— Bud Norman
— Bud Norman
Today is an election day here in Kansas, and at some point this afternoon we’ll finish our morning coffee and stroll over to the neighborhood Lutheran church to cast our votes in the Republican primary. It looks to be a good one.
All the action is on the Republican side of the ballot this time around. After almost four years of the hope and change thing the Democrats in these parts are so dispirited that they’re not bothering to contest many of the races, and they’ve even given up hope of retaining the coveted district attorney’s office that they’ve occupied for the past many years. They will apparently be running somebody or another for the fourth district congressional seat, but even our most die-hard Democratic friends can’t name any of the candidates and won’t even pretend that they’ll do any better than 30 percent or so in the general election.
There’s a lot going on in those Republican races, though. The primary is shaping up as an epic showdown in the longstanding internecine war between the moderates and the conservatives, with the future of the party and the state itself clearly at stake.
Although this is a notoriously Republican state, and has been ever since the abolitionist Republicans routed the pro-slavery Democrats back in the Bleeding Kansas days before the Civil War, the state’s government has never been nearly so conservative as its reputation would suggest. That’s partly because the state constitution hands a disproportionate share of power to a judiciary chosen by the lawyer class, and for some reason people always turn more liberal when they put on a black robe, but it’s mainly because the Republican party has long been dominated by the so-called “moderate” faction.
At least they used to be so called. This year they’ve taken to calling themselves “traditional” Republicans, much as the left re-branded itself “progressive” after “liberal” became a pejorative. Just as the left figured that no one is likely to be offended by progress, the moderates have calculated that tradition will have a greater appeal to the average Kansan than moderation.
In recent years the difference between a moderate Republican and a conservative one was defined in Kansas by the social issues, with the former taking a far more permissive stand than the latter on abortion and the currently respectable vices, but this year the most important distinction is about economics. The moderates are fond of an economic development policy heavy on tax abatements, subsidies, public-private partnerships, and similar crony capitalist schemes, while the conservatives want to cut taxes for everybody, eliminate any regulation that isn’t absolutely necessary, slash the state budget down to the barest essentials, and let the marketplace rather than the regulatory agencies pick the winners and losers. The conservatives have also stressed a promise to do anything in the state’s power to thwart implementation of Obamacare, but the issue has proved so overwhelmingly popular that even the most moderate of the moderates are now claiming to have been opposed to the bill all along.
Those Republicans that launched their political careers as anti-abortion crusaders continue to tout their pro-life credentials, but most of the advertisements that have been running non-stop on talk radio and filling up Republican mailboxes have focused on the economic debate. The conservatives accuse their rivals of being little better than Democrats, a most damning slur ‘round here, while the moderates have sought to portray their opponents of wanting to do nothing at all, as if that were a bad thing.
We think the conservatives have the stronger argument, and should go a long way to reforming the state’s Republican party in their image. We attribute the moderates’ long domination of the state in large part to the fact that somebody who wants to do things with government is more likely to run for office than someone who wants to stop it from doing things, but this year the need for governmental restraint is so dire that the conservatives have been able to run a fairly strong if somewhat inexperienced and unpolished slate of candidates.
Another reason for the moderates’ strength has been all the Kansans who would be Democrats in any other state but vote in the Republican primaries here so as not to waste their votes. This year the number of party-switchers will be especially high, given the utter pointlessness of the Democrat primary, but they will likely still be outnumbered by the bona fide Republicans who are tired of the seeing the state fall further behind in job creation despite all the best efforts of the eco-devo devotees.
— Bud Norman
the current field, but it’s hard to think of the candidate they’re hoping for.
The disgruntled third are likely conservatives who believe that each of the remaining candidates has too often deviated from conservative orthodoxy, and they do have a point. Despite its reputation as a bastion of right-wing extremism, however, the Republican party doesn’t seem to have any true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool, bred-in-the-bones, any-cliché-you-can-think-of conservatives on hand.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, Minnesota Representative Michelle Bachman, and former pizza magnate Herman Cain were all arguably more conservative than the surviving contenders, but each had their own insufficiently right-wing stands and all were knocked out of contention for other reasons. Some still pine for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has shown admirable grit in cutting a bloated government down to size, but he has a decidedly northeastern attitude toward guns and other issues dear to conservative hearts. Others are calling for Mitch Daniels, who has done some conservative things as Governor of Indiana, but was budget director for deficit-prone George W. Bush and has toyed with such decidedly un-conservative ideas as a value added tax. Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan and Florida Senator Marco Rubio are both impeccably conservative, but both have declared themselves too young and inexperienced to seek the presidency.
All of which raises the question of why there are no sufficiently conservative candidates with the necessary qualifications to run for president. Conservatism has a long and distinguished history in the country, as many as 40 percent of Americans consider themselves conservative, and there are prominent and respected conservatives in nearly every field, yet when it comes time to pick a president the right is usually reduced to find the least objectionable choice. This has long been true, too, with only a precious few presidents meeting the conservative stand in the past century or so.
One reason, of course, is that most conservatives are reluctant to enter politics in the first place. They’re unashamed to make a good living in the private sector, confident they can do good for their country as private citizens, and by definition believe that government isn’t the solution to every problem. Conservatism holds that the government is more likely to screw things up, and few people will enter the rough game of politics with the modest hope of limiting the damage done.
Those who do enter the political arena, and manage to win office on the platform of not screwing things up, quickly find themselves being pulled to the left. Most voters, even the ones who describe themselves as conservatives, want their states and districts to get a share of the goodies government hands out. Everyone enjoys good press, and compromising conservatives principles are always the best way to get it. Invitations to the swankest Georgetown parties are nice, too, and they also require a certain amount of liberalism.
— Bud Norman