Kansas seems to have reverted to its old respectable Republicanism on Tuesday, for better or worse, and the rest of the country would do well to take note. Over the years such ideas as abolition and prohibition and the most noisome sorts of populism have spread out in all directions from this state, and something similar might once again be afoot.
The big story out of the Kansas primary was the First Congressional District race between incumbent Rep. Tim Huelskamp and challenger Dr. Roger Marshall, which actually did get a lot of national attention, especially from the conservative media, as it provided an interesting plot twist in the popular press narrative about the ongoing Republican civil war. Huelskamp was one of those fire-breathing conservatives who brashly challenged the “establishment” and won, while Marshall proudly positioned himself as a more traditional type of Republican. What turned out to be a blow-out win by Marshall, therefore, is being headlined around the country as a win for House Speaker Paul Ryan and whatever’s left that of that erstwhile “establishment.”
All politics really is local, though, as the old cliche would have it, and of course it’s always too complicated to fit into a headline. So far as we could glean from what’s left of the Kansas press and all those attack ads that were blasting out of the Wichita radio stations and into the nearby First District, and based on our long experience of Kansas politics, the big issue in the race was that Huelskamp was so darned fire-breathing in his anti-“establishment” stance that he wound up getting kicked off the Agriculture Committee and voting against a pork-laden Farm Bill that was considered quite generous to the farmers and ranchers who are pretty much the entirety of the First District’s economy. The challenger was a handsome and polished obstetrician who endeared himself to the formidable anti-anortion vote by delivering a large share of the few babies being in born in the aging district, and he had the financial backing of not only the Kansas Farm Bureau and Kansas Livestock Association but also some well-heeled outsiders with a rooting interest in defeating the fire-breathers. Huelskamp had his own anti-abortion credentials as the adoptive father of two African children, and a pristine voting record on the issue to go along with it, and he had the backing of the Wichita-based and national liberal bogeymen Koch brothers and some shrewd political operators from the insurgent side, but the gruff personality and ideological purity that once endeared him to the “tea party” voters of a few election cycles ago didn’t contrast well with the smoother Marshall and had been a bit grating since he got the First District kicked off the Agriculture Committee for the first ever.
Huelskamp had been an outspoken supporter of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’ presidential campaign and never got around to endorsing Republican nominee Donald Trump, who was somewhat more enthusiastically supported by Marshall, which of course complicates that whole Trump versus Ryan version of the insurgents versus the “establishment” narrative. Our guess is that neither Trump nor Ryan had much to do with the race, as neither man in is very popular in Kansas, and those subsidies in that Farm Bill were of far greater local importance. Trump came in a desultory second place finish in the Kansas caucus, and that ag station out of far west Kansas that we listen to during the sunny days when its signal reaches our car radio doesn’t seem to mind his stand on borders and Muslims and all that but does fret how his protectionist trade talk is going to affect wheat exports, and it doesn’t play well here in the aviation-dominated Fourth District, either, but neither do Kansans care much for the likes of Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and all their corrupt wheeling-and-dealing that doesn’t even wheel or deal any meaningful pork to our state.
We note that Trump is withholding his endorsement from Ryan in his own primary race against a more fire-breathing “anti-establishment,” even though Ryan has offered a most tepid and frequently apologetic endorsement of Trump, but all politics is once again local and all reports indicate that in Ryan’s locality they’re quite happy to have a Speaker of the House representing their district’s interests, so given Trump’s poor primary showing in that state we expect that the headlines will succinctly state a clear-cut win for Ryan in that personal battle. Although it remains to be how the larger battle between Trumpism and Ryanism plays out, we expect that Republicans and all sorts of human beings will continue to vote in their perceived self-interest.
Interesting, then, that Kansas seems to perceive that a more respectable and less fire-breathing sort of Republicans is in its self-interest. Across town a friend of ours who’s also a fire-breathing sort lost his County Commission seat to a more polished fellow who promised to be just slightly less fire-breathing and more amenable to federal largesse, and we think it might have had something to do with the incumbent’s widely-publicized speech against radical Islamist terrorism that made sense to us but was not at all carefully worded and really didn’t have anything to do with anything before the Sedgwick County Commission, and it seems in keeping with a local weariness about politics. The state has been pursuing a rather radical tax-and-budget-cutting agenda ever since the fire-breathing Sam Brownback was elected governor, then won a fire-breathing legislature that ousted some long entrenched respectable sorts, and the liberals have been shrieking about it, and the results have thus far been mixed and the national media have gleefully made hay of that, and both the high church and the low church Christians are embarrassed by the ugliness of the politics of the moment, and we sense a certain nostalgia for a more polite era.
Down on the south side of town another friend of ours, this one a crazy-assed tax-and-spend nanny-state liberal, lost a Democratic primary for a state house seat. He used to be a local television reporter until he accidentally let loose with a profanity on the air, which is likely the reason he lost in race that drew only a few hundred voters, so even the Democrats, even on the south side, seem to be pining for some sort of respectability. This could be a trend.
— Bud Norman