Our new book is titled Divided We Stand: The 2020 Elections and American Politics. Among other things, it discusses the state of the parties. The state of the GOP is not good.
Reminding base voters of the stakes of the primaries — the “potential elimination of many, many RINOs” — said Tom Tancredo, a former Republican congressman from Colorado, “helps fuel the fire.”
While the RINO term has been employed in some form for more than 100 years, its meaning has shifted over time. In previous decades, a Republican risked getting tagged as a RINO for supporting tax increases, gun control or abortion rights. Today, in a reflection of the GOP’s murkier ideological grounding in the Trump era, it’s a term reserved almost exclusively for lack of fealty to Trump.
The phrase’s significance, said Mike Madrid, a Republican strategist who was a co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, is in its ability to “enforce discipline among the tribe.”
“What used to be about ideology is now about loyalty,” Madrid said. “The party no longer has orthodoxy, so now it’s, ‘You’re not loyal.’”
The evidence of that is explicit. On ads on Facebook last year, one right-wing PAC spent heavily blistering Republicans who voted to impeach Trump or to investigate the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, labeling them “RINO turncoats” or “RINO traitors” — even “RINO communist traitors.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has begun running social media messages asking voters to choose “RINO Establishment vs. Trump” — juxtaposing an image of him and Trump against one of George P. Bush and his father, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Claire Wirth, a Republican running to unseat Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), is calling out “RINO Republicans” in a video, suggesting Massie’s crime is that he “turned his back on President Trump.”
The use of RINO has become so widespread that it can now include almost any Republican, including some of the most conservative stalwarts in the party. During just the past six months, the list of Republicans Trump has branded with the term includes Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and “RINO Congressman Peter Meijer.” “Loser Liz Cheney” is a Republican-In-Name-Only. So is Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, former President George W. Bush and the entire Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. Rejection of Trump’s false claims of election fraud — or worse, a vote to impeach the former president — are common threads among those targeted by the former president for the insult.