Sunday, August 09, 2015

Who's a RINO?

A RINO (Republican in Name Only) is a popular, pejorative designation. It has two senses, which are typically blurred in popular usage:

i) A liberal Republican

ii) A candidate who runs as a Republican even though he has no partisan allegiance. 

Using the same word to denote two different qualities is problematic. Fact is, there's a real distinction between party and ideology. "Conservative" is an ideological identification; "Republican" is a partisan identification. The two never were synonymous. 

Now, I think Republicans ought to be conservative ideologues, but that doesn't mean a liberal Republican is a Republican in name only.  

Admittedly, these intersect. For instance, the GOP has a party platform. But they don't coincide. 

Michael Bloomberg, Charlie Crist, are Donald Trump are examples of RINOs. They have no party allegiance. They are opportunists who join or bolt based on whichever serves their immediate political ambitions. 

There's a sense in which Ron Paul and Rand Paul are RINOs. Their allegiance to libertarianism clearly takes precedence to the GOP. 

Is that good or bad? Although RINO is a pejorative designation, some people think it's admirable if a politician is not a party loyalist. That's a commendable mark of independence. He doesn't serve the party bosses or establishment. He serves you! (supposedly)

Here we need to draw some distinctions:

i) Partisan allegiance is bad if your party is committed to the wrong cause (or causes). 

In that respect it's analogous to ideological allegiance. Fidelity to a particular ideology is only as good or bad as the ideology in question. 

ii) That said, there's a reason why so many candidates belong to a major party. When you have the backing of a major party, massive preexisting resources kick in that would not be at your disposal if you ran as an independent. If, moreover, your party is in power, or will regain power at some point, then you can accomplish more by belonging to the party in power, than you can on your own. 

And there's something to be said for being loyal to those who help you succeed. To discard them the moment you can get along without them is thankless. 

iii) Ideally, this is how it should work. A candidate is forthcoming about what he believes and what he intends to do (or attempt to do) if elected. He solicits political support. 

If the party supports his candidacy, then he's not endorsing what the party stands for so much as the party is endorsing what he stands for. Work for me if you agree with me. Donate to my campaign if you agree with me. Vote for me if you agree with me. If my political agenda furthers your interests, support me.  


  1. I don't think Ron Paul is a libertarian. He's more of a hyper-federalist. He thinks nearly every issue should be handled at the state level. He's also nearly an isolationist at the foreign policy level. But he's not a libertarian. He's happy to regulate all sorts of things at the local level or state level that real libertarians want the government staying entirely out of.

    Rand Paul is more complicated. He's more moderate on nearly all of those issues than his father is, but it doesn't seem to be because of an sort of unifying principles that make his views hold together. It's more like he's been influenced by his father a good deal and has some sympathy for his positions but has come to see that his father goes too far without realizing that even his more moderated version is still unworkable, dangerous, and immoral. I don't think he discards principle because it's politically expedient the way some people do, but I do think he too easily changes his mind or says conflicting things in too short a time for it to be coming from some unifying principle.

    But I don't see either one as a real libertarian. They're just often be allies with libertarians at the federal level because the end up agreeing with them on many things at that level of government.

    On your larger point, what you ended with is exactly what is happening with Bernie Sanders. The party has indeed moved more toward him, and except on race issues I think most white Democrats would be very happy with policies as radical as what he advocates for. His views used to be so outside the mainstream that nearly everyone saw him as a raving lunatic in the mid-90s (but he did have Doc from Back to the Future hair back then). Now he's getting a strong enough backing from mainstream Democrats that I could see him getting the nomination if Hillary Clinton falters at some point in a way that even the media turns on her (as they have stubbornly refused to do with the many scandals already known, so it would have to be really, really bad for that to happen). His views aren't what's changed.

  2. Jeremy Pierce has made a lot of good points, but I want to add something about the term "RINO". I think it's often abused as a way of expressing anger at somebody you disagree with on one issue or a small handful of policies. A Republican can be conservative on the large majority of issues, but if he gets one thing wrong, or a few wrong, many people will start referring to him as a RINO. Thus, we get the absurd situation of claiming that somebody like Marco Rubio or Scott Walker is a RINO. The same type of mindset often leads people to claiming that there's no significant difference between John McCain and Barack Obama, that John Boehner is no better than Nancy Pelosi, etc. It's that sort of irrational, irresponsible, destructive anger that's largely responsible for Trump's presidential campaign being so successful. People are rightly angry, but they don't keep that anger under control, and they don't direct it appropriately. Instead of being angry without sinning (Ephesians 4:26), they're sloppy with it.