One of the battles in the uncivil war within the Republican Party is being fought here in Kansas, where longtime Sen. Pat Roberts is being challenged in the primary by Dr. Milton Wolf. Roberts has been around too long to escape the “establishment” tag, and Wolf is a political neophyte who eagerly embraces the “Tea Party” label, so it’s one of those “Establishment versus Tea Party” races that the press loves to go on about.
The regular folk around here, on the other hand, don’t seem as interested. Wolf’s campaign initially attracted some attention due to his distant relation to President Obama from the Kansan rather than Kenyan side of the family, and his fundamental argument that Roberts is too deeply entrenched in the Washington mire was bolstered by the widely publicized revelation that Roberts has no home in Kansas, but he hasn’t sustained any momentum into the summer. Roberts’ bad press was quickly offset by the well-publicized revelation that Wolf, a radiologist in the Kansas City area, had recently posted patients’ X-rays on his Facebook page along with the sort of gallows humor that doctors usually share only with one another, and ever since his advertising budget seems to have shrunk. The angry spots that used to air on the local talk radio stations have disappeared, Roberts is now on the local television channels with slick ads featuring a handsome young fellow who’s an ex-Marine just like Roberts, and most of the people we’ve talked to recently are entirely unaware that the Republicans have a Senate race afoot. Any Washington-based reporters who decided to venture into the heartland for their think pieces on the internecine squabbles of the Republican Party are going to have a hard time coming up with those obligatory man-at-the-bar quotes.
We’ve been following the race, as we are irascibly Kansas Republicans and have far too much time on our hands, but we’d advise those Washington-based reporters not to read too much into it. Should they encounter us at one of our local haunts and agree to put a beer on their expense account we will tell them that Roberts looks like a safe bet in the primary and then a lock in the general election, but don’t go weaving that in to any obituaries for the Tea Party. At this point we’re inclined to vote for Roberts, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not sympathetic to Wolf’s quixotic campaign. Roberts has been around long enough to have voted for some of the most insipidly bipartisan legislation ever passed, we wouldn’t want to be judged some of the rather noir cracks we made back in our obituary-writing days, and our desire for the most conservative Congress possible does not have the same practical restraints here in Kansas that it does elsewhere. The case for Roberts is that his lengthy service provides seniority and experience and a generally reliable track record in coming battles against the Democrats, that at least we knew enough not to post our death-writing japes in public view, and Roberts has lately been voting and speaking pretty darned conservative. We also rather like Roberts on a personal level, having covered one of his past campaigns for a state newspapers and spending just enough time to be charmed by his gruff drollness, and he’s spent enough time on the campaign trail that a sizable share of the Republican primary electorate feel the same way.
Roberts was in especially fine fettle last week when he took to the Senate podium to deliver a rousing oration against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s slanderous obsession with the Koch brothers and the Democrat Party’s appalling hypocrisy on the subject of billionaire donors and its outrageous attempts to undermine the First Amendment and the left’s broader assaults on free speech and civility. We couldn’t find fault with a single word of it, and were pleased to have our Senator say it. It was what the lefties calling “speaking truth to power,” only it was true and was spoken to the people who are actually in power.
The few die-hard conservatives with the Wolf yard signs in their lawns would say that Roberts is only pandering to the simmering anti-establishment mood in the state, and they might be right. We’d prefer to think that Roberts had become enraged at the same steady rate as the voters who have constantly elected him, but one can never tell. If rightward drift of the Republican has been carry Roberts along, Wolf’s campaign will have accomplished something no matter the primary results. Those Washington-based reporters can write their obituaries for the Tea Party, but the bigger story is the re-birth of the Republican Party as an evermore conservative outfit.
— Bud Norman