By: William H. Smith; Water Valley, Mississippi

In Mississippi, it’s always RINO season, but especially in election years. The announced retirement of Senator Thad Cochran has created the extraordinary circumstance that Mississippi will elect two new United States Senators next November. Senator Roger Wicker, the junior Senator, is up for re-election and faces a primary challenge from state Senator Chris McDaniel who challenged and almost beat Sen. Cochran in 2014.

However, Senator Cochran’s retirement could change things. Governor Phil Bryant has the power to appoint an interim Senator to take office upon Sen. Cochran’s retirement. However, whether the interim Senator seeks to retain the seat or to hold it only till the general election, only the winner of the election in November can fill the remainder of the Cochran term (which expires in January of 2021).

This creates a decision for Sen. McDaniel. Press on in his primary challenge to Senator Wicker? Or, drop the challenge to Wicker and run in November for the open seat created by Senator Cochran’s retirement?

Either way Senator McDaniel and his supporters such as Ryan Walters, Melanie Sojourner, Keith Plunkett, and the Senator’s multitude of Facebook followers have already used the term “RINO” approaching ad infinitum.  They can be counted on to continue using it till, the rest of us, like the Israelites consuming the quail in the wilderness, have heard it ad nauseum.

 “RINO” is one of those terms that is used so much that many seldom stop to ask the meaning of the term and the appropriateness of its use. It stands for “Republican in name only,” but what kind of Republican is one in name only? It is an interesting question that, it seems to me, deserves a little reflection.

One consideration is who have been the Republican Presidential nominees since the end of World War II and the Roosevelt era? They are:

1948 – Thomas Dewey, Gov., NY

1952 – Dwight Eisenhower, Sup. Allied Commander, European Theater, WW II

1956 – Dwight Eisenhower, POTUS

1960 – Richard Nixon, Eisenhower’s V.P.

1964 – Barry Goldwater, U.S. Sen., AZ

1968 – Richard Nixon, former V.P.

1972 – Richard Nixon, succeeded by V.P. Gerald Ford

1976 – Gerald Ford, POTUS

1980 – Ronald Reagan, former Gov., CA

1984 – Ronald Reagan, POTUS

1988 – George H.W. Bush, Reagan’s V.P.

1992 – George H.W. Bush, POTUS

1996 – Bob Dole, Sen., KS

2000 – George W. Bush, Gov., TX

2004 – George W. Bush, POTUS

2008 – John W. McCain, Sen., AZ

2012 – Mitt Romney, former Gov., MA

2016 – Donald Trump, Businessman, NY


Who among them is not a RINO by McDaniel standards? Goldwater, Reagan, and they hope (though I doubt it) Trump. I think what they really like about Trump is not his conservatism but his combativeness. They like people who “blow things up.” The more Trump adjusts to political realities in order to accomplish his agenda, the less they will like him.

Another way that we might look at this matter of the “RINO” is to remember the founders of the MS Republican Party. This is especially relevant since the “true conservatives” in MS talk about “taking our Party back.” The Jackson Daily News once referred to the reborn Republican Party as “scalawags.” The Clarion Ledger warned voters not “to play with fire” by voting for Republicans. Who were some of the prominent men involved in the rebirth of and growth the Republican Party in MS? Among them were:

Wirt Yerger – first Chairman, kept segregation out of platform

Clarke Reed – second Chairman, delivered MS delegation to 1976 Convention to Ford

Jim Herring – ran for Governor, member National Committee, believer in 11th Commandment

Rubel Phillips – ran for Governor, moderate who later moderated on race, Meridian Star called him “no conservative”

Charles W. Pickering – prosecuted the Klan

Gil Carmichael – gentlemanly moderate

Billy Mounger – Trent Lott, a protégé

Leon Bramlett – ran for Governor, an aid to Sen. Cochran

Who among these or who not listed above would Sen. McDaniel acknowledge as non-establishment true conservatives who created the modern MS Republican Party?

Who led the Republican Party to its present success, holding super majorities in the State Senate and House? Holding every statewide state office but one? Holding both U.S. Senate seats and 3 of 4 House seats? Haley Barbour. “Nuff said” for the McDaniel loyalists.

Senator McDaniel has declared war on the Republican “establishment” and is ready for a fight with all who are “liberal-moderate-not true conservatives.” He has proclaimed himself a Taft-Goldwater-Reagan conservative. But is he?

True, Taft was known as “Mr. Conservative” and opposed much of the New Deal. But Taft also supported the federal housing program and federal aid to education. While, Mr. McDaniel may agree with Sen. Taft’s opposition to American involvement in WW II and the creation of NATO, Taft would find strong opposition from Reagan and would find himself out of step with mainstream Reagan conservatism.

Goldwater was the “conscience of conservatism.” But Goldwater was both respected and liked by almost all his Senate colleagues. He served in the position Senator Wicker just held, Chairman of the Republican Senatorial Committee, and supported all Republican incumbents including the unabashed liberal, Jacob Javits. Goldwater pronounced Bob Dole the heir of Goldwater-Reagan conservatism and joked to Dole, “We’re the new liberals of the Republican Party. Can you imagine that?”

What about Reagan? There is no doubt that Reagan is the embodiment of modern Republican conservatism who spoke the conservative message winsomely, eloquently, and forcefully. But, even in his first term, Reagan had to defend himself against those who believed he had sold out. He replied to some of his critics:

I’m not retreating an inch from where I was. But I also recognize this: There are some people who would have you so stand on principle that if you don’t get all that you’ve asked for from the legislature, why, you jump off the cliff with the flag flying. I have always figured that a half a loaf is better than none, and I know that in the democratic process you’re not going to always get everything you want.

Reagan also said the kind of thing that drives McDaniel loyalists crazy: “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally – not a 20 percent traitor.”

So what is a RINO? I am a big tent Reagan Republican who wants more, not fewer, Republicans. I am more interested in drawing circles than lines. But, it seems to me that history makes it plainly evident that, if there are any RINOs in MS, they are the McDanielites.