RINO or lemming? The Republican dilemma

A rhinoceros. (Photo: World Wildlife Fund)

Aug. 28, 2020 by David Silverberg

The rhinoceros—rhino for short—is a mighty beast.

This author knows; he has actually seen one in the wild. It was an extremely rare, black African rhino and it was immense. It appeared to be about eight feet long and about six feet high at the shoulder and must have weighed a ton. It seemed like a creature from another time, more dinosaur than mammal. It was armor plated and with a horn that looked like it could pierce a steel plate. If disturbed or annoyed it could charge and do really serious damage. Our guides and those of us in a Range Rover on the South African brush treated it with extreme caution and respect.

The same respect is not shown for the RINOs of Southwest Florida or anywhere else in America for that matter. These animals, of course, are Republicans in Name Only.

It’s a derisive term leveled at Republicans who supposedly show less than sufficient ardor for Republicanism, or this year, in this political climate, complete and total Trumpism.

In the Republican primary race in the 19th Congressional District of Southwest Florida, the term RINO was thrown around with abandon. No candidate was sufficiently Trumpy not to get hit with it at least once and no candidate burned with a fiercer hatred of RINOs than whichever one had purchased the TV ad of the moment or posted the latest video.

But if a non-Trump believing, independent-thinking, traditional conservative Republican is a RINO nowadays, what animal best represents a true-believing Trumper?

The answer may lie, in of all places, the Republican Party platform and the Republican National Convention.

The platform—or non-platform

There’s a general idea abroad these days that party platforms don’t matter. That they’re a lot of trivial geekish verbiage that doesn’t mean anything that no one reads.

For those who think only in TV images and 280-character tweets that may be true. But in fact party platforms are important. It’s not just that they set out in detail where a party stands on numerous issues. They synthesize the different strains and factions in a party and bring them together in a single document so everyone can know where the party stands.

One of the most important roles of a party platform is informing down-ballot candidates of the party’s positions. A candidate running for local dogcatcher on a party ticket can go to the party platform and align his or her platform on issues that might not otherwise be present in a local race. If the dogcatcher candidate is asked where he or she stands on international trade restraints—and this kind of thing happens! —he or she has a ready answer.

Party platforms can be extremely important on a purely policy basis too and tiny word changes can have big consequences. In 2016 Delegate Diana Denman proposed language in the Republican Party platform calling on the United States to provide “lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine, which was fighting off a Russian invasion. The United States had provided Ukraine with equipment and training short of weaponry and some Republicans felt more needed to be done. However, two Trump campaign operatives insisted that the language be watered down to “appropriate assistance” on orders from the Trump campaign’s New York headquarters. With the change of three words, Ukraine was abandoned.

This year’s Democratic Party platform runs 91 pages and covers dozens of topics.

By contrast this year the Republican National Committee abandoned all efforts to formulate a current Party platform and instead adopted a one-page resolution that ignores all the events since 2016 and simply continues the Party’s positions from that time.

The document sounds like it was dictated by Trump and then dressed up in legalese. The establishing clauses (the “whereases”) state that whereas the convention is scaled down; the Party didn’t want a small contingent formulating the platform without broader Party input (actually the reverse of the way it really works—but someone would have to know how it worked in the first place to understand that); had the Party convened as usual it “would  have undoubtedly unanimously agreed to reassert the Party’s strong support for President Donald Trump and his Administration”—no need for discussion there; the media won’t report it accurately anyway; and since the Party “enthusiastically supports President Trump;” basically, there’s no need for a platform.

Therefore, states the resolution, “the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda;” it “will adjourn without adopting a new platform until the 2024 Republican National Convention;” it calls on the media to report this all accurately and any attempt to amend the 2016 platform or change the procedures to make changes “will be ruled out of order.”

The resolution can be summed up as “Whatever Donald Trump wants, we give him”—and it conveniently ignores every national issue that has arisen since 2016 including the coronavirus pandemic and response, the economic crash, civil unrest and the quest for racial justice.

