People like to toss around the accusation that this person or that person is a “Republican In Name Only,” or a RINO. Generally this means the person is not a conservative, at least in the eyes of the accuser. The accusation is meant to be an insult or an attempt to dismiss what the accused thinks on a particular subject.
I heard Jonah Goldberg once say, in reality, every conservatives ought to be a RINO. What he meant was that one’s loyalty ought to be to conservative principles not to a political party. I agree with Goldberg’s definition of RINO.
Ronald Reagan used to say “somebody who agrees with me 80 percent of the time is a friend and ally, not a 20 percent traitor” Sadly today, Republicans of all stripes from Establishment Types to Tea Partyers to Trumpites seem to act and think as if a 99% friend is a 100% enemy. As a consequence, the question of whether or not the GOP will continue to exist as a national party is being openly discussed. It’s been a long time since it’s happened in America, but political parties can and do die.
Spiritually, I am a Christian. Politically I am a Conservative. As long as the Republican Party remains the home of the conservative movement, I will remain a Republican. If on the other hand the GOP abandons conservatism and deems conservative principles to be no longer worth following, I will be faced with the choice of staying or leaving.
It seems everyone has their own idea of what it means to be a conservative. This is not surprising since in reality conservatism has no rigid ideology. One can be an economic conservative, a social conservative, a neoconservative, a paleoconservative, a Tea Party conservative, a country club conservative, and so forth. All can lay claim to certain aspects of conservative thought. When one faction gains dominance over the others, or when some flavors of conservatism reject the others, cracks appear in the conservative movement.
The great conservative thinker Russell Kirk identified ten principles of conservatism. These principles allow for many differences of opinion on policy and specific pieces of legislation. They should be used as a guide, not a bludgeon to drive people from the conservative movement.
Russell Kirk’s Ten Conservative Principles (source: http://www.kirkcenter.org/index.php/detail/ten-conservative-principles/):
– First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order. That order is made for man, and man is made for it: human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent.
– Second, the conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity. It is old custom that enables people to live together peaceably; the destroyers of custom demolish more than they know or desire.
– Third, conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription. Conservatives sense that modern people are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, able to see farther than their ancestors only because of the great stature of those who have preceded us in time.
– Fourth, conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence. Burke agrees with Plato that in the statesman, prudence is chief among virtues. Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity.
– Fifth, conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety. They feel affection for the proliferating intricacy of long-established social institutions and modes of life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems.
– Sixth, conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability. Human nature suffers irremediably from certain grave faults, the conservatives know.
– Seventh, conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked. Separate property from private possession, and Leviathan becomes master of all.
– Eighth, conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism. Although Americans have been attached strongly to privacy and private rights, they also have been a people conspicuous for a successful spirit of community.
– Ninth, the conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions. A state in which an individual or a small group are able to dominate the wills of their fellows without check is a despotism, whether it is called monarchical or aristocratic or democratic.
– Tenth, the thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society. The conservative is not opposed to social improvement, although he doubts whether there is any such force as a mystical Progress, with a Roman P, at work in the world.
Whether because it’s leaders are unable or unwilling to adhere to conservative principles, or it’s voters reject conservatism in favor of nationalism and populism, the Republican Party is at a crossroads. This election will decide the path forward not only for our nation, but for the conservative movement and it’s current home within the GOP.
As a conservative, I hope my fellow Republicans remain faithful to conservative principles and reject anger and fear. I hope my fellow Republicans choose to put the Party back on it’s conservative foundation. Finally, I hope the Grand Old Party can remain my political home and the home to conservatives everywhere.