Republicans have had a number of successes over the last few years, even if the successes have been eclipsed by two national failures in presidential elections. The GOP holds more state-legislature seats now than at any time since Herbert Hoover was President, and now controls both chambers of Congress for the first time since 2006. Their grip on the Senate is tenuous, but Republicans now hold a dominating advantage in House seats that may last at least until the next Census, and potentially far beyond that. In the field and on the ground in local elections, Republicans have managed to weave together coalitions that win.
We’ve excelled in one other area, too — insult generation, especially within the coalition. We’ve heard about RINOs for quite a while, and the epithet “GOP-e” for establishmentarians began arising not long ago, which is amusing beyond belief, considering that it takes majorities to do anything within the US political system. Florida political analyst and activist Rick Wilson poked fun at that earlier today:
If you use the phrase "GOPe" I ironically, I'm laughing at you, not with you.
— Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) July 13, 2015
Kevin Williamson hit back at the nonsensical namecalling at National Review by suggesting a name for martyrdom conservatives — WHINOs. While Kevin has a point, it’s not helped by extending the labeling:
You know the RINO — Republican In Name Only — but you may be less familiar with the WHINO. The WHINO is a captive of the populist Right’s master narrative, which is the tragic tale of the holy, holy base, the victory of which would be entirely assured if not for the machinations of the perfidious Establishment. Never mind the Democrats, economic realities, Putin, ISIS, the geographical facts of the U.S.-Mexico border — all would be well and all manner of things would be well if not for the behind-the-scenes plotting of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and their enablers, who apparently can be bribed with small numbers of cocktail weenies. The WHINO is a Republican conspiracy theorist, in whose fervid imaginings all the players — victims, villains — are Republicans.
Barack Obama? Pshaw. The real enemy is Jeb Bush. …
That this is a deeply stupid view of the world should go without saying, but if you need evidence, consider that the WHINO vote has settled for the moment upon Donald Trump, a Hillary Rodham Clinton donor who supports Canadian-style single-payer health care and amnesty for as many illegal immigrants as he imagines to exist, who has 0.00 percent chance of winning a general election and who is, as if more were needed, a ridiculous buffoon.
Joel Pollak explains why applying a WHINO label to Trump enthusiasts is less than helpful, but Joel’s explanation applies to other labels as well:
His critique makes the valid point that conservatives who favor ideological purity or populist venting over electability are going to lose a lot of elections. He is as irritated as his colleague Jonah Goldberg is worried about the Donald Trump insurgency in the Republican presidential primary. However, both he and Goldberg fail to note the reason for Trump’s ascendancy.
Trump is surging for the same reason that Newt Gingrich enjoyed a brief bubble in the 2012 primary: he is taking on the media. Or, more accurately, he is being victimized by it.
The media’s over-reaction to Trump’s comments about Mexicans is of a piece with the “two minutes’ hate” against the Confederate flag, and the courts’ pursuit of Christian bakers. You don’t have to have a soft spot for billionaires, or like the Dukes of Hazzard, or enjoy beating the Bible to feel a sense of alarm at the media’s mob behavior. It is intended as a warning to the rest of us. …
It may all flame out eventually–either because of Trump’s own antics, or because of the many contradictions in his record. What is odd is that his competitors are not exploiting that record. Instead, they are telling him to shut up and go away.
Actually, there’s a fair bit of that going both ways. When critics raise questions about his record, Trump attacks them personally, including conservative commentators such as Jonah Goldberg, George Will, and Charles Krauthammer. While I’ve occasionally disagreed with all three, I’d usually bet on aligning pretty closely with them on conservative policies and politics. Any one and all three of them have served the conservative movement far longer and far better than Trump. Goldberg responded to Trump’s latest attack by pointing out that the emperor has no clothes on his primary issue — immigration:
Immigration: You seem to think he’s an immigration hardliner, and he’s certainly pretending to be. But why can’t you see through it? He condemned Mitt Romney as an immigration hardliner in 2012 and favored comprehensive immigration reform. He told Bill O’Reilly he was in favor of a “path to citizenship” for 30 million illegal immigrants:
Trump: You have to give them a path. You have 20 million, 30 million, nobody knows what it is. It used to be 11 million. Now, today I hear it’s 11, but I don’t think it’s 11. I actually heard you probably have 30 million. You have to give them a path, and you have to make it possible for them to succeed. You have to do that.
Trump wrote in a book that he favored a Canadian-style health care system, backed Hillary for VP in 2008, and in 1999 opposed banning late-term abortion. That’s a lot of flopping for a candidate who’s suddenly become the anti-RINO standard. There are plenty of people questioning the record as well as the bombastic manner in which Trump has fronted his new policy positions. The media may be bashing Trump but they are also giving him a megaphone, and maybe some of Trump’s supporters should ask themselves why.
This is the problem with the labeling of factions within the GOP, and why Kevin’s approach is much less than helpful. Trump aside, the people who are attracted to him have legitimate beefs with the status quo. They don’t deserve to be called WHINOs any more than people who want to build majorities and win general elections deserve to be dismissed as RINOs, especially those who have to compete in blue or purple states. We need all of these people to win national elections.
In fact, the Trump debate from all sides mirrors the whole problem with labeling. Instead of discussing the issues, some Republicans seem much more interested in personal attacks. Nothing will turn off voters on the ground more than a nasty internecine battle, especially one dominated by namecalling rather than substantial debate on expanding the party’s influence. It also discourages the kind of grass-roots effort needed for GOTV projects which rely on inclusiveness, not purity campaigns. Most voters are interested in practical matters, not drawing even more divisions and adopting more flags for one team over another. That may be a big reason why Republicans win state and local elections, but fail to inspire in presidential cycles.
Let’s stop with the labels. Labeling is a cheap contrivance to avoid discussing matters of substance, and since we win on substance, we should be sticking to it more than anyone.