What We Saw at the Kansas Caucus

The Grand Old Party had a grand old time in Kansas on Saturday, with the most fervent of the state’s Republicans gathering at 99 different locations for the quadrennial caucus. We roused ourselves out of bed and trudged over to the Century II Convention Center in downtown Wichita to take a look and cast a vote, and were mostly heartened by what we found.

With help from sunny skies and unseasonably warm temperatures the turnout was heavy enough that we were forced to find parking several blocks away from the event, which Wichitans usually regard as an outrage, but everyone we passed along the way seemed cheerful and gladly willing to make the noble sacrifice for the democratic process. Some idiot in one of those silly Guy Fawkes masks that the “Occupy” crowd favor was standing outside the building and holding a hand-lettered sign that asked the assembled Republicans “Are you rich or stupid?” Except for one fellow who growled that “You’re a product of the public school system” all of the caucus-goers we saw ignored the provocation and simply smiled and nodded as they walked by.

The crowd looked reasonably prosperous, for the most part, but one wouldn’t guess they were all rich. The attire was generally respectable but casual, except for the politicians and party officials in nondescript blue suits and some biker-looking types in Ron Paul t-shirts, and there wasn’t a top hat, monocle, or pair of spats in sight. Nor did the caucus-goers appear stupid, except perhaps for a few of them, and you’re going to have that in any large crowd. Not one of them looked quite so stupid as the idiot wearing the Guy Fawkes mask and waving his witless sign.

A small army of overly helpful volunteers registered us quickly despite the requirement of a photo identification card, a new law that has the Democrats here in high dudgeon but didn’t seem to annoy the Republicans at all, and we were soon settled into a back row seat to read an old P.G. Wodehouse novel while a few party officials blathered on about something or another. Soon the stage was turned over to the spokesmen for the various candidates still in the race, and we set the novel down to pay some attention. The speeches given at every caucus seem a superfluous tradition, since anyone who gets out of bed on a Saturday morning to vote has surely made his mind up already, but we do love a good oration.

A high school debate coach made the case for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, laying out the many strong arguments for his candidacy but not attempting to refute any of the arguments which have all but knocked him out of the race. A businessman spoke on behalf of Ron Paul, stressing the Texas congressman’s anti-abortion stance and friendliness to free market economics, but not mentioning the non-interventionist foreign policy, and while it made the candidate sound quite reasonable it didn’t do much to fire up the large contingent of voters bearing his signs and wearing his name on their t-shirts. Mitt Romney, the frontrunner nationally but a dark horse in the Kansas caucus, didn’t even bother to arrange a speaker, and instead a party official read a letter from the campaign. The reading was done with little enthusiasm, and one could sense that the caucus-goers in the state’s largest city felt slightly snubbed, but the reaction was determinedly polite, with ample applause and no booing.

The clear favorite of the crowd, judging from the large number of signs, t-shirts and other campaign regalia, was Rick Santorum, and speaking on his behalf was none other than his wife, Karen. Unaccustomed as we are to hearing a wife speak fondly of a husband, we thought the speech was surprisingly good. She spoke a bit about politics, stressing her husband’s staunch conservatism, but mostly talked about his personal qualities as a husband, father, and man of faith. The Santorum supporters, almost all of whom were accompanied by several children, were clearly moved, and when the speaker began to tear up so did many in the crowd.

We returned to Wodehouse while the overly helpful volunteers slowly led the crowd aisle by aisle to the ballot boxes. When our turn finally came we marked the ballot for Romney, affixed the yellow sticker they’d given us, and dropped our in the cardboard ballot box, satisfied that we’d done our part for the democratic process and hopeful that our guy would finish a respectable second or third. Nothing against Santorum, mind you, and we did like his wife, but we’re worried that he’d be too easily caricatured by the Democrats, and Romney has seemed the steadier candidate with the more impressive managerial acumen. In any event we’ll be voting Republican come the fall, and we suspect that so will everyone else at that caucus.

On the way out we stopped to chat with an old pal who was fretting that the Republican cause is already lost, and he was at least somewhat more hopeful after we noted that gas prices are rising, the economy is still weak, and all sorts of global crises are about to explode. Noting the large number of children accompanying the Santorum voters, a very fecund bunch, we also argued that demographic trends might favor the party over the long term.

While chatting we were interrupted by a fellow with a Ron Paul button who explained to us that presidents are actually chosen by the Council on Foreign Relations, and that it hasn’t yet made up its mind if it would re-install Obama. We asked why he had bothered to come to the caucus when the fix is in, rather than sleep in and watch basketball, and after a moment’s thought he admitted he didn’t know. When he started to explain how the Federal Reserve had been responsible for the Lincoln, McKinley, and Kennedy assassinations we excused ourselves and headed home for a nap.

Later that evening we learned that Santorum had won by a romp, but Romney had avoided any lasting embarrassment by finishing ahead of Gingrich and Paul. With a win in Wyoming and some of the territories, Romney actually finished the day with the most delegates. All in all, and factoring in the nice weather, it was a pretty good Saturday.

— Bud Norman

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