The other day on this website, under a different writer’s column, I pointed out to a commenter that it is hypocritical for Republicans to support the same actions under Trump that they excoriated under Obama.
It seemed like a pretty reasonable statement, but the commenter’s response was to tell me that I sounded like a “RINO.”
Sadly, I wasn’t surprised by it. In fact, it’s something I’m pretty used to. After all, one of the lasting (and annoying) effects of 18 months of reflexive, tribal mudslinging (aka the 2016 election cycle) is that a lot of people have gotten in the habit of throwing out pejoratives that they simply don’t understand.
Now that we’ve entered a new year, and people are pursuing fresh starts, it seems like a good time to call for the retirement of this lame term, because it has finally been rendered completely useless in our political discourse.
This RINO acronym (Republicans in Name Only) has been around for longer than most people realize. Its origins actually date back to the early 1900s, the term having evolved from ideological rhetoric tossed around by the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and William H. Taft. Its most recent reemergence (mostly during the Obama era) was fueled and popularized by conservative radio hosts — the intent being to censure the Republican politicians who were deemed to be insufficiently conservative.
Personally, I’ve never liked the term. When I was a Republican, I believed it was counterproductive to the big tent efforts of the national party to appeal to persuadable voters with diverse viewpoints. But the right wing of the base wanted ideological cohesiveness, so the phrase was spewed ad nauseam on cable news, talk-radio, and the Internet. The sentiment shaped Republican primaries (especially at the height of the Tea Party movement), and indeed resulted in a more conservative Congress.
For about a hundred years, the RINO concept was an ideological argument which, for better or for worse, expressed a politically-coherent point of view. That abruptly changed in 2015, however, when the term was co-opted by fervent Donald Trump supporters who redefined it as any Republican who doesn’t support Trump’s candidacy.
In a drive that appears to have originated with Russian cyber-stooges and alt-righters, the twisting of this term (and others) caught huge momentum with Trump’s expanding base. By September, if you were a Republican who shared your opposition to Trump on the Internet, you were aggressively trolled for being a RINO.
Of course, this made about as much sense as calling Ron Jeremy a prude.
Trump, a longtime Democrat (and Democratic donor), was by far the most liberal Republican out of the 18 that entered the race. Heck, he was the most liberal GOP candidate to run for president in decades. Our current president-elect was a big admirer of single-payer healthcare and eminent domain. He thumbed his nose at entitlement reform. He opposed free trade. He parroted Code Pink talking points and far-left conspiracy theories on 9/11 and the Iraq War. He could have just as easily run in the Democratic primary.
By the traditional, century-old intent of the term, Trump was (and is) the absolute epitome of a RINO.
Yet, there was surprisingly little push-back against this linguistic deformity. The media-conservatives who had taken so much enjoyment in spewing the phrase over the years (while calling for ideological purity) suddenly stopped using it. It vanished from their vocabularies faster than Don Johnson’s music career. In fact, a lot of these people dropped the purity mantle altogether, and turned into unofficial Trump surrogates.
Even with the election being over, “RINO” is still flippantly tossed around (along with “liberal”) by Trump fans to describe people who are far more conservative than Donald Trump. Likewise, it’s applied to those who generally agree with the Republican party’s actual platform, rather than the new party-leader’s mishmash of ideologically-agnostic rhetoric.
In other words, the term has no reasonable or logical meaning, and those who continue to use it sound like utter buffoons. So let’s all do ourselves a favor and just retire the stupid thing. Let’s put the RINO out to pasture, or maybe find it a nice place at The Villages in Florida.
Let’s work on trying to sound smarter in 2017, okay? And if you respond to this column by calling me a RINO, I will ban you.
Just kidding about that last part. Happy New Year, everyone.