Fox News’ report on Colin Powell’s recent death included Donald Trump calling Powell a RINO. RINO is an acronym coined in 1992 by New Hampshire conservatives. It Stands for Republican In Name Only. The implication is RINOs call themselves Republican to deceive voters they support Republican Party Principles.
I grew up thinking of myself a Republican. My child’s mind opposed Truman; supported Tom Dewey, MacArthur, Eisenhower and Nixon. Locally, Nelson Rockefeller and New York senators John Foster Dulles, Irving Ives, Jacob Javits and Kenneth Keating seemed just about right. They supported Civil and Voting Rights. They opposed Solid South Democrat filibusters against anti-lynching legislation. They favored federal infrastructure programs and, with Eisenhower, were internationalists. In 1952 I witnessed a titanic battle within the Republican Party. On the one side was Bob Taft of Ohio, Mr. Republican, son of a President and Chief Justice, leader of Senate Republicans, conservative, isolationist. On the other, Eisenhower, backed by Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. and Gov. Tom Dewey. In 1952 my elementary school was let out to line the road. Eisenhower came through in a convertible waiving at us. I was an Eisenhower Republican all the way. Much later Eisenhower’s grandson described Ike as an instinctive middle of the roader. Ike was moderate and internationalist. As WWII Supreme Commander in Europe, Ike’s strength was in bringing people together, difficult but necessary generals De Gaulle and Montgomery, to make things happen. Unlike some leaders, Ike never picked fights. But when the fight picked him, the likes of Sen. Joe McCarthy and Gov. Orval Faubus wound up on the floor counting butterflies. Was Ike a RINO?
When I was in high school, New York was the only state effectively without a state university. New Yorkers, including my friends and I, headed to public colleges in other states. Gov. Rockefeller organized support to fund and build the State University of New York, today world class and the largest comprehensive system in the nation, serving 400,000 students on 64 campuses. Rockefeller, a leader I admired, was Gerald Ford’s vice president. He got big things done. Was Rockefeller a RINO?
Decades later I came to Oklahoma. I admired Henry Bellmon, essentially the founder of post-WWII Oklahoma’s Republican Party. HB1017! Remember that? Bellmon managed to square the circle, do the impossible, unite the left and right, fund education with $580,00,000 fresh cash – and defeated State Question 639 – the last ditch conservative effort to destroy HB1017, 54% to 46%. He compromised. Republicans wanted reform, Democrats wanted funding. Bellmon’s compromise gave both. As a Nixon-era senator, Bellmon was Chair of the Republican National Committee.
After retiring, Bellmon came to OSU and he and I became friends. Over lunch one day he told me the biggest obstacle he faced as governor were legislative Republicans. They did not know how to govern – just impede, block, delay. Was Bellmon a RINO?
That brings me to Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln saw Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, not Madison’s Constitution, as the moral basis of the nation. He raised armies, spent monies, blockaded the South and imprisoned thousands without congressional authorization. He took property without compensation when he freed slaves and fed Union armies off the land. On his own he suspended habeas corpus. He set up military courts to try civilians. No president had less respect for state’s rights, the right to bear arms, the right to property, or the U.S. Constitution itself than Lincoln. Was Abraham Lincoln a RINO?
Let’s step back. Former Democrat and now recent Republican, Donald Trump, along with some rural Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma Republicans – states with no Republican heritage other than a flicker during Reconstruction or in our Territorial period – call a great leader like Gen.Colin Powell, 12th Chair of the Joint Chiefs and 65th Secretary of State, a RINO?
Bob Darcy is Oklahoma State University Regents Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Statistics.