conservative Democrats and Independents? Prior to Olympia Snowe’s election to the U.S. Senate in the GOP sweep of 1994, her seat was held by Democrats since 1959.
The entire country rallied behind Scott Brown in his bid to defeat Martha Coakley for Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in Massachusetts. Now that Scott Brown is turning out to be a moderate (big surprise?), many conservatives are complaining that yet another “RINO” has made it to Washington. But what is the alternative in the Bay State? Prior to Brown’s upset victory in January of this year, Democrats held that seat since 1926 with the exception of one six-year term. And the other Senate seat in Massachusetts? Democrat John Kerry has held that seat since 1985 when he succeeded Paul Tsongas, another Democrat. The last Republican to hold that seat was Edward Brooke, who left office after losing in 1978. Since Scott Brown isn’t a “real” Republican, should we simply let Democrats continue to have a vice-grip on the state formerly known as Taxachusetts? Aside from going red for Reagan in 1980 and 1984, Massachusetts has gone for a Democrat in every presidential election since 1956.
Michael Castle, U.S. Representative from Delaware, is often labeled a “RINO.” He won election in 1992, a year dominated by Democrat wins thanks to Bill Clinton. He survived the Obama wave in 2008, and succeeded a decade of Democrat-rule in that seat. That’s a pretty strong record for a Republican in a pretty Democratic state.
Richard Lugar, Senator from Indiana, is the only Republican to serve in his seat since 1959. The other seat has been occupied by Democrat Evan Bayh for over a decade. Indiana is a swing state, but it seems the GOP would rather lose elections, than elect a “RINO.”
Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, who lost his bid for re-election in 2006, was considered one of the biggest “RINO” in the U.S. Senate. He lost his seat to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, and the other Senate seat from the tiny state has gone blue since 1937.
Make no mistake, I consider myself to be one of the most conservative people I know. However, even I understand that it sometimes takes a moderate Republican to win in certain parts of our country. The alternative is electing Democrats, which does nothing to help the GOP from taking back Congress. We should also not be scaring moderates to go far-right in order to avoid the “RINO” label, causing them to lose support at home in a swing state.
Rahm Emanuel, for all his faults, orchestrated super-majorities in both houses because of a strategy used in both 2006 and 2008. Conservative Democrats won election in traditionally Republican and split districts, leaving a dizzy GOP in their wake. Republicans seem unwilling to use the same strategy to win seats in traditionally Democrat districts and split districts, by allowing moderates to win. Does this mean I would favor a moderate Republican in a traditionally red district or state? Of course not, but running moderates in swing districts may be the only way the GOP can win there.
With that said, there’s a difference between a “RINO” and a traitor. Many Republicans believe the GOP should be reaching out to various minority groups with a message of conservative values like small government, personal freedom and fiscal responsibility. They believe gays should be able to serve openly in our military, provided they abide by the military code of conduct. They believe our immigration system should be reformed to ensure quicker and easier access to our country legally, while finding a way to deal with those currently living here that does not involve rounding up 12 million people on the taxpayer’s dime. They believe morality is a personal thing, and that legislating one moral view to everyone is no different than legislating what foods we can eat, and what cars and light bulbs we must buy. After all, big government is big government. These views do not make Republicans “RINOs.”
However, as we saw in 2009 with Dede Scozzafava in New York’s 23rd Congressional District, sometimes “RINOs” are really traitors. Dede Scozzafava, who supported many of President Obama’s policies including Obamacare and his failed stimulus package, was nothing more than a pro-gun Democrat. On November 1st, the left-leaning firm Public Policy Polling released a poll showing Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman up 51% to 34% over Democrat Bill Owens. That same day, Scozzafava, a Republican, announced her support for the Democrat. Two days later, Owens won.
In order to keep government small, keep it out of our lives and keep it out of our wallet, we must elect Republicans. That has never been clearer than now, after 18 months of liberal legislation designed to increase the size of government, take over entire industries and inhibit personal freedom while removing incentives to succeed. The GOP must understand that moderate Republicans are necessary when trying to win elections in the so-called “purple states,” on our way to achieving a majority in Congress. In places like Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and even New York and California, Republicans simply won’t win if only hard-right candidates are accepted by the party.
We live in a center-right country, and many former Republicans left the party to become Independents, Non-Partisans and Libertarians because the GOP is slow to accept slightly different views. As Republicans, we should be focused on finding candidates who can win in their districts, and not on which candidates appeal to some imaginary national conservative litmus test. We should be happy to have Republicans in our party, even if we disagree on a few issues. Otherwise, we’re going to have an increasingly harder time finding majorities anywhere.