Here Come the DINOs

How do you define a RINO? Definitions vary, but tend to go something like this: A Republican In Name Only is a member of the uniparty establishment. This means that politician is part of a ruling elite that is betraying the interests of Americans in almost every important area of policy. RINOs are compliant with the entire rhetorical message of progressive Democrats, from the reality of “systemic racism” to the “climate emergency.” They offer nothing unique or useful in the way of solutions to real problems, but merely go along with the Democratic policy agenda.

The entire value proposition of RINOs, if you want to call it that, is that somehow they’re able to moderate the worst excesses of the Democrats. So what? At their best, they just delay the agenda of what is possibly the most corrupt concentration of anti-American oligarchs and government careerists in American history. RINOs are worthless, not merely for their cowardice masquerading as moderation, but for their utter lack of alternative solutions.

DINOs, on the other hand, are something completely different. And the emerging breed of Democrats In Name Only coming out of California are something extraordinary. The policies these DINOs are promoting are stimulated by California’s status as a fully realized one-party progressive state. They see a dismal reality—unreliable energy, water rationing, traffic gridlock, unaffordable housing, out-of-control homelessness, rampant and unpunished crime, burning forests, and an increasingly worthless system of public education—and all of it is a consequence of progressive politics. They’ve realized that the progressives will do nothing but make these problems worse.

One of the earliest California Democrats to identify the failures of progressive politics is the noted urban geographer and economist Joel Kotkin. About 10 years ago, Kotkin’s observations of California politics led him to re-register as an independent, making this lifelong Democrat one of the original walkaways. In a recent essay published by the Claremont Institute, Kotkin describes the emerging political economy in the United States, California in particular. He writes:

The reality of this grim future is already evident in places like California, where the climate change agenda has achieved near religious status and has produced policies that slow growth on the periphery, the one place where middle-class families could afford homes, dropping homeownership rates there for younger people far more than elsewhere.

Kotkin’s landmark essay does a superb job of explaining the looming clash between the nationalist oligarchs of China and Russia and the globalist oligarchs in the West. It’s much bigger than merely a DINO manifesto. But Kotkin’s significance in the context of the rise of the DINOs is how he exemplifies a seismic political shift that has just begun—Democrats have become the party of a corrupt elite, and now those pragmatic and conscientious Democrats who reject the stupefying collateral damage are striking back.

Two young California politicians, both Democrats, are harbingers of a DINO movement that may completely transform politics in America. The first, Michael Shellenberger, ran for governor in California’s jungle primary in 2018 and came in 9th place. Shellenberger, a prolific writer, has just published a blistering essay that indicts California’s progressive Democrats for destroying the state.

Titled “Why I Am Not A Progressive,” Shellenberger’s essay is an exposé of the abandoned values and failed policies of progressives. Explaining how for decades he identified as a progressive because of their empowering values, Shellenberger writes, “But now, on all the major issues of the day, the message from progressives is ‘No, you can’t.’” He then describes the transition progressives made from a message of empowerment to one of disempowerment, writing:

The reason progressives believe that ‘No one is safe,’ when it comes to climate change, and that the drug death ‘homelessness’ crisis is unsolvable, is [that] they are in the grip of a victim ideology characterized by safetyism, learned helplessness, and disempowerment. This isn’t really that new. Since the 1960s, the New Left has argued that we can’t solve any of our major problems until we overthrow our racist, sexist, and capitalistic system. But for most of my life, up through the election of Obama, there was still a New Deal, ‘Yes we can!,’ and ‘We can do it!’ optimism that sat side-by-side with the New Left’s fundamentally disempowering critique of the system. That’s all gone. On climate change, drug deaths, and cultural issues like racism, the message from progressives is that we are doomed unless we dismantle the institutions responsible for our oppressive, racist system.

These are “Nixon Goes to China” moments. Shellenberger supports proposals that most Republicans, much less RINOs, fear to broach. Develop nuclear power. Confine and treat drug addicts and the mentally ill. Dare to pursue controversial policies that will solve the challenge of providing clean energy. Dare to acknowledge that “safe injection sites” are not only destroying the neighborhoods where they’ve been imposed on residents pursuant to the doctrine of “inclusive zoning,” but they’re also destroying the lives of the addicts themselves.

Perhaps the most surprising and potent expression of DINO disruption to-date is the emergence of 29-year-old Kevin Paffrath as a viable candidate for governor in the upcoming recall election of Gavin Newsom.

Consider Paffrath’s plan for the homeless (all of this can be found on his campaign website). He intends to use the National Guard to construct centralized shelters, which would enable the Guard, in conjunction with law enforcement, immediately to remove the homeless from California’s streets and parks. Compare this to Newsom’s plan to continue with and even expand the corrupt practice of constructing homeless housing at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars per unit, spreading them throughout suburban communities, with minimal behavioral conditions on placement.

Paffrath advocates restricting immigration to people who can support themselves without government assistance.

On water policy, he advocates more reservoirs, desalination, and even proposes building an aqueduct from the Mississippi River to the Colorado River and sharing the water with other states! If you like water, you have to like this guy. As he puts it, “We can create new jobs and solve problems instead of focusing on buying votes.”

Paffrath recognizes that it is impossible to transition to green energy immediately. He recognizes it is necessary to increase the efficiency of natural gas power plants and keep them open.

For almost every issue, Paffrath, the DINO, comes up with solutions that the average RINO would reject out of hand. He has evaluated the forest fire epidemic and correctly identified the difficulty of getting approval for controlled burns as one of the primary causes of California’s overgrown, tinder dry forests. And then he goes one step further, observing that the cost of controlled burns is $32 per acre, whereas it costs $1,500 per acre to fight a wildfire.

On education, Paffrath calls for “Future schools,” a model where partnerships would be formed with businesses to offer students a practical education including vocational training. He suggests these alternative schools can also accommodate homeless people and help rehabilitate prisoners.

Returning to the theme of common sense over and over again, Paffrath asks, “even if we were to spend money on infrastructure to reduce our traffic problems, why don’t we spend the money where we actually have traffic?” Bye bye, high speed rail. On housing, Paffrath has identified 482 separate regulations affecting home construction. His solutions are politically eclectic. He wants to deregulate to encourage more construction, including energy producing homes located near wind farms and solar farms (personally I’ll skip the home by the turbines). Yet he recognizes the importance of protecting existing local communities from having high-density housing forced upon them.

DINOs defy easy categorization. They are ideologically eclectic. Unlike the irrelevant RINOs, they have a bold and practical policy agenda. If DINOs of this caliber multiply across the nation and start to win elections, they will find themselves making common cause not only with smart disaffected Democrats, but with much of the Republican base. And that, as history has demonstrated, is a recipe for realignment.

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About Edward Ring

Edward Ring is a senior fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He is also the director of water and energy policy for the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. Ring is the author of Fixing California: Abundance, Pragmatism, Optimism (2021) and The Abundance Choice: Our Fight for More Water in California (2022).

Photo: CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images

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