John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


The RINOs: A History

Posted on June 25, 2014
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When news broke that Eric Cantor had lost his primary, Ed Gillespie, the Republican nominee for the Virginia Senate seat, immediately tweeted congratulations to David Brat.  The rest of the Republican party establishment, the non-sentimental lot that it is, fell into line and pledged to support the winner.

Cantor had been defeated.  There was no talk of starting a third party or sitting the election out.  Sure, there was some anger and disappointment, but rank and file Republicans moved on.

Contrast with the news of what happened last night.  Long before it became clear that Thad Cochran, a long-time Republican incumbent and overall highly respected senior Statesman, had been reelected, Tea Partiers had a existential meltdown.  Sarah Palin went on Sean Hannity’s Show and threatened to start a third party.  Prominent bloggers cried that if they didn’t get their way, they would drop out of politics entirely.  Laura Ingraham, who led the charge against Cantor, threatened to join Palin.

The biggest epithet the Tea Party crowd likes to throw at prominent establishment types (like me) is that we are RINO’s.  A RINO is a Republican In Name Only.  But who is really the RINO?  The one who fights for the nominee no matter who he (or she) is or the one who threatens to bolt the party every time a primary election doesn’t go their way?

This ideological fight has been going on a long time.

It started when Teddy Roosevelt – who is most famous these days for occasionally winning the President’s race at Nationals stadium – started the Bull Moose Party because he thought his successor wasn’t doing a sufficient job in continuing his legacy.

Roosevelt accused William Howard Taft of not really being a Republican, and vice versa.

The fight continued in the 1920’s, when Joe Cannon of Illinois battled with Bob LaFollette of Illinois.  In the 1950’s, Robert Taft accused the Eisenhower Republicans of being insufficiently opposed to the New Deal, in the 1960’s, Goldwater Republicans drummed the Rockefeller Republicans out of the party, in the 1960’s, Ford battled Reagan, and in the 1980’s, the Bushs fought the Reaganites.

In the late 1990’s and into the 2000’s, a great ideological sorting took place among the parties.  There was no longer a moderate wing to the GOP.  The Republican party was the pro-life, pro-defense, pro-growth (and pro-business) party, while the Democrats were pro-choice, pro-labor and the largely pacifist.

The failures in the Iraq War and the financial crisis of 2007-2008 shook the three-legged stool, and in 2010, a new force, the Tea Party, came to the table.   The Tea Party is far more libertarian, far more isolationist, far less in favor of big business, far more anti-immigrant and far more reactionary than the typical Republican regular.

They are far more likely to want to bolt the party if things don’t go their way.

This is a familiar, but not dominant, strain in the Republican Party.   They are  the Lindbergh isolationists in the 1930’s, the John Birchers in the 1950’s, the Yaffers in the 1960, the Libertarians in the 1970’s. They supported Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan in the 1990’s.

And now they are very, very angry that the Republican Party beat them in Mississippi.  Some of them will leave the party, some will sit out the next election, and some will continue to agitate within the party structure and within the Tea party movement.

And ironically, they will be the ones to call out the rest of us RINOs.  But we know who they are and who we are.