Editors’ Note: Editorial reposted from the Roanoke Times, May 13, 2021. The morphology (study of the form of things) of the GOP across a few decades provides a more recognizable view of the present.
Former President Donald Trump recently called the Republican governor of Arkansas a “RINO” — “Republican in name only” — because he disagreed with something that Asa Hutchinson had done.
Hutchinson joins a long list of Republicans whom Trump has branded as “RINOs” and an even longer list of other Republicans who have been called that.
Former Rep. Denver Riggleman of Nelson County got called that, even though he was endorsed by Trump (but did officiate at a same-sex wedding, which proved politically troublesome with 5th District Republicans who refused to renominate him).
Wyoming’s Liz Cheney has definitely been called RINO. As we comb through our archives, we find lots of Republicans who have been accused of being “Republicans in name only.”
In 2018, a letter-writer to The Roanoke Times called then-Rep. Bob Goodlatte a RINO.
In the recent contest for the Republican nomination for governor, it seems just about all the leading candidates were called a RINO at some point — with the possible exception of Amanda Chase.
But there are some pretty definite ideological difference between the two parties, so if someone is being accused of not being a “real” Republican, that raises some pretty big questions.
What is a real Republican? And who gets to decide who’s real and who’s not?
Such as: What is a real Republican? And who gets to decide who’s real and who’s not?
Again, we have a ready guide. A few years ago, in response to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, the pollster Ipsos ask Americans which decade they felt was the greatest.
Among Republicans, one of the most popular decades cited was the 1950s — a decade when they controlled both the presidency and, for a time, Congress, as well. So let’s use Republican Party platforms from the 1950s (and one from 1960, which still reflected a lot of ‘50s values) as a test.
In 1960, Republicans went further. “Immigration has historically been a great factor in the growth of the United States, not only in numbers but in the enrichment of ideas that immigrants have brought with them,” the party resolved.
Now, though, the party complained that “immigration has been reduced to the point where it does not provide the stimulus to growth that it should, nor are we fulfilling our obligation as a haven for the oppressed. Republican conscience and Republican policy require that: The annual number of immigrants we accept be at least doubled.” That was the platform that Richard Nixon ran on.
Clearly, then, it’s Trump who is the “Republican in name only” for so severely restricting immigration during his term.
After all, their districts have seen the least economic growth, and the great population declines, of any congressional districts in Virginia. Immigration would help fix the latter and help fuel the former; that was the Republican position in the ‘50s. If it’s not now, who is being “Republican in name only”?
In 1953, the new Republican majority in Congress passed legislation to expand the admission of refugees, particularly from countries that were specifically restricted by previous laws.
That year the Republican platform gave its “wholehearted support” to extending the law — and thus admitting even more refugees. Trump then must have defied Republican principles by reducing the number of refugees admitted; Republicans today ought to be demanding Biden increase the refugee ceiling and apply it to those fleeing political instability in Latin America.
Republicans today probably don’t believe in many or even any of these things. Parties, like the people who comprise them, have a right to change their minds. But what, then, does it mean to be a Republican in name only?
Why aren’t today’s Republicans pushing more forcefully for Puerto Rican statehood as a counterbalance? One Republican argument against Washington, D.C., statehood today is that it’s too small (although the district, with 712,816 people, has more population than Vermont and Wyoming). In 1960, Republicans declared themselves in favor of “eventual statehood” for the Virgin Islands, then home to just 32,500 people.