Everybody But Me’s a RINO

One of the odder phenomena of contemporary political discourse is the regular denial by Republicans that their party has significantly moved to the right in the last few years. No! they insist, it’s Democrats who’ve moved left! (you know, by embracing what used to be Republican policy positions like a a private-sector based system for expanding health insurance via an individual mandate, and a market-based cap-and-trade system for reducing greenhouse gas emissions). You’d think self-conscious conservatives would be a little louder and prouder of their victory over the moderate Republicans of yore (a victory confirmed by the fact that virtually no Republican pol would dare self-identify as “moderate”).

This act of deception finds its most definitive refutation in Republican primaries, where candidates call themselves “conservatives” or “true conservatives” or “constitutional conservatives” with almost every breath, while describing opponents as though they were Jacob Javits reincarnated. Check out this snippet from Dave Weigel about the reaction to the Supreme Court decision on ACA from the two GOP candidates running for the Senate in Texas, which began with the observation that Ted Cruz used to talk about John Roberts as his favorite jurist:

When Roberts helped save “Obamacare,” Cruz immediately blasted the Court for having “abdicated its responsibility to safeguard the Constitution.” He didn’t mention Roberts by name, but he insisted that the decision was more proof that Republicans needed to reject Cruz’s opponent, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. “My opponent is, by nature and by over a decade of political office, a conciliator. Now is not a time for conciliation.” Take that, Larry Tribe. Stuff it, Walter Dellinger.

Over to Dewhurst. Cruz has campaigned against him as a liberal sellout — on blogs, he’s become known as “Dewcrist.” Was he going to blow the chance to point out that Cruz’s ally had saved Obamacare? No. “Supreme Court Justice John Roberts,” said Dewhurst, “sold constitutional conservatives down the river.”

Maybe the point is that conservatives can’t admit they’ve taken over the GOP and driven it straight to Goldwater Country (the 1964 Goldwater, not the one who took to criticizing the Christian Right in his older years) because then it would be hard to describe it as a rat’s nest of RINOs that needs to be cleaned out by fill-in-the-blank.

Still, it’s odd. I recall from way, way back a runoff for Lieutenant Governor in Georgia between the famous ax-handle seggie Lester Maddox and a better-educated but still flamboyant right-wing demagogue named Peter Zack Geer. Each of the two race-baiters tried to label each other an “extremist” (Geer won, though Maddox went on to become Governor later after edging out some guy named Jimmy Carter for a runoff spot). Were they around today and running in a Republican primary, I imagine Maddox and Geer would be calling each other “sellouts” and “conciliators.” The wind is blowing in just one direction in the contemporary Republican Party, and it’s not towards the Left Coast.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.