Kentucky’s baby RINO 

Did the zoo in Frankfort just get a new baby RINO? Governor Matt Bevin is only a month into his first term, and we are already starting to see the political-outsider, the businessman-turned-political reformer, take his first steps down the sufficiently-trampled path by generations of politicians before him. 

I kid, I kid. I should preface, in no uncertain terms, that I do not believe Matt Bevin is a “RINO,” (Republican in Name Only) or in any way anything other than an ideologically-pure, conservative Republican. But recent statements and developments surrounding charter schools, Kynect and Medicaid may indicate the first sign of problems for some of the promises Bevin made on the campaign trail. 

In one sense, we have seen what kind of disruption ideologically-pure conservatives have caused in Washington, but that is in a legislative body where individuals can hide among the heard — power is in numbers and blame equally distributed. This is not the case for executives; but that is what will be so fascinating about watching candidate Bevin become Governor Bevin. 

Rest assured, Bevin will have plenty of cover for his shift — valid, legitimate and pragmatic cover, as well as fabricated. From blaming the system and House Democrats, to finding opportunities to work with Democrats, he will have plenty of political shade in his RINO pen. And to be clear, there is no question that this happens for the ideologically-driven Democrats as well (in the “DINO” pen, if that’s a thing).

For instance, since being inaugurated, Bevin has begun to spin his campaign promises — put them on hold or, at least, qualify them. Where he once decreed he would “repeal immediately” the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, he has now said that that is not possible, but look for reforms in 2017. Charter schools may now have to wait as well.  

But this is not a comment on broken campaign promises. This is a perspective for ideologically-zealous Republicans, either elected or who vote for the scorched-earth candidates. There are real reasons for these shifts, outside of just good, old-fashioned, fire-up-the-voters campaign rhetoric. First, from my vantage point on the other side of the aisle, conservative candidates realize very quickly after winning an election that their vision will have real-world impacts — life-and-death consequences for real Americans. Another reason is (as with all elected officials regardless of party) they find that they are constrained by the structure of government. 

Finally, in a moment of pure honesty, they must realize that their predecessors did the best they could, both Republicans and Democrats. Sure, at every level, there has been corruption and mistakes have been made. But that’s not what I’m talking about. Bevin must appreciate, or at least respect, the efforts of his predecessor, who when faced with the opportunity to reduce the rate of uninsured Kentuckians by half, seized the opportunity at hand.

 And, sure, maybe the Medicaid expansion implemented by Beshear isn’t the perfect system. This is true of a whole host of issues. But ultimately, government has come together to get a lot of things right. Sometimes even when it gets things right, other problems are created. But that is why we are on an endless path to create a more perfect union. 

The problem specific to modern conservatives (again from my vantage point, as well as the belief that government can work to improve American and Kentucky lives) is that they are bound much tighter by several purity tests: Think of the NRA or Grover Norquist’s tax pledge. Democrats have base principals, but they don’t live under the threat of absolute purity. Until Republicans find leaders who will admit that their vision of government was not exactly what they thought from the outside, they cannot be honest with their constituents, and their base will continue to lose faith in one conservative after another.

I would expect that each generation of conservatives would have at least some faith in their predecessors, that they did the best they can in delivering or upholding their shared values, but that the values of pure conservatism, like those of extreme liberalism, don’t work in practical application.

Republicans will continue to think they fell for another “faux-conservative,” or RINO, if the people they elect refuse to see that governing is hard, and that some people really are doing the best they can. The easy problems are done. The only ones left are tough, complicated and often times too elusive and quickly-evolving for the deliberate bodies of government to keep up. 

My only hope is that when Governor Bevin realizes the real-world implications of candidate Bevin’s policy positions, he not only finds his pragmatic side, but is honest with Kentuckians about the realities of governing.