Here’s a Civil Notion: Save the RINOs for the Sake of Democracy and the Environment

February 18, 2021

[A] big-game trophy decision will be announced next week, but I will be very hard-pressed to        change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal.— Donald J. Trump November 19, 2017

Back in the day, in Capital City, you could tell Democrats by their wearing brown shoes with blue suits and Republicans by their (figuratively) eating their own. Things have changed. These days Democrats have a much better fashion sense. Like presidents before him, Donald Trump used his executive powers to issue pardons to those he felt were unfairly prosecuted, given jail sentences out of line for the crime committed, who he believed to be repentant or at least politically useful to him. I will admit there were some in the pile of pardons that I would have a tough time justifying their early release or cleansing their records.

Sheriff Joe pops immediately to mind. Joseph Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona. Joe was convicted of contempt of court for refusing to stop traffic patrols that targeted immigrants. He faced a maximum six-month prison term but was pardoned before sentencing. There’s something about sworn officers of the law abusing their power and taking it out on anyone they have it in for because of their skin color or political affiliation.

Trump pardoned the quick and the dead. There’s a dark irony in his having posthumously pardoned Susan B. Anthony for the crime of voting illegally in 1873. When the announcement of the pardon was made, Trump issued a statement that said:

The decision…removes a conviction for exercising a fundamental American right and one that we as citizens will lawfully employ this November.

Trump pardoned Ms. Anthony in August 2020, so perhaps he was limbering his fingers should any of his cabal need bailing out after the November elections.

Trump hasn’t been nearly as open to lawful voting since he lost the November election. Another thing Trump and his supporters seem short of since the election is forgiveness.

In recent weeks Republican House[i] and Senate[ii] members—both moderate and conservative—who voted against Trump have felt the wrath of the Trumplican armies in Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Arizona, Maine, and North Carolina. Of the seven Republican senators, only Lisa Murkowski is up for re-election in 2022.

Murkowski appears to be in no real danger—for now. Alaska Public Media recently reported, her state’s new election rules likely mean she’ll be in less danger of losing her primary should Trumplicans put up a challenger. Senator Bill Cassidy (LA) was unanimously censured by the Louisiana GOP literally hours after the impeachment vote. Cassidy won re-election in November by 40 percent over his Democratic challenger.

Senators Toomey (PA) and Collins (ME) face possible censure by their state parties. Toomey is retiring, and Collins was just re-elected for her fifth term. The Maine senator delivered a 16-minute floor statement explaining her decision to impeach. She said in part:

This impeachment trial is not about any single word uttered by President Trump on Jan. 6, 2021. It is instead about President Trump’s failure to obey the oath he swore on January 20, 2017. His actions to interfere with the peaceful transition of power — the hallmark of our Constitution and our American democracy — were an abuse of power and constitute grounds for conviction.

Ben Sasse (R-NE), Collins Senate colleague, was a bit more succinct in explaining his vote. He told the Nebraska GOP:

You are welcome to censure me again – but let’s be clear about why: It’s because I still believe (as you used to) that politics is not about the weird worship of one dude.


House Republicans have had a much rougher time of it than their Senate counterparts. Censure in these cases may have more dire consequences if for no other reason than they’ll be up for re-election in 2022. The Trumplican army will be provisioned by Trump with funds the former president has raised since it became clear that he’d lost the election. A month after the election, it was reported that Trump-controlled political action committees had collected $207.5 million in donations.

Trumplicans have mercilessly attacked Representative Lynn Cheney (WY) both in Congress and in her home state. Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the House, has faced a torrent of criticism by conservative colleagues like Representatives Jim Jordan (R-OH) and the newly elected Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA).

Greene is a card-carrying QAnon supporter, and Jordan is the co-founder of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus. They and other conservatives moved to oust Cheney from her leadership position. Had it not been for the backing of Minority Leader McCarthy (R-CA), she could have lost her ranking.

Cheney is hardly out of the woods. In a most unusual move, Florida Senator Matt Gaetz (R)—an ardent supporter of Trump—took his umbrage and opposition to the Wyoming representative to the steps of the state capitol. Gaetz is viewed as a stalking horse for Trump. Don Jr. calling into Gaetz’s rally promising to support any Cheney challenger seemed to confirm it.

Slide Anything shortcode error: A valid ID has not been provided

Not every Wyomingite is thrilled with Gaetz’s grandstanding. Karla Pomeroy, writing for the Northern Wyoming News, asked where the adults in the Party were and went on to write:

Consider this, Wyoming Republicans who elected a representative to Congress not just once but twice are upset that she voted her conscience – that she didn’t vote along party lines or what they told her to do.

However, they will allow some Florida Republican (Rep. Matt Gaetz) to come to Wyoming to try and recruit candidates and to lobby against Cheney. (emphasis added)

Wyoming Republicans—like GOP members everywhere—are divided in their belief that Trump should be the one to lead the party and possibly its 2024 presidential candidate. Recent polls are showing that over 50 percent of Party members would support Trump’s re-election effort.

