Thursday, February 02, 2012

Who are the real RINOs, anyway?

My friend and unwitting mentor Mitch Berg has had an interesting go of it in recent days. He wrote a piece and a followup piece concerning how disgruntled Republicans might consider dealing with the likelihood that Mitt Romney, who is at best unsteadily conservative, might become the standard bearer for the Republican Party in this election cycle. The first article was later picked up on the big conservative website HotAir and has received, as of this writing, over 480 comments.

As is always the case with Mitch's work, the only real thing to do is read the pieces in their entirety, but I want to riff on one particular issue. In the second piece, Mitch talks about the etymology of the all-purpose epithet "RINO," with tongue somewhat in cheek:

First, “RINO” has become a synonym for “Not as conservative as me”, whoever you are – and by that definition, most of you are RINOs. Sez me.

Just so. Because Mitch's counsel is to stay involved in the process no matter what, he's getting labeled a RINO by some dyspeptic conservatives who haunt the comments sections at his place and at HotAir. These purists don't want to deal with the tainted RINOs who conspire to keep the true conservative voice and vision from gaining success.

So what is a RINO, anyway? The traditional meaning of RINO is "Republican in Name Only." In most cases, the individuals who get tagged with the name are those Republicans who tend to be moderate, like Romney, John McCain, Orrin Hatch et al.

They are called RINOs because they aren't always reliably conservative on any number of issues. It's fair to say that they aren't always reliable, because history proves this out. What tends to frustrate conservatives is that the Romneys and McCains of the world wield a lot of influence within the party and have tended to frustrate conservative aspirations. But why does that happen, anyway? Let's think about the reasons, which are pretty obvious:

  • Say what you want about John McCain's fidelity to principle, but there's one thing that is absolutely true about his political career -- he's always shown up. His dedication to the art of politics is beyond dispute.
  • Same thing goes for Romney and Hatch. They have stayed involved in the process. Romney, bless his heart, has been running for president without interruption for the past 6-8 years.
  • As Mitch points out, the power goes to the people who show up. There's long been a tendency among conservatives to only get involved in politics when something riles them up. I've referred to this in the past as the Cincinnatus model, after the early Roman stateman who came to the aid of Rome then left office after he'd defeated the rival tribes that were threatening Rome. A lot of conservatives aren't especially interested in politics for its own sake, but get involved only when a threat emerges. It is this spirit that animates the Tea Party.
  • Although I write about politics a lot, I tend to keep it at arms length. I participate sporadically at the local level, but I've never been to the state convention and really don't have any desire to do much past the BPOU level. I suspect a lot of people feel the same way and the evidence backs that up -- ask anyone involved in politics at the state level how much help they get to move their agenda and you'll hear any number of laments.
  • Do I personally feel guilty about my lack of involvement? Sometimes, yes, but not enough to change what I do. I'd rather do things with my kids, or read a book or listen to music. While I do not like the way the larger world works and use this blog and other venues to raise my voice in protest, my own little corner of the world tends to be pretty pleasant, most of the time.
  • So riddle me this -- if you are like me, a conservative who only dabbles in politics, on what basis do you have the right to label others as RINOs? Mitch makes the point quite clearly: 

OK – so let’s say Romney really is as bad as you all want us to believe he is. And let’s say he’s inevitable. Your choices then are “stay home” or “do what you’d do if Obama was going to win – try to negate his power and influence by taking control of Congress”. Why, precisely, should you not then be working to flip the Senate and extend our lead in the House/ Because the opportunity is there, folks, to not just flip Congress completely against either Obama or a hypothetical “moderate” Romney, but flip it to a version of the GOP that, so far, has been pretty Beltway-proof, and fairly dedicated to the mission for which they were sent to GOP by the Tea Party and a newly-resurgent conservative movement in the first place; to govern like conservatives. Keeping them that way is our job. Provided we don’t “stay home” and “teach everyone a lesson”. Because the only “lesson” you “teach” by staying home is that you’re unreliable and marginal. Don’t be that.
And that is the point. If you aren't willing to put in the effort, and aren't willing to do what it takes to hold moderate Republicans to a conservative standard, they have no incentive to listen to you. The John McCains and Mitt Romneys are going to stay in the arena, no matter what. It's what they do.

And guess what -- because they are in the arena, they get to define what the Republican Party means. Conservatives who sit around and kvetch and impose purity tests? Well, they get squat. Unless pressure is brought to bear, the McCains and Romneys will do what they see fit, which isn't necessarily following a conservative course of action. And they do this because, all too often, the people who have their ear are moderates, or even liberals. It's human nature to pay attention to those who pay attention to you. Moderates and liberals stay in the game.

Yes, some conservatives stay in the game, but too often conservatives go back to their plows like Cincinnatus. There's nothing inherently wrong with that -- politics are a necessary evil, at best, for many of us. But we have to own the reality; conservatives aren't effective when we leave the battlefield. We need to understand that the only way you can make change, and sustain change, is to get in the arena and stay there. The way you can control the Mitt Romneys of the world is to make sure they understand you are vigilant and that you aren't going away.

So how do you do that? Well, if you are in Minnesota, you have a precinct caucus to attend on Tuesday. If you live in HD50B, you should go to Mounds View High School. I'll be there and if you live in our district, which includes New Brighton, Arden Hills and portions of Shoreview and Fridley, you should be there, too. To do anything else makes you, well, a RINO.


Gino said...

when i was involved, many many yrs ago, i cought some crap from some of the more establishemnt types because i worked closely with 'those' people. in this case 'those' meant the church-wingers, the wide-eyed evangelicals and Jesus freaks who parsed everything through biblical passages.

why? because they showed up. nobody else did.

once i was charged to gather a large turnout debate/candidate forum. i made maybe 200 calls over three days. but it was maybe 10 calls to the right 10 people that put 150 into the room. its not my fault they all came with bibles.

they showed up. the busness leaders, property rights folks, anti-tax and NRA types didnt.

the GOP conservative wing is largely a failure in the short term, and colasolly so in the long term. if you wanna play, you gotta take the field.
secular conservatives dont.
and then they complain about the Jesus people who ruin their party.

HarryHeiny said...

When I read read Mitch's first piece (the entire article), the 10th point really caught my attention too. A US Congress with a strong 'downsize government' caucus will help confound BHO if he gets re-elected. If we elect a Republican president such a congress would also make that person less likely to make neo-con, compassionate conservative mistakes.

redsquirrel said...

Don't let perfect be the enemy of the good.

Romney, Gingrich, Santorum,
Paul.... even a wind-up chattering teeth toy would be less destructive to America than what we have in the White House now.

Just beat Obama in 2012.

Anonymous said...

I've always hated the term "RINO." It is my belief that anybody willing to call themselves a Republican ought to get a gold star and a welcome into the big tent. The way you build a majority isn't by inviting more and more people to desert you, it's allowing anybody willing to stand with you on even a single issue to have a place to stand.

J. Ewing

Mr. D said...

Couldn't agree with you more, Squirrel. And you as well, JE.