It’s really quite a remarkable American document and not in a good way. It abandons all Party mechanisms, legislative processes, popular input and surrenders to the whim of a single man. It’s a mind-boggling screed worthy of Adolf Hitler’s Reichstag or Kim Jung Un’s Supreme People’s Assembly.

Cult of personality

Kimberly Guilfoyle gives her all for Trump at the Republican National Convention. (Photo: Reuters)

On June 12, 2017, at a time when the country’s borders were in chaos due to Trump’s mistakes, his Cabinet secretaries gathered in the White House Cabinet Room and went around the room lavishly praising him and thanking him for the opportunity to serve in his administration. It reduced accomplished men and women and proud civil servants to slavish sycophants and craven toadies.

“On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people,” said then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, 49 days before he resigned.

There has never been a let up in Trump’s hunger for adulation. The same kind of obedience and flattery that was expected of Trump’s first round of Cabinet-level officials was on display at the Republican National Convention—and if anything, it was even more over the top.

Natalie Harp, a cancer survivor, praised Trump: “You have used your strength to make America strong again. Sacrificed the life you built to make America proud again. And risked everything to make America safe again.”

“Mr. President, lead the way. Millions in our American family believe in this path to destiny. Guide us to that horizon!” said Sean Parnell, a Republican congressional candidate from Pennsylvania.

No one, though, was more lavish and extravagant than Kimberly Guilfoyle, a Trump campaign aide and Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend. “President Trump believes in you!” she shrieked. “He emancipates and lifts you up to live your American Dream! You are capable! You are qualified! You are powerful! And you have the ability to choose your life, and determine your destiny!”

It’s reminiscent of the praise heaped on Adolf Hitler: “He is a pathfinder for those who devoted themselves to his idea, a man who conquered the hearts of his comrades in the midst of battle and never released them,” as Joseph Goebbels put it in one speech.

So if the rhino represents the free-thinking, independent, individualistic, traditional conservative Republican, what totemic animal best represents the obedient, adoring, bedazzled Trumper?

The choice

A lemming. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In a glass case in the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, there is a preserved, round, furry mammal about the size of a small Florida marsh rabbit or a large guinea pig, which it closely resembles. It lives in Arctic climes where it’s preyed upon so much it’s been characterized as the Arctic tundra’s “lunch box.” Its scientific name is Lemmus Lemmus. It’s known generically as a lemming.

Whether deserved or not, the lemming is famous for periodically gathering in large herds and migrating. Supposedly lemmings surmount all obstacles and ford streams, mindlessly moving on until they reach a cliff or the sea and unthinkingly and suicidally charge ahead to their deaths.

The danger of blindly following Donald J. Trump over a cliff to disaster is not new. In fact, it has a distinctly Southwest Floridian perspective.

“I’m definitely at variance with some of the people in the district who would probably follow Donald Trump off the Grand Canyon rim,” said Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) when he announced his retirement on Oct. 19, 2019.

The time has come when Donald Trump and his herd of lemmings have reached their cliff. Despite all the fantasies spun at the Republican convention Trump has utterly failed the nation, which is far sicker, poorer and weaker than when he took office.

Real Republicans can see this and they’re finding new ways to express their dissent. Long-time Republican political professionals have formed the fiercely anti-Trump Lincoln Project, which says it consists of “dedicated Americans defending democracy.” Republican Voters Against Trump state on their website that they are “a coalition of Republicans, former Republicans, conservatives, and former Trump voters who can’t support Trump for president this fall.” Veterans Against Trump declare that “We do not believe Donald Trump has the values or character to be our Commander-In-Chief and do not support him.” Former Republican governors John Kasich of Ohio and Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey, former representative Susan Molinari and businesswoman Meg Whitman attacked Trump when they addressed the Democratic National Convention.

These RINOs can see the catastrophe that another four years of Donald Trump would bring and they’re doing something to prevent it. They’re awake, angry and charging.

Perhaps the term RINO doesn’t really mean Republican In Name Only—nowadays it really means Really Independent Nasty Opponent.

But whatever it means, the conclusion is inescapable: better to be a RINO than a lemming.

Liberty lives in light

©2020 by David Silverberg

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