The quick answer is that the real RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) are those accusing others of being RINOs, with those doing so doing so very loudly and repeatedly, much the way they make most of their half-baked to outright wrong arguments. But I want to get into this a bit more based on sitting where I am sitting in Harrisonburg, VA, the home of the only VA GOP statewide candidate with a chance of winning this year, Mark Obenshain, their candidate for Attorney-General, 3 points behind Dem Mark Herring in the latest WaPo poll, within the error of margin, and as I argued earlier with a good chance to win with such a margin a week from today, given the higher energy of the teabag faction, although he is has greater acceptability to moderate Republicans and independents that gives him the chance to win, even though he is essentially as conservative as Governor candidate Cuccinelli.
So, besides that detail, why is where I am sitting so important in understanding this? Because the older around here of those who shout about RINOs were themselves previously Democrats, over 40 years ago when the Byrd Machine was Democratic, the political machine that led the massive resistance to racial school integration in the 1950s in Virginia. And what has that to do with Harrisonburg? The local newspaper, the very conservative Daily News-Record, is owned by the Byrd family, with the dean of the family, former Senator Harry F. Byrd, Jr. recently dying at age 98. It turns out that he was the personal overseer of the massive resistance campaign for his father, who then ran the machine. On his death, the local paper spent pages and pages listing his achievements, and he had some genuine ones and was a notable example of the Old School Virginia Gentleman who had many virtues. But a love of racial equality was not among them, and many noted how the local paper barely mentioned this awkward piece of his past.
As it was, the point got further hammered in when I was at a recent forum about the election, which was attended by both the city GOP chairman (who lives across the street from me) and the local Tea Party Chair, whom I had not previously met. After expressing various wacko views and her full support of truly wacko GOP LG candidate, E.W. Jackson, she bragged about how she used to be a Democrat. When did she switch? Oh, around 1970, about the same time the whole Byrd machine switched to the GOP. This pointedly reminded me that these people are only skin deep Republicans.
So, who are the real Republicans? As a former Republican I am painfully aware of making the opposite switch and for roughly the same reason but in reverse. What fundamentally attracted the Byrd machine Dems to the GOP was the national Dems coming out for national civil rights laws, with the GOP after Goldwater opposing them. I was a pro-civil rights Republican.
As it is this history also plays out in my local area, the Shenandoah Valley. It was a part of Virginia historically with little slavery and many groups such as pacifist Mennonites who opposed slavery. If Stonewall Jackson's army had not been sitting here in 1863, much of the valley, including probably the part Harrisonburg is in, might well have voted to secede from Virginia and become part of West Virginia. Personally I am glad that did not happen, but the fact of the matter is that there were many Republicans here, "Mountain Valley Republicans," who opposed slavery and supported Abraham Lincoln. These were the real Republicans, and during the long rule of racist Democrats such as those in the Byrd machine, it was this part of the state where the Republican Party hung on and would occasionally manage to elect people to the state legislature. These real Mountain Valley Republicans were moderate to liberal or progressive in their outlook, generally speaking, and anti-racist.
Unsurprisingly, since the Byrd machine switch, there has been a long campaign and effort by the right wing of the VA GOP to purge and eliminate the remnants of this faction of the party, including especially in their old home base out here in the Shenandoah Valley. Ironically, one of the leaders of that movement over a long period was Mark Obenshain's late father, Richard Obenshain, who served as state Chairman, but died in a plane crash after having defeated moderate GOP former Senator John Warner for the nomination for that seat in a convention, Warner being a prime example of the Mountain Valley type, even though he was from Northern Virginia, and who was appointed to replace Obenshain after his death as the GOP Senate candidate. Now, Mark Obenshain looks moderate by comparison to his running mates, but he is no Mountain Valley Republican.
Indeed, the breed is nearly extinct. There are very few in the House of Delegates, and there may be just one left in the State Senate, although even a few years ago there were several. But they have been Tea Party primaried intensively, often with this battle cry that they are "RINOs" echoing in their ears. And the battle is on against the one left. He is Sen. Emmet W. Hanger, Jr., who represents the district just southwest of here in the valley, Augusta County, with Mark Obenshain my district's senator. Hanger has been frequently primaried in the past and has so far managed to hang on, the last of the Mountain Valley real Republicans in the evenly-divided-on-party-lines VA State Senate.
Why is the battle now fiercer than ever, to the point of receiving attention in the national media and blogs? He is heading a panel that must pass on whether or not Virginia will extend Medicaid coverage as part of the Affordable Care Act. He has reportedly been open to doing so, showing his progressive Mountain Valley roots, and instigating outrage among the teabaggers and others. As reported nationally, outside money is flowing in from various right wing sources, and he has been hounded by hired demonstrators in his own district over this issue. They want blood, and in particular, the blood of Emmet Hanger. I hope that he not only makes the best decision for Virginia on the Medicaid expansion issue, but that he is able to hang in there as the last of the real Mountain Valley Republicans against this onslaught by this mob of hypocritical phonies.