Go Ahead, Round Up the RINOs!

The extremists baying for a Republican purge don't understand that it would change nothing

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Every so often, the political and cultural ranks in China are convulsed by show trials and purges. The last time this happened, in the mid-1960s, it was called the Cultural Revolution, and it got out of hand: government bureaucrats and university intellectuals were paraded through the streets wearing dunce caps and insulting signs, jeered at by mobs. The goal was to sweep out the moderates, backsliders and "cosmopolitans" and replace them with a purer and more devoted class.

All in all, not a bad system when you really think about it--at least according to a lot of rank-and-file Republicans, who follow the events unfolding in Washington with something like the fervor of a Cultural Revolutionary. Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain dining with the President while fellow Senator Rand Paul filibusters into the night? Backsliding moderates! House Republicans who always seem a baby step away from agreeing to "revenue enhancements" in the next budget? Closet statists! And recently, when Ohio Senator Rob Portman--who up until then was a pretty solid Republican--announced that after a long conversation with his gay son he was now in favor of same-sex marriage, the Twitter streams went berserk: Relativist! Secret socialist! Cosmopolitan! RINO!

It's that last one that hurts: Rino, for "Republican in name only," describes the kind of politician that runs as a Republican, talks like a conservative and votes like a Senator from Maine. RINOs, according to the party faithful, are what stand between us and sweeping political change.

All of which, of course, may be true. There is something about Washington that brings out the pompous complacency in even the most rock-ribbed conservative. You can see them swanning around town, faces flushed and pink from too many steak dinners at Palm, hopping from one classy venue--the National Association of Pest and Termite Control Independent Owner/Operators Salute to the Troops, or whatever--to an embassy cocktail thing to the Kennedy Center, all the while trailed by devoted interns, aides and craven supplicants. Must be nice, actually.

It's the closest a fat, old, not-great-looking person can get to being an actual movie star. And the problem with movie stars, from the perspective of a Republican Party activist somewhere out in actual America, is that they are all Democrats.

Here's the bad news: they are all Democrats in Washington too. Somewhere between the poached lobster at Charlie Palmer and the lunchtime speech at the Omni Shoreham, your typical Republican politician--no matter how dusty his shoes were when he got to town, no matter how carefully he tries to maintain ideological purity--is going to be tempted. To raise a little tax here. To tweak a pointless regulation there. To rethink gay marriage. To wonder if the Department of Education's Diversity Training Outreach Program for Diversity Trainee Education doesn't truly need a 30% bump in its budget. (And yes, I made that one up, but be honest: you wouldn't be surprised if it existed.)

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