Of late the Republican Party has become distracted from the battle against Obamacare by an intraparty witch hunt for RINOs, shorthand for “Republicans in name only.” It is believed by many that the RINOs are destroying the party and undermining the efforts of “true conservatives” to stymie Barack Obama and his Democratic minions. Join us then as we go on safari to the Senate to hunt the fabled Republican RINO.
When RINOs are discussed, the name of John McCain (R-Ariz.) is usually at the top of the list. The list of grievances against McCain is long and includes belief in global warming, putting his name on the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law that was struck down in the Citizens United ruling, and even voting to consider new gun control measures this year. McCain has long been a moderate Republican who was willing to reach across the aisle. In 2005, he was a member of the Gang of 14 and in 2004, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry offered McCain the vice presidential slot on the Democratic ticket. McCain told the New York Times in 2008 that Kerry was “a liberal Democrat” and “I am a conservative Republican. So… that’s why I never even considered such a thing.”
But is McCain a conservative? Several conservative organizations provide scorecards on how members of Congress rate based on actual votes. The most famous of these is the American Conservative Union. On that scorecard, McCain has a lifetime average of 82.84 out of a possible 100. In 2012, he scored 92. (The Republican average was 77.83 percent. The overall Senate average was 39.28 percent.) The Club for Growth ranked McCain at 85 percent overall and 90 percent in 2012. On the Freedomworks scorecard, McCain scored 44. (Of the 45 Republican senators, only seven scored 90 or better on the Freedomworks scale. The Republican average was 68 and most Democrats scored zero.)
President Reagan famously said, “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally — not a 20 percent traitor.” Using the Reagan standard, John McCain is a friend and ally of conservatives. As confirmation, McCain is listed as an ACU Conservative, a title bestowed on senators with scores higher than 80.
Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is Senate minority leader and also often considered a RINO. In the deal that ended the recent government shutdown, McConnell was accused of securing a $3 billion earmark to build a dam on the Ohio River near Paducah, Ky. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) have since said that they, not McConnell, requested the appropriation in order to avoid canceling contracts that would cost taxpayers $160 million.
When it comes to the scorecards, McConnell gets a 90.09 lifetime average from the ACU with a score of 100 for 2012. The Club for Growth gives him a 74 for 2012 and lifetime 84. He gets a 71 from Freedomworks. McConnell, who faces reelection in 2014, would meet Reagan’s 80 percent rule. Sen. McConnell is listed as a Defender of Liberty by the American Conservative Union, confirming his 100 for 2012.
Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has also been frequently tagged as a RINO. Graham called for an end to the government shutdown in mid-October and has been accused of supporting amnesty for illegal aliens because he favors immigration reform.
Graham earned an 89.12 lifetime average from the ACU with a 92 in 2012. According to the Club for Growth scale, he has a lifetime score of 77 and an 86 for 2012. He scores a 41 on the Freedomworks scale. Graham, who is also running for reelection in 2014, is also listed as an ACU Conservative.
Kelly Ayotte, a Republican from the blue state of New Hampshire, earned a lifetime 85.5 from the ACU with a 76 in 2012. The Club for Growth gives her a lifetime 92 and an 86 in 2012. She gets a 59 from Freedomworks. Ayotte’s 76 score is not good enough to be labeled as a conservative by the ACU, but it is still markedly better than the Democratic senator from New Hampshire, Jeane Shaheen, who scored zero in 2012 and has a lifetime average of 4.5.
Georgia’s two Republican senators are also alleged RINOs. The retiring Saxby Chambliss has a 92.03 lifetime ACU score while Johnny Isakson is at 87.57. Their Club for Growth scores are 83 and 78 percent respectively. Chambliss received a 47 from Freedomworks, while Isakson scored 47.
As a comparison, the lowest Republican on the ACU survey was Susan Collins (R-Maine) with 20 percent. Her score was less James Webb (D-Va.), the highest Democrat at 32 percent. Olympia Snowe, also a Maine Republican, also had 32 percent.
Even though Collins can be fairly described as a RINO, she does have saving graces for Republicans. Writing on Newsmax, Christopher Ruddy points out that she is pro-gun and is rated B-plus by the NRA. She also voted against Obamacare, for the Bush tax cuts and their extension, for the Iraq War resolution, and is generally pro-military. She is also a fiscal conservative who supports a balanced budget amendment and spending caps.
Tea Partiers should be leery of ousting moderate Republicans like Collins. When fellow Mainer Olympia Snowe retired in 2012, she was replaced by independent Angus King. The Maine Sun Journal reported last May that King voted with Democrats 90 percent of the time. A dozen Democrats have broken with the party more often than King.
A review of 2005 list of RINOs in Human Events yields similar results in other states. The top ten list includes four senators (including Collins and Snowe), four representatives, and two governors (including then-governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney). Of the ten, only Susan Collins is still serving. Of the remaining nine, only one, Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican who later switched parties, was replaced by another Republican. In the other eight cases, the RINOs were replaced by authentic Democrats. One, Mike Castle, a popular Delaware Republican, was defeated in the Republican primary for Joe Biden’s senate seat in 2010. He lost to Christine O’Donnell, the Tea Party favorite, who subsequently lost to Democrat Chris Coons amid revelations of her experiments with Wicca.
Republicans would do well to look at the voting records of elected officials before writing them off as RINOs. Many of the senators often derided as “liberal” Republicans are actually among the most conservative members of Congress. Others represent blue or purple states where a staunch conservative could not win.
There are worse things than having liberal Republicans in Congress. They could be Democrats.