Commentary magazine asks in its March 22 edition whether it is ever OK for the Republican Party, incontestably conservative, to support a RINO (Republican in name only) candidate for office.
The RINO in question is former U.S. Representative Chris Shays, now running for U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman’s soon to be vacant seat in Connecticut. RINOism, writer Jonathan Tobin points out, “is synonymous with betrayal of principle and mushy statism… Shays is more or less what most people think of when they hear the term RINO. In his 21 years representing Fairfield County in Congress Shays voted more often with liberals than conservatives… On abortion, gun control, campaign finance reform and other conservative litmus test issues, Shays was on the liberal side of the spectrum. He also angered many by ditching his party on the war in Iraq in 2006 by calling for a troop withdrawal, a tilt to the left that helped hold onto his seat for one more term.” Congressman Shays voted with the majority Republicans 76.8% of the time, the majority of Democrats 57.9% of the time, and missed 2.5% of the votes.
Connecticut’s Republican Party had tolerated U.S. Senator Lowell Weicker, a RINO Maverick, for ten years. Mr. Weicker was a U.S. Representative for two years, from 69-71 and a U.S. Senator for eight years, from 89-71. Thereafter, he became Governor of Connecticut, giving birth to the state’s income tax, a measure he forced through the legislature after having said in his campaign for governor that instituting an income tax to settle a billion dollar budget deficit would be “like pouring gas on a fire.” The income tax passed into law in 1991, and the spending fires have burned brightly ever since.
When Mr. Lieberman challenged Mr. Weicker, the Republican Party in the state finally was able cut the umbilical cord that had attached it to a charging RINO who had described himself approvingly as “the turd in the Republican Party punchbowl.”
Gored once by a charging RINO, Republicans thereafter were twice shy. Mr. Shays is a pleasant man, well-spoken, obviously intelligent, and his candidacies for the U.S. House were supported by Republicans in his state for more than twenty years. Mr. Shays lost his House seat to a Democrat who was equally pleasant, well-spoken and intelligent. On the far left side of the political barricades in Connecticut, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes is considered a DINO, a Democrat in name only. The seat captured by the moderate Democrat had been a Republican fiefdom for forty years. Throughout the Northeast, Republican moderates running against Democrats perceived to be more moderate than, say, Leon Trotsky have been unceremoniously turned out of office. When Mr. Shays left the Congress, he was the very last Republican moderate in New England. Given the choice between a Republican RINO and a moderate Democrat, voters – including Independents, a majority of whom may be disaffected Democrats – were casting their ballots for moderate Democrats rather than ersatz Republicans.
Connecticut, as must seem obvious to nearly everyone by now, is a deep blue state. There is not a single Republican moderate in its uniformly progressive U.S. Congressional delegation, all of whom have over the years been washed away. The media in Connecticut is left of center, much preferring moderate, adaptable Republicans to principled conservatives -- which, come to think of it, is why Maverick Weicker had such a long run in office.
The Democratic Party in Connecticut is better at caging votes than their counterparts in the Republican Party. Over the years, the state GOP has dwindled in numbers, importance and power. The more moderate and obliging it became the more adventuresome and authoritarian its opponents became. Owing to campaign finance reform, state parties are no longer able to choose and fund promising candidates. The financing arms of both parties have moved off-shore; SuperPacs now finance politicians of choice, while state parties go a’ begging.
The whole political superstructure has changed, most dramatically in Connecticut. And this means that many of the old assumptions are no longer reliable. Political prognostication has become little more than shot in the dark, a deduction from premises that no longer exist in reality. We live, as the Chinese philosopher says, in interesting times.
So then, is it OK for the Republican Party in Connecticut to support a RINO to run against the likely Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, present U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, who has, in the course of his campaigns, managed to make himself a desirable candidate to progressives, moderates and the state’s left of center media?
Some conservatives answer the question by adducing “The Buckley Rule” – that in any political contest, conservatives should support the most conservative candidate likely to win. However, it should be noted 1) that the rule elucidated by William Buckley applies only to candidacies involving conservatives, and 2) not all Republicans are conservative. The most honest answer to the question posed by Commentary is: We do not have enough reliable information to answer the question. The underlying presumption that among Republican candidates ONLY Mr. Shays can win the election cannot be verified until the final votes are counted.