In Defense of RINO Hunting

A great editorial in the Wall Street Journal today written by Pat Toomey, President of the Club for Growth, which is in the same spirit as Sonoran Alliance’s approach to intra-political struggles. Even our own Congressman, Jeff Flake, is mentioned as one of today’s national conservative leaders. 

Here is the reprint:

In Defense of RINO Hunting
By Pat Toomey

The Club for Growth Political Action Committee has long been attacked for intervening in Republican primaries and targeting the party’s most economically liberal incumbents.

In 2000, Pennsylvania Rep. Jim Greenwood called the Club “cannibals.” When the Club ran ads against Ohio Sen. George Voinovich and Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe for resisting President Bush’s 2003 tax cut, Karl Rove deemed the ads “counterproductive.”

And Newt Gingrich, the man who ushered in a conservative Republican majority in 1994, once denounced the Club. “Their strategy is explicitly wrong,” he said. “The key is to elect more Republicans and have a bigger majority and be more inclusive.”

Now comes Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, the man charged with rebuilding the GOP majority in the House. In a New York Times Magazine article, he denounced the Club for Growth’s involvement in a special election in Ohio’s fifth congressional district.

“The problem I have with the Club is I think they’re stupid,” Mr. Cole said. “They spend more money beating Republicans than Democrats.”

Republicans would be better off, the argument goes, if the Club PAC spent its money targeting Democrats instead of liberal Republicans. This is the argument of politicians who care more about maintaining power than using that power to implement conservative policies.

Thus comes the demand for an uncompromising obeisance to the bottom line: Elect as many Republicans as possible, regardless of how they will vote once in office.

It is for this reason that challenges to incumbents are deemed sacrilegious, no matter how far the incumbent has strayed from conservative principles. And it is for this reason that party leaders defend some of the most liberal incumbents, also known as RINOs (Republicans in Name Only), and assail the Club PAC for helping to elect true conservatives.

In 2000, Rep. Tom Davis, then the chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee, denounced the Club for supporting Scott Garrett’s challenge to New Jersey Rep. Marge Roukema. Mr. Cole and the entire Oklahoma establishment backed Tom Coburn’s primary opponent in the 2004 Senate race, Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys, viewing Mr. Coburn as too conservative to be electable. Led by President Bush, the GOP cavalry rallied behind liberal Arlen Specter in 2004, and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Joe Schwarz of Michigan in 2006.

Mr. Chafee, you may recall, is the same senator who refused to vote for the president in 2004, and voted against the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and Justice Sam Alito’s nomination.

This year, Mr. Gingrich and conservative favorite former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele stumped for liberal incumbent Rep. Wayne Gilchrest against conservative state Sen. Andy Harris in a primary. Mr. Gilchrest was also defended by the Service Employees International Union. He lost by 10 points.

Let us take a moment to consider how these liberal Republicans are serving the GOP today. Mr. Specter, just in the past year, joined Democrats in voting for “card check” (which allows unions to organize without holding a secret ballot election), for increasing the minimum wage, for expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and for the bloated farm bill.

Mr. Chafee, who was defeated, switched his party affiliation to Independent and has endorsed Barack Obama for president. Following his loss to conservative Tim Walberg in the 2006 primary, Rep. Schwarz of Michigan backed a state-level tax hike, and threatened to run against Mr. Walberg as a Democrat. Mr. Gilchrest has hinted recently that he will endorse the Democratic nominee for his seat. All four of these pols were heralded by the Republican establishment as genuine conservatives who would go to bat for the party when it mattered.

Conversely, many of the Republican candidates the Club for Growth’s members have supported over the years are now leaders in the conservative movement and favorites among the party’s grass roots. Sens. Coburn and Jim DeMint and Reps. Scott Garrett, Jeff Flake, John Campbell, Jeb Hensarling, Tim Walberg and Mike Pence are just some of the brave leaders who have led the fight for limited government and greater economic freedom.

Winning for the sake of winning is an excellent short-term tactic, but a lousy long-term strategy. Just look at the consequences of the 2006 congressional elections, when the GOP lost control of both houses of Congress.

A Republican majority is only as useful as the policies that majority produces. When those policies look a lot like Democratic ones, the base rightly questions why it should keep Republicans in power. As the party gears up for elections in the fall, it ought to look closely at the losses suffered under a political strategy devoid of principle. Otherwise, it can look forward to a bad case of déjà vu.

Mr. Toomey, a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, is president of the Club for Growth.


  1. RinoHunter says

    This is a well written piece comparing philosophical divergence in the Republican Party. Does anyone know if there is a Rino Hunt Club here in AZ? Membership criteria would be based on successful hunts… we need a brave soul (preferably retired) to be president with some bonafide trophies. RH is a natural!

  2. Since I’m not a Republican, I’m not qualified to say what “Republican In Name Only” is (except that if I, as a liberal Democrat, registered tomorrow as a Republican, I’d probably be one).

    But surely there are some people who would call Jeff Flake a RINO for his positions that veer from what they consider the norm — on such issues as Cuba policy, comprehensive immigration reform, gay employment discrimination, etc.

    As I point out on my blog, again and again, you’ll find Jeff Flake voting against a bill supported by President Bush and the overwhelming majority of House Republicans.

    Are they all RINOs?

  3. “The problem I have with the Club is I think they’re stupid,” Mr. Cole said. “They spend more money beating Republicans than Democrats.”

    Cole’s comments are downright laughable in light of the NRCC actions in AZ-8 in 2006. They DID just that. Only worse, NRCC worked to defeat a conservative Republican, not a moderate. And I think ‘stupid’ was the word Mike Hellon used to describe the NRCC actions. That or he said they were ‘idiots’ to which NRCC leadership replied “noted”.

    Funny stuff. Stupid indeed. Hello, pot? This is the kettle, you’re black.

  4. SonoranSam says

    You guys are getting better at forming a circular firing squad, but you’ve got some ways to go before you catch up to the state Democrats.

    But then again, they’ve had more practice.

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