Excursions into ‘RINO’ territory: What does the term even mean?

RINO SeasonBy Miles Brown
Feb. 1, 2014

I have to admit, I did a double take when I first read the news that the Arizona Republican Party recently censured longtime Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain. I always thought of McCain as someone who’d been at the forefront of some the most important bipartisan efforts coming out of Congress in the last 15 years, while alternately being one of the more respected figures on the Republican side of the aisle. But according to the Arizona GOP, that makes him a RINO — a Republican In Name Only.

Usually the reaction to knee jerk notions like this is to just ignore them. Former Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, once rated the fourth most conservative member of the Senate by the National Review, called the move “wacky,” for instance, and moved on. But I can’t help but think that moves like this are becoming all too common. So it got me thinking: What exactly constitutes a RINO in today’s political climate?

To start this excursion into RINO world, I found this on teapartynation.com — a full list of those accused of being RINOS, with accompanying quotes that theoretically prove they deserve the title. It includes everyone from Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly to John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Something was obviously off about the people they chose, as well as the quotes they used. Take someone who scored an 89.7 out of 100 on the Conservative spectrum, Rep. Tom Rooney’s (R-Fla.) for instance. The quote that put him on the list was this: “The shutdown doesn’t do anything to help our reputation as an incompetent Congress… People hire us not to get to this point in the first place.” Does that sound like a Liberal quote, or a logical one.

This is why criticisms for the only politicians willing to talk to the other side to find solutions to these problems are absolutely ridiculous. In today’s political climate, the term RINO somehow implies that if you’re not voting with your party all the time, you’re automatically siding with the Democrats. The word has really lost its intended effect — especially when used to describe “The Architect” himself Karl Rove, who also made the list. Even Conservative legend Ronald Reagan would undoubtedly be considered a RINO if he ran for any sort of National seat in present day.

There have been numerous times over the past few years where Congressional negotiations on a myriad of issues have gone nowhere due to Conservative group interference and their aversion to substantive negotiations. The GOP’s futile search for ideological purity will prove damaging in the long run and is deeply hurting the Republican brand. If the party keeps this up, they will never find a viable Presidential candidate to win over undecided moderate voters.

In 2012, Republican Presidential candidates were so afraid to be labeled RINOs during the primaries that all 20 primary debates were just an exercise in who could agree with each other the loudest. What this RINO name-calling amounts to is a strangulation of individual, innovative thought within the party. It’s also political posturing done by immature individuals whose “I’m taking my ball and going home” approach to legislating is contributing greatly to the steady decline of healthy political discourse in this country. If the GOP doesn’t get its house in order soon, it’s going to be a long, slow march to 2016.

Miles BrownMiles Brown is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He’s majoring in political science and history with a certificate in Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies. His political stance is best described as classic Progressivism in the vein of Theodore Roosevelt and Herbert Croly. His post college plans are, as yet, undecided, but he’ll probably go into public policy research. 

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