Parts I & II Published on Townhall.com 8-11 & 8-12
Every time the Republican Party has gone tangential in the last hundred or so years, it has lost more than the election: our nation changed—for the worse. History may be boring for some, but ignoring it damns us all to repeat it.
In 1912, Teddy Roosevelt felt his protégé, Bill Taft, had betrayed Republican principles, and when Taft ran for re-election, TR bolted, making a third party run.
Woodrow Wilson, a progressive, a foreign policy naiveté, and a racist, took nearly 42% of the vote and won 40 states. Taft came in third with just over 23% and 2 states, while Roosevelt, his mentor and spoiler supreme, took 27.4% and 6 states. The Socialist Party garnered another 6% of the vote, but took not one state.
The Taft and Roosevelt popular votes totaled just over 50%, and even if every Eugene Debs Socialist voter had gone for Wilson, Democrats would have wound up under 47%. The Electoral Vote would have shifted to Taft. Our entry into WWI might have been different, economic and tax policy would have evolved in a far more conservative way, and the stage could have been set for a smarter, more forceful post-war stance that would have eased the worldwide recession and blunted the rise of Hitler and Mussolini. Who knows? What we know for certain is that Teddy Roosevelt’s ego, larger than the physicality of William Howard Taft, cost the Republicans the election, and changed the course of our nation just as surely as wild, sudden floods change the path of the mighty Mississsippi.
The phrase, “Republican in name only,” first surfaced in the 1920’s, and it showed up sporadically throughout the 30’s, and then, in the 50’s, there were the Me-Too Republicans, when the Eisenhower centrists were in their ascendancy and the Robert A. Taft conservatives were shoved aside.
Conservatives had their day when 1964 came along, and as a freshman at Cincinnati’s Xavier University and a newly minted Young Republican, I went on a field trip to welcome Barry Goldwater on his nationwide tour for the presidency that year. Shaking hands with him at a downtown rally, I found a man of deep dignity and bearing, but one who seemed unsure of the crowd and the possibility of power.
Senator Goldwater wasn’t a splinter. Indeed, he was a reaction (and perhaps, a sacrifice) to Camelot’s ersatz liberalism. The nation gave Lyndon Johnson a chance to fulfill Kennedy’s misty dream with a 61% to 38.5% drubbing of the only true conservative ever nominated by the Republican Party. Goldwater, principled to the last, took but 6 states and 52 Electoral Votes.
1992 is in the living memory of many of us, and in that election, Ross Perot, a man with whom I once spoke on the phone, decided that Republicans could do better than the incumbent, George HW Bush. Perot’s in-and-out vacillations roiled the electorate when he could not reconcile himself to another Bush term. Looking at it from afar, the squabble seems to have been more about Texas politics and ego than principle, but whatever partisans may argue about, the results are not debatable. Divided, the country gave us another minority president in Bill Clinton with 43% of the popular vote. Ross Perot’s take was nearly 19%, but zero states, leaving GHWB with 37.5%, 18 states, and 168 Electoral Votes.
If just half of the 19,743,821 Perot voters had stayed with Bush, the president would have received 48,976,464, or 52% of the vote to 43% for Clinton. Hazarding a guess, if GHWB had been re-elected, al Qaeda, not sensing a weak, inexperienced new president in Bill Clinton, could have been thwarted in its first World Trade Center attack in 1993. With Bush in office, given his CIA history, it is likely that when Osama bin Laden surfaced in 1996, his entrance into eternity might have occurred earlier. Sure, this is speculation, but the fact is, elections do matter, and they do change history.
On December 31, 1992, John DiStaso in a Manchester Union Leader piece first used the abbreviation, “RINO,” in print, and it has been with us ever since. But who are these people? Are they the everyday Republicans who stuff envelopes in the precincts, who hold county and state offices, who run small and large businesses? What nearly all of them say they want is less government, less regulation, less intrusion into their home and social life, and a greater adherence to principles and traditions that have made this nation the exceptional force for good on earth. Often, they do not agree on how far to go in achieving those goals, but nearly always, they support their party’s standard-bearer.
They are passionate about one or more issues, be it the economy, immigration, national security, or abortion, and on occasion, they get mad as hell—and rightfully so—when those they’ve elected have gone too far in compromising with progressives or have not gone far enough in taking a stand on issues threatening to overturn their lives. If some recent polls are correct, however, two thirds of Americans support a path—with strings—for citizenship for illegals. Likewise, two-thirds would support a ban on third trimester abortions—except when the life of the mother is endangered. Many millions of them are registered Republicans.
