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Just Who’s a RINO? Part I

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Every time the Republican Party has gone tangential in the last hundred or so years, it has lost more than the election: our nation changed—for the worse. History may be boring for some, but ignoring it damns us all to repeat it.


In 1912, Teddy Roosevelt felt his protégé, Bill Taft, had betrayed Republican principles, and when Taft ran for re-election, TR bolted, making a third party run.

Woodrow Wilson, a progressive, a foreign policy naiveté, and a racist, took nearly 42% of the vote and won 40 states. Taft came in third with just over 23% and 2 states, while Roosevelt, his mentor and spoiler supreme, took 27.4% and 6 states. The Socialist Party garnered another 6% of the vote, but took not one state.

The Taft and Roosevelt popular votes totaled just over 50%, and even if every Eugene Debs Socialist voter had gone for Wilson, Democrats would have wound up under 47%. The Electoral Vote would have shifted to Taft. Our entry into WWI might have been different, economic and tax policy would have evolved in a far more conservative way, and the stage could have been set for a smarter, more forceful post-war stance that would have eased the worldwide recession and blunted the rise of Hitler and Mussolini. Who knows? What we know for certain is that Teddy Roosevelt’s ego, larger than the physicality of William Howard Taft, cost the Republicans the election, and changed the course of our nation just as surely as wild, sudden floods change the path of the mighty Mississippi.

The phrase, “Republican in name only,” first surfaced in the 1920’s, and it showed up sporadically throughout the 30’s, and then, in the 50’s, there were the Me-Too Republicans, when the Eisenhower centrists were in their ascendancy and the Robert A. Taft conservatives were shoved aside.


Conservatives had their day when 1964 came along, and as a freshman at Cincinnati’s Xavier University and a newly minted Young Republican, I went on a field trip to welcome Barry Goldwater on his nationwide tour for the presidency that year. Shaking hands with him at a downtown rally, I found a man of deep dignity and bearing, but one who seemed unsure of the crowd and the possibility of power.

Sen. Goldwater wasn’t a splinter. Indeed, he was a reaction (and perhaps, a sacrifice) to Camelot’s ersatz liberalism. The nation gave Lyndon Johnson a chance to fulfill Kennedy’s misty dream with a 61% to 38.5% drubbing of the only true conservative ever nominated by the Republican Party. Goldwater, principled to the last, took but six states and 52 Electoral Votes.

1992 is in the living memory of many of us, and in that election, Ross Perot, a man with whom I once spoke on the phone, decided that Republicans could do better than the incumbent, George H.W. Bush. Perot’s in-and-out vacillations roiled the electorate when he could not reconcile himself to another Bush term. Looking at it from afar, the squabble seems to have been more about Texas politics and ego than principle, but whatever partisans may argue about, the results are not debatable. Divided, the country gave us another minority president in Bill Clinton with 43% of the popular vote. Ross Perot’s take was nearly 19%, but zero states, leaving GHWB with 37.5%, 18 states, and 168 Electoral Votes.


If just half of the 19,743,821 Perot voters had stayed with Bush, the president would have received 48,976,464, or 52% of the vote to 43% for Clinton. Hazarding a guess, if GHWB had been re-elected, al Qaeda, not sensing a weak, inexperienced new president in Bill Clinton, could have been thwarted in its first World Trade Center attack in 1993. With Bush in office, given his CIA history, it is likely that when Osama bin Laden surfaced in 1996, his entrance into eternity might have occurred earlier. Sure, this is speculation, but the fact is, elections do matter, and they do change history.

On December 31, 1992, John DiStaso in a Manchester Union Leader piece first used the abbreviation, “RINO,” in print, and it has been with us ever since. But who are these people? Are they the everyday Republicans who stuff envelopes in the precincts, who hold county and state offices, who run small and large businesses? What nearly all of them say they want is less government, less regulation, less intrusion into their home and social life, and a greater adherence to principles and traditions that have made this nation the exceptional force for good on earth. Often, they do not agree on how far to go in achieving those goals, but nearly always, they support their party’s standard-bearer.

They are passionate about one or more issues, be it the economy, immigration, national security, or abortion, and on occasion, they get mad as hell—and rightfully so—when those they’ve elected have gone too far in compromising with progressives or have not gone far enough in taking a stand on issues threatening to overturn their lives. If some recent polls are correct, however, two thirds of Americans support a path—with strings—for citizenship for illegals. Likewise, two-thirds would support a ban on third trimester abortions—except when the life of the mother is endangered. Many millions of them are registered Republicans.


Are they RINOs because they can’t see deporting 12 or more million people? Because they won’t interfere with a woman’s early decision to terminate a pregnancy (90% before 13 weeks)? Are they RINOs if they welcome Blacks and Hispanic-Latinos into the party, believe in equality for women, and don’t think gays should be outlawed and shunned? Are they RINOs because unbridled corporate greed is not their religion?

RINO is the pejorative hurled at them, but are they the real RINOs?

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