Conservatives in Name Only

In a recent piece here at American Greatness, I wrote: “It would be helpful if we had a term to designate this chorus of American voices that claims to be against the Progressives and yet, like the Progressives, rejects the founders’ idea of America.”

This group deserves a name—and a name for them that catches on could do some good, the kind of good that “RINO” does. 

“RINO”—Republican In Name Only—is one of the more useful terms we have in our contemporary political lexicon. A RINO is a person who claims to be a Republican yet often, or even as often as politically possible, votes with the Democrats. We use this term to clarify a basic reality of American party politics.

Hitchhiking on the success of “RINO,” let’s consider “CINO”—Conservative In Name Only (pronounced “kie-no” to rhyme with RINO). An American who claims to be a conservative and yet rejects the founders is a CINO. 

Examples are easy to find. Brad Littlejohn provides an excellent one. In a recent book review at The American Conservative, he enthusiastically promoted a book which argues natural rights do not exist. Think about that: the founders staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor on the proposition that we have rights that are natural, unalienable, and inherent. In America, it’s the Progressives who reject the self-evident truth about our rights proclaimed by the founders. What’s a supposed American conservative doing arguing there are no natural rights? Why, revealing that he is actually a CINO, of course. I discussed Littlejohn’s review and other examples of CINOs at work here

Over at The American Spectator, Robert Stacy McCain has a different way of aiding and abetting the Progressives. His way is to undermine the founders. Barely containing his scorn for the Declaration, he gives us this warning:

It is a dangerous error to take the lofty rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence out of context, as if the ‘unalienable rights’ of which that document speaks were really as ‘self-evident’ as Thomas Jefferson’s preamble famously claimed.

In lieu of the founders’ “lofty rhetoric,” McCain advises us to take our inspiration instead from “the ‘liberties, privileges, franchises, and immunities” of . . . the British! But the liberties, privileges, franchises, and immunities inherited, along with their royal sovereign, by British subjects are a far cry from the unalienable rights and constitutional protections of the sovereign citizens of the American republic. 

K. S. Bruce offers us similar advice. Like McCain, he brushes the founders aside and urges Americans to turn to the British for inspiration. Instead of rallying ’round 1776, he recommends Americans rally ’round 1689. What, you ask, happened in 1689? Quite a lot happened that year in England. It is perhaps best known as the year William of Orange and his wife Mary signed “An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown.” Popularly known as the English Bill of Rights, the act is the source of many of those liberties, privileges, franchises, and immunities of British subjects so dear to Robert Stacy McCain.

But there are still more ways to be a CINO. 

For some, even 1689 is not far enough into the pre-1776 past. In a recent column at The Spectator, Sohrab Ahmari of the New York Post rejected the whole 400-year project of liberty in the West. He argued that four centuries of striving for political liberty in the West has failed, that the liberty project delivered us into tyranny because the seeds of tyranny were there from the beginning. If Ahmari is correct, one thing is certain: we cannot rely on the American founders to lead the way; their ideas have betrayed us. (I discuss Ahmari’s article here.) 

Ahmari’s argument is very similar to Patrick Deneen’s case in his bestselling book, Why Liberalism Failed. According to Deneen, today’s illiberal politics and cultural decadence can be traced directly to the founders’ ideas. (I reviewed Deneen’s book here.) 

Deneen, Ahmari, and the others are considered to be in some sense conservatives, but they are not trying to conserve the American idea. To varying degrees, they “vote” with the opposition. 

The term “CINO” may be just what we need to sort the wheat from the chaff in political philosophy in America, just as “RINO” helps us understand American party politics. 

It could also help us communicate about judicial philosophy. The situation in American courts parallels the situation between America’s political parties. Democrats can count on the judges and Supreme Court justices they appoint, but the judges and justices appointed by Republicans do not always turn out to be dedicated to the Constitution of the founders. Chief Justice Roberts denied the obvious, saying “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” but we all know we really do. We also all know that all too often judges appointed by Republicans disappoint. We need a term for them. 

Let’s call them CINOs, too.

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