The Establishment Strikes Back

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


One response

  1. Wow! People who make up the Republican voter base care about their personal financial well-being, not economic theory. “Integrity Bud” and the rest of the NR crowd is always cheering on the candidate who will end social security, cut farm subsidies and open our borders even further. They call them “brave” and weep when they are defeated.

    As Kurt Schlichter makes clear in his latest missive: So Conservatives, What Have We Learned From This Trump Thing? The answer is: not much.

    “The primaries are over and Trump is the nominee, and instead of whining about it like a Millennial faced with having to get a job we need to step back and ask ourselves if we have learned anything from this bizarre turn of events. The GOP – our GOP – has nominated someone who is not a traditional conservative. He’s not even an untraditional conservative. Hell, there’s probably not even a “c” or a “v” in whatever he is. So we can either try to figure out what happened or keep rending our clothes and gnashing our teeth about how our own voter base took one look at us and rejected us like any sober, sighted guy in a bar at 7 p.m. would reject Lena Dunham.

    What have we learned from this? We can’t answer that unless we get beyond the natural tendency to assume that the problem is that everyone else is wrong: “Gosh, if the voters weren’t so stupid they would have totally fallen in line with our commands and right now we’d be watching Jeb Bush being fitted for a gimp suit by Hillary instead of seeing Trump [checks current polls] uh, cleaning her clock. Wait, what?”

    Did we ever actually listen to our people? I mean all our people, … I mean the actual voters out there in wherever actual GOP voters live. Did we pay attention to them and their concerns? Did we listen to them about illegal immigration, about the impact of free trade, about the wars we supported? And did we fight? I don’t mean just give lip service to how bad and unwashed liberals are, but really get in there and stand up to these flag-hating, gender-inventing, God-booing jerks? Or did we look down on the very people we were depending on at election time?

    In short, did we completely screw up? Nah, it’s clearly everyone else who’s wrong. They’re just too stupid to understand that they need to obediently fall in line. After all, their real interests are actually – and super conveniently – our interests.

    Seriously – is that where we are at? Because I’m hearing a lot of such nonsense from people horrified at Trump and, by extension, the GOP voters who nominated him fair and square. Can we really blame them for voting for the one guy who actually paid attention to what they were saying?

    Did we listen about illegal immigration? Heck, illegal immigration is just wonderful for us. … Except maybe you didn’t go to a university and wanted to work with your hands and found that you can’t get a job because all the companies are hiring cheap illegal alien workers. Or your truck got hit by an uninsured illegal. Or your daughter got killed by an illegal who should have been deported. Well, if you have concerns about these things, clearly you’re a racist.

    And our response to their massive law breaking is “Well, we can’t possibly enforce the law! [clutches pearls tightly] Why, that would be mean!” ….Our response to the legitimate grievances of the people we counted on in this election was to call them stupid and racist and people are surprised they flocked to the one guy who listened to them?

    We love fair trade. But what about the guy whose job that he support his family with gets outsourced because of NAFTA? What are we supposed to tell him? That in aggregate fair trade is beneficial? Yeah, but what if you’re not in the aggregate? I don’t know the answer, but I do know that so far we’ve been telling him “Suck it up cuz you’re obsolete. Go retrain on computers, dummy.” Yet we’re stunned that our voters have failed to embrace our innovative two-prong approach of ignoring their grievances while heaping abuse upon them?

    And let’s talk about wars. Generally, it’s our base that fights wars and we haven’t won one on the ground since Desert Storm. Our base doesn’t mind fighting for a cause, but if we’re not as dedicated as they are, if we can’t even commit to win when they commit to doing the dying, why are we shocked when instead of answering the call for the umpteenth time they let it go to voicemail? And the stuff about NATO and Trump – you know, our voters are not blind. If our allies were doing their fair share, his criticisms wouldn’t resonate.

    And did we listen when our base asked the establishment to show some fighting spirit? Or are we driven to effectively vote for Hillary because somebody scandalized out tender sensibilities by using the verb “schlonged?” Our base demanded someone who wouldn’t be intimidated, who would fight. Instead, the establishment was dead set on dumping a steaming pile of Jeb on our collective lawn, the same durrwood you can watch on YouTube hanging a medal around Hillary Clinton’s wrinkled neck. That pompous geebo can’t even take his own damn side in a fight; why is anyone shocked that our voters saw he would never take theirs?

    So what have we learned about ourselves? Maybe that many of us are snobs. There’s a lot of class warfare going on here, a lot of backroom snark, with a lot of conservatives who want to believe that the only people who could ever support Donald Trump are knuckle-dragging morons who can’t cut it when it comes to anything besides digging ditches. Too many of us choose cultural solidarity with the liberals we live among over political solidarity with the people we expected to vote with us.

    “Gosh,” we tell ourselves. “These people can’t even see what’s in their own best interest.” Except maybe they don’t like what they see. Maybe it’s because they decided we aren’t worth listening to. Maybe they don’t like us conservatives. And maybe we better figure out how to fix that instead of whining.

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