Republicans

big tent

big tent

In politics, a big tent refers to an inclusive party which encourages a wide swathe of people to become members. The opposite of “big tent” would be a party which is narrowly focused on only a few issues, or which caters to a particular interest group.

Merriam Webster notes that the expression was first used in its current, political sense in 1975. Big-tent can also be used as an adjective.

The benefits of having a big tent are obvious. A big-tent party can amass support from a huge range of voters. It isn’t beholden to any one group, since it has a broad base of support. Losing one group of voters doesn’t spell its political end.

Having a big tent liberates  a party from the need for a “litmus test” or an ideological “purity test,” as Barack Obama pointed out during the 2019 primary season. Speaking to a group of Democratic donors in California, Obama warned against limiting the reach of the party. “We will not win just by increasing the turnout of the people who already agree with us completely on everything,” Obama said. “Which is why I am always suspicious of purity tests during elections. Because, you know what, the country is complicated.”

On the other hand, some politicians argue that having a big tent means that a party can lack focus. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, a Democratic-Socialist member of Congress from New York, has sometimes criticized the Democratic party for being too inclusive.

In January of 2020, Ocasio Cortez grumbled to New York Magazine that “Democrats can be too big of a tent.” She complained that even the term “progressive” had been watered down and had lost its meaning. The Congressional Progressive Caucus should impose some kind of rules about who could join, Ocasio Cortez said, but instead “they let anybody who the cat dragged in call themselves a progressive. There’s no standard.”

It can be hard for pundits to agree on the practical definition of “big tent.” Is the Republican party a big tent party right now? Journalists periodically get excited about the Republican Party’s growing tent, especially when the party appears to veer away from social conservatism. In 2003, the New York Times wrote that the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor of California was a sign that the party was, indeed, opening up. Citing the long-time Republican consultant Frank Luntz, the Times wrote that

A Schwarzenegger victory would send a strong message that the Republican Party is a tent big enough to include a pro-abortion, pro-gay rights Hollywood superstar who has acknowledged manhandling women and smoking marijuana.

In 2016 Mitchell Blatt, writing in The Federalist, argued that the GOP is indeed the “real” big tent party; Blatt pointed to the fact that the Republican presidential candidates talked about socialized healthcare and the decriminalization of drugs. He saw this as an indication that the party was expanding into new territory. However, NPR has argued that the Republicans’ big tent is “lily white,” which ultimately limits just how big-tent the party can truly be.

Hastert rule

Hastert rule

The Hastert rule is an informal guiding principle for leaders in the House of Representatives that dictates a majority of the majority party support any measure before it receives a vote.

This principle is named after former U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R), who served in the position from 1999 to 2007. Republicans in the House used the principle dating back to Newt Gingrich’s speakership from 1995 to 1999. Gingrich and Hastert responded to prior speakerships that blurred Republican and Democratic lines on areas of common policy interests.

Hastert served as speaker during a period of Republican resurgence with George W. Bush’s election in 2000 and GOP control of the Senate after 2002. In 2004, Hastert said the following about requiring a majority of the majority to schedule floor votes:

On occasion, a particular issue might excite a majority made up mostly of the minority. Campaign finance is a particularly good example of this phenomenon. The job of speaker is not to expedite legislation that runs counter to the wishes of the majority of his majority.

The speaker framed this principle as a compromise position from previous years when the Republican majority excluded House Democrats from drafting substantive bills. The Hastert Rule is intended to solidfy the party line, prevent dissent within the majority and control the majority party’s policy agenda.

After Democrats took control of the House in 2007, Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined to use the Hastert rule in managing her caucus. Pelosi wanted Republicans to be part of the process and sought broader support for major legislation. This appeal for bipartisan votes was countered by an increasingly polarized political environment that created contentious debates over substantive legislation. For example, the 2009 vote on the Affordable Health Care for America Act received only one Republican vote and lost 39 Democratic votes.

Pelosi’s successor, John Boehner (R), flouted the Hastert rule on multiple occasions before resigning from the speakership in 2015. Boehner allowed three bills to reach the floor in 2013 that were not supported by a majority of the Republican legislators. He counted on a small number of Republicans and a majority of Democrats to pass bills reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, approving Hurricane Sandy relief funds, and avoiding a fiscal cliff.

Paul Ryan (R) restored the Hastert rule following his selection as Speaker of the House in 2015. Boehner’s resignation followed pressure by conservative members of the party to reassert the rule. Ryan promised these members that he would apply the rule to any immigration bill that emerged from the U.S. Senate.

Examples

The Hill (April 28, 2016): “Now some conservatives are saying that may be too narrow an application of the GOP practice known for years as the ‘Hastert Rule’.”

The Atlantic (July 21, 2013): “Today, Boehner’s violations of the Hastert rule have angered conservatives who see themselves as the ones marginalized by his ability to get around their demands.”

NPR (June 11, 2013): “Boehner has never committed to follow the Hastert rule in every case, and in reality even Hastert violated his own rule.”

 

demon sheep

A “demon sheep” is a sinister politician who pretends to be what he is not; related to the RINO species, according to Samuel Jacobs.

The term comes a widely-mocked political ad run by 2010 California U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina (R) which described her primary opponent as a “FCINO” (Fiscal Conservative In Name Only). He was portrayed as not just a wolf, but a demon with glowing eyes, in sheep’s clothing.

gypsy moth Republican

A “gypsy moth Republican” is a pejorative term used by conservative Republicans to describe a moderate members of their party who represent a Northeastern or Midwestern urban part of the United States — an area that is also the habitat for the invasive Gypsy moth, which damages trees.