Party members are not the only ones out to excoriate House members who voted their conscience. Eleven members of Representative Adam Kinzinger’s (R-IL) family wrote him a two-page letter telling him what they thought of his vote:

Oh my, what a disappointment you are to us and to God! We were once so proud of your accomplishments! Instead, you go against your Christian principles and join the ‘devil’s army’ (Democrats and the fake news media).

President Trump has done more for the American people in four years than you, the [Rhinos], and the Democrats have done in years!!

Although misspelled, the family scribe refers to RINOs, which in GOP lingo stands for Republicans in Name Only. It’s a phrase we’ll be hearing a lot between now and the 2022 midterm elections.

Kinzinger has started the Country First PAC in the hopes of taking the Republican Party back from the Trumplicans. The six-term member of Congress is not the only Republican who has become so uncomfortable in the smothering unreality of the former president and his supporters.

Reuters has reported that dozens of former Republican officials, who view the party as unwilling to stand up to former President Donald Trump and his attempts to undermine US democracy, are in talks to form a center-right breakaway party. Third parties have never fared well in the US, but then over 50 percent of Republicans still believe Biden stole the election—so anything is possible these days.

By now, I’m sure readers are wondering why a good liberal climate activist like myself cares about how endangered RINOs are, given their appalling League of Conservation Voters (LCV) scores. Kinzinger has a lifetime score of seven percent, Cheney one percent, Cassidy seven percent, Murkowski 18 percent, and Collins 61 percent. It’s a fair question.

My answer is it’s a matter of conscience—not mine theirs. Senator Toomey explained his vote to convict Trump because he thought it was the right thing to do. It didn’t please the chairman of the Washington County GOP, Dave Ball:

We did not send him there to vote his conscience. We did not send him there to do ‘the right thing’ or whatever he said he was doing. We sent him there to represent us.

These the same words uttered by Wyoming Trumplicans as they sat in thrall to Matt Gaetz and Don Jr as they ganged up on Representative Cheney for voting her conscience. As she has said, somethings should never be partisan.

Democracy, like any living system, needs diversity if it is to remain strong. Do I believe what those branded Trump traitors have to say about climate policy and the need to transition to a low-carbon economy?

At the moment, I do not. What I do believe, however, is that those with opposing ideas and a conscience are much more likely to see the wisdom and need to employ science-based climate policies than Republicans in enrapture to the former president. They believe what he tells them to believe. Or, as in the case of cowards, like Senator McConnell, who thinks his conscience is served by voting to acquit and then making speeches about how guilty the dude is.


And what does Trump believe? Wind turbines cause cancer, and that he would never think that the horror show of trophy hunting could help the conservation of elephants or any other animal. He held that thought right up to the time he signed the order allowing it.

Dialogues between honorable actors are essential for a democracy. Yes, Kinzinger has a lifetime LCV score in the sub-basement. However, he, like Collins, Romney, and Murkowski, has acted in a bipartisan fashion and doesn’t believe that Democrats are the spawn of Satan.

President Biden is an old-school Democrat who may still wear brown shoes with a blue and seeks compromise when he can and when he can’t, appears willing to do what he thinks is right. With such slim majorities in the House and Senate, it is more than likely that the Democrats will need to call on some Republican support.

We’ve seen what climate policy by executive order gets us. I’ve long held that the nation cannot maintain balance by spending equal times at the extremes. Without at least some bipartisan backing, the on-again/off-again climate policy cycle will continue. Absent collaboration today, the future transition to a low-carbon economy will be desperate rather than measured.

[i] The Republican House members who voted for impeachment were Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, Jaime Herrera Beutler Washington, John Katko of New York, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Peter Meijer of Michigan, Dan Newhouse of Washington, Tom Rice of South Carolina, Fred Upton of Michigan, and David Valadao of California voted to impeach.

[ii] The Republican Senators who voted to convict Trump for incitement were Richard Burr of North Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

*** Real rhinos could use your help ***

Sudan, the last known male northern white rhino in the world, passed away from age-related complications at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya on Monday 19th March 2018. Sudan fathered three northern white rhino calves in his life, including Najin, one of the only two remaining northern white rhinos in the world today. Readers can adopt a rhino by going to HELPING RHINOS.ORG. Contributions will help support IVF efforts and their efforts to safeguard wild landscapes and habitat protection for iconic wildlife species.

Joel Stronberg

Joel B. Stronberg, Esq., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years of experience, based in Washington, DC. He writes about energy and politics in his blog Civil Notion (www.civilnotion.com) and has recently published the book Earth v. TrumpThe Climate Defenders' Guide to Washington Politics based on his commentaries. He has worked extensively in the clean energy fields for public and private sector clients at all levels of government and in Latin America. His specialties include: resiliency; distributed generation and storage; utility regulation; financing mechanisms; sustainable agriculture; and human behavior. Stronberg is a frequent presenter at conferences and workshops.

Tags: American environmental policy, American politics, collaboration