For several years, the most-hurled epithet in Republican Party politics has been an acronym: RINO, or Republican In Name Only.
By DAVE HELLING
The Kansas City Star
It almost always is used by conservatives and tea-party members against moderates in the GOP. The term RINO describes politicians who claim to be Republican but are, in fact, liberal, says an entry on a website called Conservapedia.
In 2014, though, the most interesting and important political battle will center on which wing of the Republican Party gets to decide who really is a RINO, and who isnt.
Last week, for example, conservatives labeled House Speaker John Boehner and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan RINOs for their efforts to pass a federal budget compromise that included slightly higher spending.
But heres the thing: 169 Republicans in the House voted yes. Only 62 Republicans opposed the budget deal. So who are the real RINOs? The GOP majority that bought into the budget agreement, or the minority that rejected it?
Some local Republicans are quietly asking that question. They are increasingly worried voters blame their party for ongoing government dysfunction, endangering the partys chance to gain seats in Congress next year and the White House in 2016.
And theres an intriguing possibility the GOP moderates will make their concerns public in 2014. In the suburbs, there is some chatter that well-known middle-of-the-road Republicans will support Democrat Paul Davis in the Kansas governors race against conservative Republican Sam Brownback.
The Republicans cant bring themselves to become Democrats, it turns out, but they believe they can pull their party back to the center by backing Davis in November.
Conservatives almost certainly will call them Republicans In Name Only. The moderates, though, will argue that tea-party hard-liners are the real RINOs.
Theres a slim chance the strategy might work. Conservatives can make the RINO label stick in a GOP primary, where their influence is significant. In a general election, though, it may be easier to suggest no-compromise conservatives are the real outliers, not the deal-makers.
Of course, the moderate-conservative name-calling could backfire, leaving both wings of the party disillusioned and upset. That might damage the partys chances beyond immediate repair.
But Republicans on both sides seem prepared to fight it out. And the sound youre hearing is the first round in that debate: Who is a RINO? And who isnt?
Paul Ryan is leading in Iowa, by the way.