The RINO Party and Putting the ‘Con’ into Conservatism

There appears to be a consensus of sorts among Republican and conservative voters that the reason they are continually screwed over by the GOP—despite the repeated pitches for the party made by Republican candidates and their water-carriers in the conservative media, and regardless of whether the party has majority control of government—is that there are just too many damn “RINOs” (Republicans-In-Name-Only).

This, I submit, is what they must tell themselves in order to further the illusion that by continually voting Republican, they can, one day, weed out the frauds and traitors and wrest power from the Democrats. This belief in the RINO, a belief nurtured at every turn by Big Conservative media chatter boxes, serves as the scapegoat for GOP/conservative movement failure. 

It is the basis for the conservative voter’s faith in the future: Eliminate the RINO, and all will be well.

Let’s be blunt: The notion of the RINO is actually fiction.

To put it another way, the RINO is not a deviant, a figure who has fallen away from an otherwise conservative party. No, the GOP is the party of RINOs. The Republican Party is the Republican-In-Name-Only Party.

Nor should it be difficult for anyone who thinks about it for a minute to realize this:

First, the GOP purports to be the party of “limited government.” There isn’t anyone remotely familiar with it and, particularly, no one who was around to endure the unprecedented COVID restrictions of the last couple years, who can still seriously say that the GOP’s actions, as opposed to its rhetorical ticks, betray a commitment to a smaller, decentralized, “limited” set of institutional arrangements. Just the opposite, it’s painfully clear, is the reality.

The GOP is every bit as much in favor of Big Government as its rival. What actual differences—differences in policy prescriptions (not rhetoric)—are there between the GOP and the party of the jackass? They are differences in degree, never in kind.

Second, the RINO continually changes form. Those who loudly insist that conservative voters must vote out all RINOs have undoubtedly voted for their share of RINOs.

Big Conservative media figures who regularly, daily, supported George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for eight years played no small role in convincing Americans to elect them. These, though, are the same Americans who today decry Bush II and Cheney as RINOs.

Paul Ryan was a rock star with the Tea Party. Conservative voters swooned over him.

Today he’s a known RINO.

John McCain was always regarded as a RINO by conservative voters, it’s true. Yet they voted for him repeatedly in Arizona, and when he ran as a presidential candidate (on the pretext that his running mate wasn’t a RINO—as if Sarah Palin, as vice president, would have been able to accomplish anything of importance).

Conservative voters voted for Mitt Romney (despite his abysmal record).

Today he’s a known RINO.

Chris Christie too was a sensation over a decade ago.

Today, he’s a known RINO.

Mike Pence elicited praise from conservative voters when he became Donald Trump’s running mate.

Today, he’s a known RINO.

Marco Rubio was a shining light of the GOP and the conservative movement a decade back. Conservative talk radio Godfather Rush Limbaugh, along with Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, regularly featured him on their shows and predicted that Rubio would one day be POTUS.

Today, he’s a RINO.

Ted Cruz had been regarded as a rock-ribbed conservative—until he ran against Trump in the primaries of 2016 and since then.

Today he’s a RINO.

Mike Lee was a Tea Party darling.

Today, he’s a RINO.

Nikki Haley was a rising star in the conservative media.

Today, she’s a RINO.

Bobby Jindal was the face of a truly conservative GOP.

Today, he’s a RINO (if anyone recollects him at all).

We could continue endlessly in this same repetitive vein. Undoubtedly, there are readers who will predictably mistake the trees for the forest and quibble with one or more specific choices from this list of RINOs, objecting that they always knew that so-and-so was a RINO, or that so-and-so is not really a RINO, or some other non sequitur of this sort. Fine. Focusing on specific RINOs for whom the GOP’s conservative base has voted risks conveying the false impression these choices of RINOs were anomalies. That the GOP has always been the party of RINOs is borne out by none other than the conservative voters themselves! Whether it is on purpose or not, they confess to voting RINO and promoting the narrative that is pushed tirelessly by Big Conservative media.

According to this narrative, Donald Trump began giving the GOP a facelift when he ran for the presidency. “MAGA” or “America First” marks a welcome and long overdue transformation of the GOP that preceded Trump.

In other words, the GOP, these same Trump enthusiasts are acknowledging, had been a RINO Party up until Trump.

That Trump’s candidacy and then election marked a dramatic, if largely cosmetic, shift in GOP politics is undeniable. Putting aside for the moment Trump’s own deficiencies, the narrative that he is the savior of the Republican Party is belied by that very narrative. For according to that narrative, the Trump agenda was frustrated and his presidency brought down by Democrats, yes, but even more critically . . . RINOs!

Trump had to first fight both national parties to become POTUS before, ultimately, being defeated by both national parties, or so this narrative would have us believe.

So, the Republican Party had been the party of RINOs before Trump’s presidency, during his presidency, and remains the party of RINOs today.

The narrative is incoherent. But it should serve to make the point that the RINO is hardly the deviant that the narrative’s authors would have us think it is. This tale, rather, compels us to concede that of our two national political parties, one is the RINO Party. In voting straight Rs, the very people who swear that the solution to conservatives’ woes is to simply vote out the RINOs are actually solidifying the RINO’s habitat by voting for the RINO Party

Conservative media personalities have been strengthening the RINO Party since forever and without missing a beat: Though the vision and rhetoric of George W. Bush is dramatically different from that of Donald Trump, these same figures moved effortlessly, and without apology, from cozying up to the former and then cozying up to the latter.

GOP politicians and their media lapdogs have put the “con” into conservativism.

And, to repeat, the Republican Party is and has always been the RINO Party.

About Jack Kerwick

Jack Kerwick earned his doctorate degree in philosophy from Temple University. His areas of specialization are ethics and political philosophy, with a particular interest in classical conservatism. His work has appeared in both scholarly journals and popular publications, and he recently authored, The American Offensive: Dispatches from the Front. Kerwick has been teaching philosophy for nearly 17 years at a variety of institutions, from Baylor to Temple, Penn State University, the College of New Jersey and elsewhere. His next book, Misguided Guardians: The Conservative Case Against Neoconservatism is pending publication. He is currently an instructor of philosophy at Rowan College at Burlington County.

Photo: LUIS TATO/AFP via Getty Images

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