Are a lot more GOP voters Republicans In Name Only (RINOs) these days?

RINOs has long been a name of contempt on the American political right for those who run for office as conservative Republicans and then “grow and mature” in Washington, D.C. by moving to the left. They play to the voters at home in flyover land and then play a different song to The Washington Post when they’re inside the Beltway.

However, polling suggests that a new breed of RINOs is emerging, and it has nothing to do with its namesakes of old. These are longtime Republican voters who are identifying less and less with the party’s traditional leadership.

Over 60% of Likely Republican Voters have complained in Rasmussen Reports surveys for years that most GOP representatives in Washington are out of touch with the party base. Yes, they’ve been reelected, but in part that’s the power of incumbency. It also reflects the old adage that all politics is local, and these candidates have done a good job assuring the folks back home that they’re one of us.

But first C-SPAN, then the Internet have made it possible for voters throughout the country to skip over the wall created by the liberal-leaning major newspapers and TV networks and to see how Washington really works, to see what their elected representatives are really up to. They don’t like what they see.

Consider that while the traditional media, for example, made much of the Bush family’s criticism of candidate Donald Trump, most GOP voters could not have cared less.   Similarly, Mitt Romney’s much-ballyhooed gripes about Trump were brushed off by Republican voters. [It’s interesting to note that Romney’s presumed coronation as the next senator from Utah was short-circuited at last weekend’s state GOP convention.] And it may have been John McCain’s turn to be their party’s presidential nominee in 2008, but GOP voters didn’t lose much sleep after candidate Trump was dismissive of McCain’s much-publicized time as a POW during the Vietnam war.

When Ohio Governor John Kasich, an unsuccessful presidential wannabe in 2016, and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, both classic RINOs, recently declared to media applause that they are joining together to move the GOP to the political center, most Republican voters said, “count me out.”

More recently, while the media went into fainting spells over Paul Ryan’s departure as speaker of the House, only 30% of GOP voters felt his stepping down would hurt the Republican Party.

Republican voters have told us time and again in surveys that they identify much more with President Trump than with their congressional leadership. But then Trump’s nomination as the 2016 GOP presidential nominee was largely over the dead body of a very hostile Republican establishment.

Now, after hearing for years about the importance of electing a Republican president and a GOP-controlled Congress, nothing has really changed in Washington. Obamacare wasn’t repealed. Illegal immigration wasn’t tackled. The size and oppressive hand of the federal government wasn’t reduced, except by Trump, who quite often has had to fight his fellow Republicans in Congress to do what most GOP voters have long desired. Some of the sharpest knives in Trump’s back have been put there by other Republicans.

No wonder then that 38% of Republican voters said last year that the president’s biggest problem in Washington is members of Congress from his own party.

Following Congress’ passage of a deficit-busting budget in early February, 37% of GOP voters agreed with Senator Rand Paul when he lamented: “When the Democrats are in power, Republicans appear to be the conservative party. But when Republicans are in power, it seems there is no conservative party.” 

Later that same month, a plurality (42%) of Republicans said the GOP-controlled Congress is doing a poor job. Not exactly a ringing endorsement from voters in their own party in a mid-term election year.

So while pollsters, pundits and politicians have been predicting an angry anti-Trump Blue Wave in November that will wash the GOP out of control in the House and maybe even the Senate, perhaps there are quite a few RINOs in the mix, too. These new Republicans In Name Only don’t care if Republicans are in charge of Congress if the end result is just another do-nothing, anti-Trump Congress, particularly if Trump can force the Democrats to field some more moderate candidates whose views weren’t formulated in Outer Space.

Rasmussen Reports’ latest Generic Congressional Ballot shows the Democrats with a five-point edge if the election were held today.  Eighty-three percent (83%) of Democrats would vote for their party’s nominee versus 77% of Republicans who would choose the GOP candidate. So one-in-four Republicans say they would vote Democrat, for some other candidate or are undecided, and that presumes they’re telling the truth. Separate polling suggests GOP voters may be a lot more reluctant than they have been in the past to say out loud whom they are voting for.

Of course, these new RINOs may be sorry if a Democratic-controlled Congress comes to town and attempts to block Trump at every turn. Not that the GOP Congress has been much better. Impeachment is always a threat, too.

One thing’s for sure: Politics as we’ve known it for decades has been knocked for a loop by Donald Trump, perhaps the nation’s first third-party president. The Democrat-Republican calculations of old haven’t been holding up too well in the last couple years. Are the new RINOs the next chapter?.

Fran Coombs is the executive editor of Rasmussen Reports.

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