Where does RINO come from?
Not every Republican is an elephant. Some are deemed rhinos, or rather, RINOs: Republicans in Name Only. The term is an insult that some Republicans hurl at other Republicans to suggest that they’ve fallen short of a true Republican ideal.
The term dates back to at least the 1840s when it was used to question the genuineness of some previous instances of small-R republican governments. The phrase saw academic use throughout the 19th century to describe governments that gave the appearance of being legitimate representational democracies but were, in practice, not.
The modern Republican Party wasn’t formed until 1854 when former members of the Whig Party bonded around the anti-slavery movement. Perhaps, the first charge of Republican in name only against a member of the Republican party slammed President Teddy Roosevelt in the early 1900s; his more progressive, antitrust agenda put him at odds with the more conservative factions of the Republican party. The political insult continued into the Reagan administration in the 1980s, though its target shifted over the decades.
It’s believed that the acronym RINO was first used in print in 1992 by political journalist John DiStaso for the New Hampshire Union Leader. DiStaso was reporting on Washington after Bill Clinton’s election: “The Republicans were moving out and the Democrats and “RINOs” (Republicans In Name Only) were moving in.” RINO caught on in the 1990s. Punning on the acronym in 1993, Republicans critical of their leadership wore buttons depicting a rhinoceros (a rhino) with a red slash across it.
The term spread further in the 2000–10s as Republican politicians faced increasing electoral challenges from more conservative members of their party, forced to prove they were Republican bona fides. In 2015, Speaker of the House John Boehner defended himself as not being a RINO, stating “When I voted regularly, I had the eighth most conservative voting record in Congress. And the idea that I'm the establishment, that I'm some RINO, is just laughable.” In 2016, former Republican senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole notably attacked Texas Senator Ted Cruz as a RINO.
As a candidate in 2016 and into his presidency, Donald Trump is frequently called a RINO by Republican critics.
Who uses RINO?
Common enough in some circles to be written like its own word (Rino), RINO is mainly used in political speech, journalism, blogging, and social media by conservatives to criticize fellow party members, especially office holders, for not being true Republicans. The charge is often issued when a Republican shows a willingness to compromise with Democrats or deviates from the party line on more hardline issues (e.g., climate change or reproductive rights).
RINO is sometimes used of politicians considered too far-right of the mainstream Republican party, as Dole called Cruz in 2016. It’s also sometimes used more broadly to attack any conservative another conservative disagrees with.
References to RINOs often use actual rhino images, riffing on the Republican elephant mascot. RINO also sees colorful wordplay (e.g., RINO hunter, or Republicans trying to stop the election or reelection of alleged RINOs).
A less common Democratic party counterpart is DIABLO, or “Democrat in All But Label Only.” For whatever reason, the term DINO (“Democrat in Name Only”) has never really caught on. RINO is not the only popular use of the "in name only" acronym though. For example, the 1998 American Godzilla film is often referred to by fans as GINO, or “Godzilla in Name Only.”
Literally anyone else. Trump IS the RINO.
@Martinbridge, February, 2018
Very true! We must all vote at our elections. Vote vote vote! Sitting home and not voting is a vote for a Democrat or RINO.
@SylviaNeumann18, February, 2018
...[N]ow, for a Fox host beloved of anti-immigrant populists, a RINO is a Republican who is on the other side of a disagreement with Trump, even if in substance, that means a RINO is someone who opposes a deal with Democrats to raise the debt ceiling, or stands against compromising with Democrats to get things done, which is to say, the opposite of what RINO meant in the recent past.
Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic, September, 2017