How the ‘MAGA Set’ is ‘weaponizing’ the RINO insult to enforce ‘fealty to Trump’: report

How the ‘MAGA Set’ is ‘weaponizing’ the RINO insult to enforce ‘fealty to Trump’: report

The term RINO (Republican in Name Only) existed long before Donald Trump’s presidency. During the 1990s and 2000s, far-right Republicans used it to attack moderate conservatives such as former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge and the late Sen. Arlen Specter. But the term, journalist David Siders stresses in an article published by Politico on March 20, was given a “new life” by Trump — and MAGA Republicans in general have been “weaponizing” it in the 2022 midterms.

“The mushrooming of the insult is measurable,” Siders explains. “In 2018, during the last midterm election, RINO barely registered as a mention in TV ads, according to an analysis compiled for Politico by the ad tracking firm AdImpact. But so far in 2022, candidates have already spent more than $4 million on TV ads employing RINO as an attack, in races ranging from House and Senate contests to state House races.”

Siders adds, “That doesn’t include the raft of RINO-focused appeals appearing on social media and in mailers — or the ‘RINO Hunter’ t-shirts worn by a group of far-right Republicans at a local GOP meeting in California’s Orange County earlier this year, with crosshairs in place of the ‘O.’”

Siders notes that for “the MAGA set,” the term RINO “has become a useful shorthand to refer to the establishment.”

“In previous decades, a Republican risked getting tagged as a RINO for supporting tax increases, gun control or abortion rights,” Siders notes. “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.”

Never Trump conservative and Republican strategist Mike Madrid, a co-founder of The Lincoln Project, told Politico the term RINO is now meant to “enforce discipline among the tribe.”

“What used to be about ideology is now about loyalty,” Madrid observed. “The party no longer has orthodoxy; so now, it’s, ‘You’re not loyal.’”

Siders points out that many of the Republicans being attacked as RINOs by “the MAGA set” are quite conservative.

“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,” Siders observes. “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.’”

Siders continues, “‘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.”

James Dickey, former chairman of the Texas Republican Party, believes that because the term RINO is being overused, its impact is “diminishing rapidly.”

“When a candidate uses that today against someone,” Dickey told Politico, “I read that as a sign of desperation — that they don’t have the ability or the willingness to specify what they have a problem with. So, they’re trying to just engender a sense that their opponent is not committed.”

Similarly, GOP strategist Rory McShane told Politico, “You can’t just say this person is a RINO — Republican primary voters are anesthetized to that. I think it’s become cliché. You have to explain how they’ve betrayed the conservative movement.”

President Ronald Reagan, in the early 1980s, famously said that someone who agreed with him 80% of the time was an “80% ally” instead of a “20% traitor.” But such nuance is missing in the Trumpified GOP primaries of 2022.

Richard George, a former Republican National Committee member, told Politico, “One of the biggest problems we have in the Republican Party is if you have an ultra-right conservative who has a slight disagreement with another Republican, it doesn’t matter if they’re in the same lane 90% of the time or 50% of the time — usually, the term RINO gets thrown out there.”
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