The acronym RINO has always seemed to me an exercise in subtraction. One of its early uses in the 1990s in California branded Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan (a Republican) a RINO. Today the Republican Party in California bears no resemblance to the successful one that helped elevate Ronald Reagan to the Governorship.
Generally the negative reference has been reserved for those thought to be too liberal by the ruling conservatives. In 2015 some branded Donald Trump a RINO because he had rather recently been a Democrat and was thoroughly pragmatic.
I understand movements but what I struggle to understand are suicidal ones—movements that revolve around a savior, not underlying principles. In the Republican Party today there is a whiff of Argentina—remember Juan Peron. Today Trump wants aspiring candidates to kiss his ring or be canceled. He is working to cancel Congresswoman Liz Cheney’s leadership position in the House Republican Caucus because she says that insistence that Trump won the 2020 election is “a poison in the bloodstreams of our democracy.”
President Biden understands the dynamic of the political “cancel culture.” His political jujitsu has been impressive. NPR summed up the fusion of Biden politics with Senator Bernie Sander’s socialist philosophy: “The goals of the task force were to move the Biden campaign into as progressive a direction as possible, and I think we did that,” Sanders told NPR.
At the outset former President Donald Trump attacked members of the Republican caucus in the US Senate especially John McCain and Jeff Flake, representing Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee. Arizona now has two Democratic senators. More recently he attacked Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger because he didn’t win the Georgia vote for President. Several months later the two Georgia Senate seats were won by Democrats. The Republican nominees, both incumbents, had unfailingly embraced Trump.
Trump is clever and not. He understood the frustration with Washington and successfully leveraged his reality star turn on TV to the White House. But he has often treated the Republican Party like Mar De Lago, his private enclave. Exclusivity does not work; mathematics requires leaders, like former President Ronald Reagan, who can sell their ideas and are comfortable with disagreement.
Get mad, get angry is not an alternative path to our infinite adventure that we call America. Regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity, America has been a symbol for improved lives. Any worthy adventure on collective living is how best to do it. And we have to look back and forward for insights. America has been magnetic—freedom is infectious—people from every continent, of every color have created one of the longest lines in history. “Please, accept my immigration papers; I want to live in America.”
The reality is that many of those in the customs queue are there because their national governments have ordered their lives to conform to prejudice—the prejudice of ethnicity, rigid orthodoxy, geography, cronyism.
My question: How do today’s Republicans want to participate in this most human desire? What would a Republican government do?
So let me close with a few thoughts from a RINO. Joe Biden has clearly gone too far left for me. His stance on the national debt, his exploitative use of the pandemic, and his, at least implied, attack on America being systemically racist is a road way too far for me.
But the Republican Party today is also on a road too far for me. Grievance politics is embittering. And the attack on the results of the Presidential election is not conservative, but a radical attack on our constitutional structure of checks and balances. Elections are disputed in courts and America’s courts uniformly rejected a blizzard of claims that would have reversed the 2020 outcome. Many of the lawsuits were dismissed by judges appointed by Trump.
The Republican Party is in the early stages of finding new leadership. It should look forward and offer inclusivity to all those who want to continue the American adventure but who want to do it in the right-of-center lane.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.