Robert A. Levine 10-7-15
RINOs stand for Republicans In Name Only and is currently used as a pejorative term by extreme right-wing conservatives describing other Republicans whom they do not consider conservative enough. The sobriquet has probably been in use for the past century but has only gained in popularity during the last two to three decades as the conservative wing of the GOP has gained in strength. In some ways, this has been emblematic of a civil war raging within the Republican Party which the arch conservatives have been winning.
The GOP (Grand Old Party) has not always been this way. It was once a conglomerate of moderate New Englanders, small and large businessmen, laborers (who liked their tariff policies) and Midwestern farmers. Though fiscally conservative, many party members were socially liberal or moderate on many issues. After all, it was the Republicans under Lincoln who freed the slaves and supported voting rights and civil rights for African-Americans. However, Nixon’s Southern strategy changed the political ballgame, attracting Southern whites as the party’s base while losing many of its New Englanders and other social moderates.
In 1989, the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Lee Atwater, suggested that the Republicans needed to be a “big tent” party encompassing voters with various views on social issues if they wanted to be a majority party. He was really focusing on abortion which was and is so politically divisive. He might as well have also put immigration policy as one of the issues where Republicans agreed to disagree, as that has become an increasingly explosive matter of contention over the years. Of course, the right to life plank has remained in the GOP platform and is part of the litmus test for Supreme Court justices nominated by Republican presidents. And opposition to immigration reform is on the lips of every Republican presidential nominee.
Instead of a “big tent” party, the Republicans have moved more and more to the right, with Southern and Texas conservatives now dominating the party and denigrating any officials who are not conservative enough on fiscal or social issues. The resignation of John Boehner as Speaker of the House, an ardent conservative who was willing to compromise to allow the government to function, is symptomatic of the disease that has infected the Republican Party.
They are willing to shut down the government and damage the economy if it satisfies their goals of totally free market capitalism with smaller government and no social safety net. The refusal to renew the Export-Import Bank to help American businesses compete in the world is just one factor indicative of Republican short sightedness. Trying to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood is another.
Unfortunately for the Party, the Republican conservatives do not want a “big tent” and in fact do not even want a “little tent.” They only want die-hard conservatives like themselves as party members. Everyone who might be considered a RINO and does not conform to their definition of what a Republican should be and what policies he or she should support, should be excluded from the Party. This means that over time, the Party will be disregarded by the majority of Americans who will perceive the Republicans as a vestigial remnant of a world that once was. (In 2012, though more Republicans than Democrats were elected to the House, more Americans voted for Democrats than Republicans in House elections. The GOP won because of gerrymandered safe districts.)
Americans want Social Security and Medicare. Citizens want compromise from their politicians and don’t want government shutdowns. American businesses want the Export-Import Bank to compete with the rest of the world. Moderates and liberals compose the majority of the country, not conservatives (though conservatives and moderates would also be a majority). If conservatives want to gain the presidency and remain in control of the Senate, they will have to let citizens with other ideas (RINOs) into the Republican Party. Gerrymandering may allow them to dominate the House for the time being, but it will not give them the Senate and the presidency. And coming demographic changes will make it even more difficult for conservatives to win elections. They better open their eyes (and their minds).
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