The implication is that the gypsy moth Republicans damage the Republican Party by occasionally siding with Democrats.

A gypsy moth Republican is related to a RINO.

Eleventh Commandment

Eleventh Commandment

Ronald Reagan famously said that the “eleventh commandment” was, “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.”

The phrase was coined in the 1960s by Gaylord Parkinson, who was the state chairman of California Republicans at the time. Parkinson added, “Henceforth, if any Republican has a grievance against another, that grievance is not to be bared publicly.”

Reagan first talked about the “eleventh commandment” in 1966, when he was running to be governor of California. At the time, Reagan had just recently switched parties and his Republican opponents seized on that as a way to attack him. Some of them called him “temperamentally and emotionally upset” and hinted that his switch of parties “might indicate instability.” Through it all, Reagan said he didn’t believe in speaking ill of other Republicans. 

Parkinson apparently proposed the rule against Republicans attacking each other because he believed that it would keep Reagan’s opponent, San Francisco mayor Mayor George Christopher, from attacking Reagan; more generally, Parkinson wanted to achieve party unity ahead of the general election.

Reagan continued to invoke the “eleventh commandment” throughout his political career. After he became governor, Reagan also used his new position to advise other Republicans on what he saw as proper decorum. In 1968, for example, Reagan spoke up when George Romney challenged Richard Nixon to a debate presidential primary. Reagan said, “I don’t think that’s necessary. Whenever you do that, you return to the atmosphere of violating the 11th commandment, which we originated in California, that you should speak no ill of another Republican.”

Much later, Reagan referred to the rule in his autobiography, An American Life. Speaking of the eleventh commandment, he wrote, “It’s a rule I followed during that campaign, and I have ever since.”

In the decades since Reagan’s administration, journalists and pundits have periodically complained that Republicans don’t seem to be following Reagan’s eleventh commandment any more. In 2011, for example, the New York Times fretted that a recent Republican debate had “led to the biggest display yet of combativeness among candidates who often evoke Ronald Reagan, but did not heed his 11th commandment, not to speak ill of fellow Republicans.”

A few years later, in 2015, the Dayton Daily News lamented that the Republican presidential hopefuls were not living up to Reagan’s example. The newspaper wrote,

“The 11th commandment prevails, and that is, ‘Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican,'” Ronald Reagan said.  If these past few weeks are any indication …“Donald Trump is a narcissist and an egomaniac,” Bobby Jindal said. “Jeb Bush is a low-energy person,” Donald Trump said. “I think Donald Trump’s a disaster,” Rand Paul said on Fox News.

The Republican candidates Wednesday night won’t be in observance.”

Even after the 2016 election, some Republicans were lamenting that members of their own party were engaging in pointless Twitter wars with each other and refusing to work effectively with one another. The answer, one op-ed read, was a return to Reagan’s vision: “Republicans should take a look at Reagan’s speeches, read about him, and try to learn from a politician who brought a nation together in so many ways.” 

RINO

Republican In Name Only (RINO) is a disparaging term that refers to a Republican candidate whose political views are seen as insufficiently conforming to the party line.

The phrase, without the RINO acronym, became first popularized during the Theodore Roosevelt presidency, as he was often labeled a “Republican in name only” by both critics and proponents, as his trust-busting policies were at odds with long-standing Republican Party ideologies.

By 1992, the acronym “RINO” had shown up in print, with an article in the New Hampshire Union Leader, written by John Distaso, being cited as the first instance of RINO in print.

“The Republicans were moving out and the Democrats and ‘RINOS’ (Republicans In Name Only) were moving in.”

The use of the term RINO arose as polarization increased in the political parties. Prior to the 1992 election of Bill Clinton, the Democratic and Republican parties had been in a long process of realignment where conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans were quite common. With the election of Bill Clinton, Republican ideological unity became increasingly fixed. This is exemplified by Grover Norquist’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which called upon signatories to reject and oppose all measures to increase tax rates. By 2012, nearly every Republican presidential candidate was a signatory to this pledge.

The increasing ideological unity of the Republican Party made holdovers from the previous political alignment look like outliers. Whereas historically liberal Republicans comprised a wing of the Republican Party, they had (by 1992, and especially by 2020) become incompatible with the Republican Party itself.

Therefore, in an age of party unity, the term RINO was often used as a political weapon. It could be used as a threat: vote how your party wants or be branded a RINO. It could also be used as an effective tool in a primary campaign: the incumbent is a RINO, vote for the challenger. Indeed, in the 2010 Congressional Elections, the Tea Party effectively used the term RINO as a way to “primary” Republican Incumbents whose policies were not conservative enough.

RINO is also related to the historical term “Rockefeller Republican” which referred to (traditionally) Northeast Republicans who championed business friendly practices while remaining relatively socially liberal. Named after Nelson Rockefeller who served as the Governor of New York before running unsuccessfully for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1960, 1964, and 1968. This term has largely died out as the Rockefeller family’s political successes have dwindled.

convention bounce

A convention bounce refers to the surge of support a presidential candidates may enjoy after the televised national convention of their party.

The size and impact of a convention bounce is sometimes seen as an early indicator of party unity.