RINOs from American History #6: Charles W. Whalen Jr.

Although the 1966 midterms were a backlash to the Johnson Administration, a lot of the new Republicans were of the moderate to liberal wing, including a number who had won back seats that much more conservative Republicans had lost in 1964. A prime example of this phenomenon was Charles William Whalen Jr. (1920-2011) of Ohio.

Whalen, chairman of the economics department of the University of Dayton and former state legislator who had played a major role in enacting the state’s fair housing law, had won his Dayton-based seat by walking 880 miles around the district meeting and greeting voters. He had won the seat back from Democrat Rodney Love, one of the beneficiaries of the coattails of the LBJ landslide From the start, who had defeated conservative Republican Paul Schenck. From the beginning, Whalen was on the moderate to liberal wing of his party, scoring a 36% from Americans for Constitutional Action in 1967. His record led to people questioning his affiliation as a Republican. Whalen believed that he had chosen the right party, and at least his support for cutting spending by 5% for numerous cabinet departments in 1967 put him in good company with fiscal conservatives. However, he was also strongly supportive of housing and rent supplement programs by the Johnson Administration and backed increasing foreign aid. In 1968, Whalen’s district was won by Hubert Humphrey and he proved one of the most liberal Republicans in the House during Nixon’s time in office. He dissented from the Nixon Administration’s policy on Vietnam and in 1971 he sponsored a troop withdrawal amendment with Rep. Lucien Nedzi (D-Mich.), that set December 31, 1971, as the withdrawal date provided all prisoners of war are returned. Whalen also supported an all-volunteer army, which President Nixon would implement in 1973. Whalen was generally very suspicious of military spending; he repeatedly opposed funding for the B-1 Bomber. In 1973, he authored Your Right to Know: How the Free Flow of News Depends on the Journalist’s Right to Protect His Sources, which contained a foreword by journalist Walter Cronkite.

In 1974, Whalen was estimated to have voted against the majority of his party 72% of the time by Congressional Quarterly. His DW-Nominate score was -0.139, astoundingly low by Republican standards. He was so popular in his district that despite Watergate, he had no opposition for reelection. Although Whalen was on most major issues a liberal and increasingly so, one notable exception on social issues was abortion. This was out of his religious convictions as a Catholic and he repeatedly backed efforts to limit government funds for abortion.

By 1977, Whalen, both out of him growing more liberal and the Republican Party starting a move rightward (within four years prominent Senate Republican liberals Brooke of Massachusetts, Case of New Jersey, and Javits of New York would be out of office), was starting to reevaluate his decision to be a Republican. As he said, “I have indicated an unhappiness with the party in my area, as well as with the national party” (The New York Times). Although Whalen discussed switching parties with Democratic leaders, he opted against as Ohio prohibited such a move and considered running as an Independent in 1978. That year, he scored a 13% from ACA and opted not to run for reelection, being neutral in the election for his successor. Democrat Tony Hall succeeded him, but the Daytona area hasn’t remained staunchly Democrat; in the 2002 midterms Hall was succeeded by Republican Mike Turner, who continues to represent Daytona. Whalen switched party affiliation to Democrat after his departure from Congress and in retirement he wrote with his wife Barbara, The Longest Debate (1985), which chronicles the history of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He and his wife collaborated again in The Fighting McCooks – America’s Famous Fighting Family (2006). Whalen died on June 27, 2011, just a month short of his 91st birthday.


O’Neill Says 3 Republicans Are Weighing Party Shift. (1977, June 14). The New York Times.

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Wynn, K. (2011, June 28). Former Dayton Congressman dies. Dayton Daily News.

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