They Call Me RINO

Posted: November 1, 2019 by Brian Johnston

I remember the days leading up to the primary in the last election. Completely unimpressed by the 17 candidates that were seeking the Republican nomination, I voted for Bernie Sanders. This was not a ‘strategic’ vote where I was trying to get the weaker opposing candidate nominated; this was a repudiation of both the party that I’d voted for my whole life and of Hillary Clinton. I simply thought that America deserved better than the selection at hand. One might think it was a difficult thing for me to vote for a Democrat Socialist, what with a quarter decade of consistent GOP voting under my belt. It wasn’t.

Initially, I figured that I’d just let the GOP field narrow itself out and throw my support in the primaries behind a Democrat that didn’t turn my stomach. While Grampa Freestuff’s socialist leanings were a real problem for me, I stood under the conviction that every time America was poised to engage in some folly, there was consistently video evidence of Bernie Sanders pushing back: opposing the automaker bailout, the War in Iraq, and the Patriot Act. There was also video of him marching for civil rights in the 1960’s. If nothing else, Bernie Sanders was, in all likelihood, a good person, something I’ve never sensed in Hillary Clinton.

Then the GOP field narrowed out. At the time I never really considered Donald Trump a real candidate. In my eyes he was a failed businessman and a reality TV star. He was also a Democrat. I remember him being cozy with Oprah Winfrey, Harry Reid, and even Nancy Pelosi. Even more indicting, he was a Clinton donor. I initially believed he was a shill to ensure that Clinton won the general election.

It was shocking to me when Jeb Bush pulled out of the race leaving only Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Donald Trump. By the time I realized that the joke wasn’t funny anymore, the nomination was all but secured.

Had I a crystal ball, perhaps I would have pushed harder for Marco Rubio. If I could have read the tea leaves, I might have found a way to quash the nausea that was induced in my mind by Ted Cruz. Alas, at the end of the day the nomination was Trump’s, and I was a voter lost at sea.

At this point I only knew two things: I wasn’t voting for Donald Trump and I wasn’t voting for Hillary Clinton. For a few weeks before the election, I was kind of excited at the prospect of voting for a third-party candidate. I had always bemoaned the two-party pendulum our nation swings from. It’s a system that guarantees political gridlock. While it may prevent wild legislative swings every dozen years or so, it also ensures that the status quo remains exactly that, with virtually no motive to reach across the aisle for anything resembling bipartisanship.

At the time, Gary Johnson was polling at about 9%. This was a big deal. Not only does a candidate polling at 15% get a lectern on the debate stage, but, more importantly, any party of a candidate that receives 5% or more of the popular vote is eligible for public funding in the next election cycle. I was especially enamored with this idea because I was so disgusted with how rigged our election process seemed on both sides. Whether it was the super delegates on the Democratic side that were locked up before a single debate had taken place, or talk of denying a nomination to Donald Trump even if he legitimately won on the GOP side, I was appalled at how little control the people actually had in the nomination process.

Interestingly, just before the election I was the object of scorn from my Republican friends that knew I was voting third-party, “You know, you might as well just go ahead and vote for Hillary.” I got that one more times than I can remember.

Fascinatingly enough, I got a similar chiding in the days following the election from my Democrat friends, “Hope you’re happy. Might as well have just voted for Trump.”

The great irony here is the idea that both sides seemed to accuse me of somehow cutting off my nose to spite my face. Whether it was perceived as disloyalty to my own party or disloyalty to America, neither tribe could stand the likes of me. According to progressives, middle-aged white guys without college educations (read: ME) were responsible for the results of this election.

Conservatives were less verbose in their attack. They simply invented a name for my kind: RINO—Republican In Name Only, and referred to us repeatedly as ‘worse than human scum’—a favorite pejorative of Kim Jong Un and the DPRK, typically reserved for people deemed party traitors just prior to their execution.

The thing is, I’ve never really wanted to be in either club. While I’ve always been a fan of balanced budgets, deficit reduction, and smaller government, I’m not sure that’s what the Republican Party stands for anymore. As far as the Democrats are concerned, any party where Bernie Sanders is simply not liberal enough is purely suspect in my eyes. When all your best ideas start at robbing Peter to pay Paul, I can’t help but wonder how long Peter will put up with it and how many more Pauls a policy of this nature will generate.

At my heart, I’m a moderate conservative reflective of the Eisenhower era—swift to invest in America’s infrastructure in order to power in economic advancement, wary of the Military Industrial Complex, and steadfast in my belief that America can and should be a beacon of liberty, brightly illuminating the path forward for the rest of the world.

I shall continue to vote my conscience, not my tribe, because I believe in the power of ideas over ideology. I am curious who I’ll end up voting for this time around. I genuinely hope a candidate emerges with a message that resonates with the disillusioned, because I think their numbers are growing rapidly. There has to be someone who recognizes that the meaty part of the curve is at the center, and that there must be a logical middle ground somewhere between over-the-top populism and eat the rich socialism.

They call me RINO…and that’s just fine by me.


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