It sometimes seems like many members of the Republican party have forgotten the history of the party and lost track of the principles on which the party was founded. The party was founded in opposition to involuntary servitude and in support of the rights of workers to keep the fruits of their labors. It was founded as a party based on liberty of the individual and liberty from oppressive government and no other beliefs of personal agendas should be more valued by Republicans than liberty.
The popular right-wing website RedState, which has a long history of condemning political figures for not meeting their peculiar standards, provides excellent examples of how those who claim to be Republicans can become confused about basic Republican values and start calling anyone who doesn't agree with their deviant form of pseudorepublicanism Republicans in Name Only and seeking to drive them from the party. They really ought to be called RINOState, based on their advocacy of positions which are based on a moralistic, statist philosophy which is antithetical to traditional Republican values. Like anyone from Olympia Snowe to David Duke, they may choose to call themselves Republicans, but they are not really Republicans if they don't put core Republican values over any other agenda.
Just as you cannot remain true to basic Republican principles while supporting policies like affirmative action or hate crimes laws which set one group above another under the law, by the same logic a true Republican cannot support the Defense of Marriage Act or similar state laws which single out groups for preferential rights based on sexual orientation. How you resolve that issue — be it allowing gay marriage or civil unions or just ending the government role in marriage entirely — is a matter for legitimate debate. But if you just oppose legal equality for homosexuals in general, you have no more business calling yourself a Republican than you would if you advocated slavery or forced unionization or confiscatory taxation.
The problem with the GOP since Reagan or even longer, has been the influx and mistaken acceptance of people whose agendas are based around a small platform of positions which have nothing to do with Republicanism and are in many cases in direct conflict with the principles on which the party was founded. These single issue voters have exploited their ability to bring out small numbers of highly reliable voters in key elections for undue influence to pull the focus of the party away from core values.
The Republican party is a party of principles, not of causes. Causes are the domain of the Democrats who vote on emotion and opportunism rather than principle. Republicans should not take extreme positions on special-interest issues. The only extreme in the party should be an extreme devotion to liberty. Republicans should take a breath occasionally and consider whether the positions they are promoting are Republican values or personal values. If you place a specific issue — no matter how important — ahead of fundamental Republican values, then you are not a good Republican.
Republicans believe in limited government and keeping that government out of the lives of people. If you support legislation which dictates the life choices of individuals or empowers government to control our lives in the interests of security or a social morality agenda, then you're really not being a Republican. By the same measure, if you say you oppose excessive government spending, but are willing to write a blank check for a war or national security or a border fence or any other special program, then you aren't really fiscally responsible. You can't be for limited government if you support a big loophole through which unlimited money can pour.
Many people have come to believe that the Republican party is a merely a conservative party and that this means opposition to change, including opposition to progress on social issues and to reform in government. They think it is supposed to be a party of the status quo. But when the status quo no longer conforms to the traditions of the nation and of the Republican party, then defending that status quo and supporting the current established way in which things are done is absolutely not the Republican way. The Republican party is a party of principle, not a party of mindless opposition to change and as things now stand radical change in our government is essential to restore the basic principles of the founders and the Constitution.
For too many in the GOP adherence to principles has been replaced with promotion of religious values or the values of special interests rather than the basic founding principles of the party. In their awareness that they are Republicans of convenience rather than of principle, they have become defensive and aggressive in targeting those within the party with whom they do not agree for criticism, calling them Republicans in Name Only, a term which conveys mostly irony when used by single-issue extremists and religious conservatives against those who remain true to real Republican values.
The Republican party platform of 1912 contains one of the clearest expressions of the values of Republicanism when the party was founded, through its history and today:
"it is important that the rights of every individual to the freest possible development of his own powers and resources and to the control of his own justly acquired property, so far as those are compatible with the rights of others, shall not be interfered with or destroyed. The social and political structure of the United States rests upon the civil liberty of the individual; and for the protection of that liberty the people have wisely, in the National and State Constitutions, put definite limitations upon themselves and upon their governmental officers and agencies."
First and foremost the Republican party is the party of liberty. Liberty of the individual and liberty from oppressive government. No other principle is greater than that and no other agenda should be placed ahead of the agenda of liberty.
So before you call someone a RINO and declare that your interpretation of Republicanism is the one, true and only brand, consider whether your beliefs are truly Republican and place liberty first, or whether you're defending a set of beliefs which are conservative without being Republican and primarily represenative of a set of values where some belief other than a belief in liberty is paramount.