Are they RINOs because they can’t see deporting 12 or more million people? Because they won’t interfere with a woman’s early decision to terminate a pregnancy (90% before 13 weeks)? Are they RINOs if they welcome Blacks and Hispanic-Latinos into the party, believe in equality for women, and don’t think gays should be outlawed and shunned? Are they RINOs because unbridled corporate greed is not their religion?
RINO is the pejorative hurled at them, but are they the real RINOs?
One thing workaday Republicans have most certainly in common is they know the only way to change things—even in little steps—is to seek and hold office. Getting elected is what matters, and while principles are what they hang in nice frames on their walls, they have to live with the realities of business competition, the price of labor, the challenges of marriage and family, and the drudgery of a political race. Yet, they put up signs, make calls, contribute, and work the polls.
Those with longer memories may remember some advice from Ronald Reagan. In Paul Kengor’s, “11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative,” he thoughtfully provides excerpts of great Reagan speeches. Reagan’s remarks at CPAC, in 1977, are on point. Kengor’s preface says, “Reagan explains what it means to be a conservative and urges conservatives not to leave the Republican Party but to work within the GOP (what Reagan called a New Republican Party) as a means to get elected and change America in a conservative direction.”
Reagan talked about, “the creation of a new, lasting majority. This will mean compromise. But not a compromise of basic principle.” He went on to say, “The American new conservative majority we represent is not based on abstract theorizing of the kind that turns off the American people, but on common sense, intelligence, reason, hard work, faith in God…”
On August 6th, when Bret Baier asked, perhaps, the most important question of the Republican debates, and Donald Trump refused—for reasons of leverage, he said—to foreswear a third party run, many hearing his words could predict the immediate consequences of 2016—just as in 1912 and 1992—disaster and defeat.
Once again, it has little to do with principles or party, but everything to do with ego. A political party is about a set of principles, the objectives of which are to be sought and fought for, but it is not about a man (or a woman). Trump’s response and subsequent comments (if “they don’t treat me right” and if “they’re not fair with me”) are coded blackmail. It would be a harder choice if he was a real Republican, conservative or otherwise, but he is not an everyday Republican and never has been. In Mr. Trump’s world, his principles have been about personal greed, manipulating politicians with contributions, and belittling all who disagree. “Fair” is getting what he wants, nothing else, nothing less.
As Stephen Hayes brilliantly put it in a Weekly Standard piece, “Those who still remain Trump supporters seem to be beyond shame. It doesn’t matter that they’re angry about the incompetence in Washington. Turning to Trump to solve the problems in Washington is like turning to an ape to fix a broken refrigerator.”
Who wants Trump to run as a third party?
1. The Clintons, because they have encouraged him, and Trump will give them victory.
2. State Media—those klaxons of the progressive left—because Trump will help their candidate win, whether it be Clinton, Warren, or Sanders. Why else give him airtime?
3. The progressive left, because Trump is the best way to further their agenda.
4. Some conservatives, who would rather the ship go down if it doesn’t sail their course.
5. Donald Trump, because his ego now controls his every utterance.
Many people were happy that FoxNews hosted the first debates because the candidates would be treated fairly, they said. And they were. Suddenly, Fox journalists were vilified for doing their jobs well. Consider Bret Baier and Megyn Kelly, hardly members of State Media, for exposing Trump’s flaws as a Republican candidate and as a man. Complaining about State Media’s journalistic softball with the Clintons, Obama, et al, and then expecting the same for a Donald Trump is an interesting hypocrisy.
So then, Teddy Roosevelt turned out to be the real RINO in 1912, as did Ross Perot in 1992. Thoughtful, honest conservatives also consider Donald Trump a true RINO, because in serving himself, his actions serve only the opposition, and his words demean true Republicans everywhere. RINOs are also those who would throw aside a chance for the White House and an opportunity to manage down the government for someone who simply touched their anger and frustration, but has no ability to govern in a democracy. And finally, a RINO is someone who would risk all for a commercial despot who owes them nothing, who seeks not an office but another, larger throne.
Barry Goldwater said famously, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” But a self-serving ego is, indeed, an addiction. For those who think, “it’s different this time,” that’s what Ross Perot thought.
Think again—it’s always the same.