They call me a RINO. I'm still a real Republican.

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., joined by House Republicans, speaks following a vote on tax reform in November.
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., joined by House Republicans, speaks following a vote on tax reform in November. AP

RINO – a derogatory term – stands for “Republicans In Name Only.” It's derisively used by certain activists who think their brand of Republicanism is the only acceptable kind. Actually, it's those so-called activists who are the RINOs. But now, as the 2018 midterm elections approach and the specter of 2020 looms, the Republican Party and those of us willing to identify as registered Republicans face hard choices about the future of our party.

There was a time in my 40 years of activism in and for the Republican Party and as a candidate, that I knew and understood the core values and identity of Republicans, particularly here in North Carolina. Republicans were the minority party in those days and despite the continued efforts of Democrats to keep them that way, the GOP was the party of good government.

Real Republicans believed in the mantra that government closest to the people was best. The federal government should defer to the states, and state government should defer to local governments. There was the time when Republicans would have deferred to local governments to determine the scope of local anti-discrimination ordinances. And the thought of stripping disfavored locales of certain powers – like extraterritorial zoning authority – or trying to take an airport or water system from a city would have been heresy.

The Republican Party has always advocated for lower taxes, balanced budgets and appropriate restraint by government. North Carolina’s legislature has been consistent with that Republican concept, but the GOP majorities in both houses of Congress, as well as the president, have abysmally failed. The tax breaks passed by Congress primarily benefited those who needed relief the least, and Congress just passed a trillion dollar-plus budget that continued to break the bank and run up huge deficits. Eisenhower/Taft/Goldwater Republicans would only shake their collective heads in shock, if alive, to see what’s happening.

Internationally, the GOP was for a strong national defense (and still is), believed in our intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and understood that Russia was the greatest threat to our democracy. The Republican Party and its supporters have traditionally been in favor of free trade and of increasing partnerships both in trade and defense with other countries. Immigrants have been welcomed and incorporated into this country. Civil rights was a cornerstone of the foundation of the Republican Party.

Old-time Republicans can only agonize over those changes to core Republican principles by some claiming to be Republicans.

Finally, the Republican Party has stood for decency, faith and compassion in dealing with our fellow citizens and the world. It is stunning to see faith leaders within the GOP and its broader community turn a blind eye to the sordid excuse for a president foisted on this country in the last election. Many Republicans I know, of different faiths and denominations, learn each week in worship, that our mission is to reach out to those around us who are less fortunate, people different from us and in need of help and to graciously live our lives treating others as we would want to be treated.

These people aren’t RINOs. They’re the real Republicans. Or at least we used to be.

Orr is a former N.C. Supreme Court justice. Email: greenponds.enterprises@gmail.com.