Does Donald Trump have a 'SINO' problem?

The phrase 'supporter in name only' is arising in reference to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, whose hold on the party base is highly uncertain.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP/File
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters and bikers at a Rolling Thunder rally at the National Mall in Washington on May 29.

SINOs: A play on Republicans in Name Only (RINOs) with several meanings, including – of late – Supporters in Name Only, to connote half-hearted backing for a candidate.

The term has been around in various forms for years. But it picked up speed in March when it appeared a contested GOP convention was a real possibility and that some delegates pledged to support one candidate would secretly sympathize with another aspirant. The use of SINO in that context was attributed to John Yob, a Republican strategist who was Rick Santorum’s national convention director in 2012.

Even though Donald Trump has sewn up the GOP nomination, making a contested convention highly unlikely, the term is coming back. Chuck Todd, NBC’s political director and moderator of “Meet the Press,” tweeted last week that Trump “has a SINO problem — more ‘supporters in name only’ than actual ground troops.” In NBC’s First Read political blog, Todd and others also noted House Speaker Paul Ryan’s tepid endorsement of Trump.

“That’s one way to view the Paul Ryans of the world: there are going to be SINOs — Supporters in Name Only,” they wrote. “But when the going gets tough, as happens in all campaigns, will the entire Republican Party get behind Trump? That’s a real question right now.”

In liberal circles, SINO has an entirely different meaning -- Socialist in Name Only. That was directed against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — a self-described “democratic socialist” — for a while when some socialists questioned whether he was truly committed to their cause. In July 2015, Politico Magazine ran an article by writer and academic Fredrik deBoer headlined, “Is Bernie Sanders a Socialist in Name Only?”

The furor intensified when Sanders decided to run for president as a Democrat. It led the Los Angeles Times’ Doyle McManus to opine that Sanders’ past affiliation with socialism — an ideology that makes some voters uneasy — didn’t really matter much.

“He’s turned into a ‘social democrat’ much like the technocrats he praises in Denmark and Sweden,” McManus wrote. “To purists on the left, that makes Sanders a SINO — a socialist in name only. But he’s winning millions of converts and widening the Democrats’ window of debate toward the left, which is more than old-school socialists have accomplished since about 1972.”

On occasion, Ryan’s predecessor as House leader, John Boehner, also was labeled a SINO, as in Speaker in Name Only. And the hunting-and-fishing publication Field & Stream brought it up two years ago to describe what it called Sportsmen in Name Only, “or those hundreds of politicians you keep sending to Congress who claim to love you, but betray you when it suits them.”

Chuck McCutcheon writes his “Speaking Politics” blog exclusively for Politics Voices.

Interested in decoding what candidates are saying? Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark’s latest book, “Doubletalk: The Language, Code, and Jargon of a Presidential Election,” is now out.

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