How to Spot a RINO

We are now enduring the usual competing ads from another primary election.  A trend has developed in Republican primaries that sees candidates call each other "RINOs" (Republicans in Name Only).  An incumbent GOP candidate insists that his challenger is a RINO.  The challenger says the same thing about the incumbent.  In Pennsylvania, these ads feature grainy photos of the opposing GOP candidates next to grainy photos of Joe Biden or Democrat governors Wolf and Shapiro.  Republicans argue over who are the "real" RINOs.  These accusations appear in local races as much as congressional and Senate contests.  Even the RINOs appear to oppose the RINOs.

Some commenters implore both sides to stop using this term because it is easy to make and impossible to prove.  But is it really impossible? 

Only some of the accusing candidates are lying.  RINOs do appear in many races and sometimes win.  They stop key legislation or join with Democrats to create oppressive new levels of government bureaucracy.  They repeat Democrat talking points. They denounce conservative elected officials while providing momentum for Democrat efforts to derail conservative initiatives.  It takes only two or three RINOs to derail a bill or nomination when a legislative body is held by a slim majority.  Their presence at all levels of government demoralizes the Republican base and depresses GOP voter turnout.  Many GOP voters have simply given up because GOP officials appear to carry out the same policies that the base has voted against.

But should we give up?  Not if we understand certain RINO characteristics that make it easier to identify them before we vote.  No one characteristic is always decisive by itself.

The easiest litmus test of a RINO is the abortion issue.  While we are not a single-issue party, a candidate who resists abortion restrictions will be more likely to sell out the Republican base on other issues.  A candidate must oppose abortion in a meaningful way in order to be trustworthy.  If he has never had to vote on the issue, he at least must support strict constructionist court nominees and pro-life candidates for other offices.  Local candidates will try to avoid the abortion issue if the office they seek might not directly impact that issue.  That is the sign of a RINO-in-training.

"Republican" candidates avoid the abortion issue because they view it as a hindrance to their own advancement.  They are opportunists.  Their opportunism will surface when any issue becomes controversial.  We cannot count on them.

Often RINO candidates call themselves "fiscal" conservatives.  By adding "fiscal," they hope to speak only on budgetary issues and avoid social issues.  They say that abortion and other "social" issues distract from attempts to "balance the budget" or "hold the line" on taxes.  History has shown that those who avoid the abortion issue will eventually cave on "fiscal" issues also.  There used to be RINOs who called themselves "deficit hawks" (some Democrats also).  They spoke of "reducing" the federal deficit — even if it meant raising taxes as part of a "deal."  A "fiscal" conservative will ultimately not be very fiscally conservative when he is caving on tax issues in the name of "reducing the deficit."  We do not hear much about "deficit hawks" lately, as the ballooning federal debt makes a joke of that phrase.  "Fiscal" conservatives still appear in the primaries.  

RINOs will not talk about "illegal immigration" and will not say those words.  If they are forced to address the issue, they will say that "the system is broken" and needs "reform."  These are Democrat euphemisms for pushing amnesty and open borders.

Blue-state "moderates" tend to be less RINOish than red-state "moderates."  In New York, Rudy Giuliani advocated and pursued many leftist policies, including pro-abortion positions.  But he later emerged as an ardent supporter of both Donald Trump and election integrity.  He suffered for those positions.  He was better than his blue-state environment.  That is a rare quality.  John McCain was the opposite.  Despite election by a red*state population, he was a consistent drag on his base.  He opposed tax cuts.  He described himself as a "deficit hawk" but displayed no understanding of how deficits are created or worsened.  He proposed de facto limitations on the First Amendment.  He was used as a tool by leftist media to undermine Republican presidents and Republican policies.  He went out of his way to stand in defiance and to the left of his own base over many years.  Had he lived in a blue state, it is doubtful that he would have sought office as a Republican.  Had he been elected president, Roe v. Wade would still be the law.

In school board races, RINO candidates do not usually raise social issues.  A school board candidate who opposes CRT and drag queen story hour is likely not a RINO.  The RINOs will ignore those issues unless the district is so heavily conservative that those issues are safe.  A true conservative will fight those battles even though it might attract opposition.

The point is not that social issues are more important than economic issues.  That is a separate discussion.  Economic issues tend to be more obvious and more easily argued.  The connection between social issues and our general well-being is more esoteric and requires more thought to articulate.  RINO speeches are not thoughtful — they are "on message."  Everyone pretends to be against taxes and debt.  RINOs say "we hope we don't have to raise taxes."  Similar doubletalk is harder for social issues.

RINOs focus on the easy issues.  They will repeat economy-related headlines.  They will decry a Democrat's lack of "experience."  They are against crime.  These issues are significant.  But anyone can raise them.  It does not take a particular commitment to conservative principles to make those points. 

There is no one test of RINOism.  But a common theme in all of this analysis is the willingness of true conservatives to embrace difficult issues.  That willingness comes both from courage and deep understanding of principles, history, economics, and faith.  Those characteristics are not easily faked.  But a politician motivated by opportunism will have little regard for actual issues.  He can be pressured to change his position or to advocate "pragmatism" just when we need principles.  He may sell out for money, advancement or other personal gain.

The bottom line for a RINO is safety.  They will say many safe things with which no one can disagree.  They value their own safety more than your freedom and prosperity.  If you are not sure about a politician, ask yourself if a Democrat would say the same things.  Even Democrats sometimes appear on camera holding a Bible or a shotgun or make bland statements against crime or "waste," etc.  That is not good enough for Republicans.  If they say or do only what a Democrat might also say or do, they will eventually betray us.

We should not stop fighting RINOs just because the RINOs also use that term.  We should strive to understand what the word means and how to recognize one.

Image via Pexels.

If you experience technical problems, please write to