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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

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Another Trip to a Republican Primary

At some point today we’ll stroll a few blocks over to the lovely Gloria Dei Lutheran Church here in the fashionable Riverside neighborhood of Wichita and cast our vote in the Republican primary, mostly because we always vote on an Election Day. This year there isn’t much reason other than ingrained habit for doing so, except for a certain old-fashioned sense of civic duty and a self-interested point of pride to keep a 38-year perfect attendance streak intact.

There’s a hotly contested and highly intriguing primary race going on just west of the county line in the huge but rural and sparsely populated First Congressional District, but here in the smaller but mostly urban and more densely populated Fourth District our very acceptable Republican Congressman is running unopposed. Across town an old buddy of ours who is a notoriously stingy bare-bones government right-winger of a County Commissioner is in a too-close-to-call race against a challenger who promises to be just slightly less stingy and a bit more generous to the locally beloved Sedgwick County Zoo and more amenable to accepting federal dollars for whatever crazy schemes the feds are offering, but that crosses jurisdictional lines so there’s nothing we can do about it, and our own district’s even more notoriously stingy bare-bones government right winger of County Commissioner isn’t up for re-election in this staggered year. We’ve been so busy brooding about that godawful presidential election to find out if any Republicans are even bothering to run for our state house seat, but in any case we live in such an anomalously hip part of this otherwise reliably Republican town that it is still sprouting “Bernie 2016” yard signs all over the place and will surely wind up once again with the crazy-assed tax-and-spend nanny-state liberal Democrat who also happens to be an old buddy of ours. Kansas chooses its governor in off years, the more-or-less acceptable Republican Senator who happens to be up for re-election this time around is facing only token opposition from one of those no-name and no-money cranks who always shows up on the ballot, and the only voting we’ll do with any gusto is against that Republican district court judge who was ordered to undergo some sort of “sensitivity training” after confessing to a long history of sexual harassment.

Still, the privilege of participating in the primary process is enough, for now, to keep us officially registered as members of the Republican Party. George Will and Jay Nordlinger and other conservative writers we have long admired have recently penned their reasons for disassociating themselves from the party that nominated Donald J. Trump as its standard-bearer, and we can’t find fault with any of it, but none of them live in a state such as Kansas where the Republican Party still means something and just what it means is still very much up for vote.
That hotly contested congressional race over in the First District is a highly intriguing example of the Republican internecine warfare, and because the First District gets its talk radio and other media advertising from here in the urbanized Fourth we’ve been able to follow all the mud-slinging. Regular viewers of the as-the-GOP-turns soap opera know there’s been a trend in the past eight years or so for hell-bent hard-core conservative “tea party” types to challenge the squishy moderate “establishment” types in primaries, which explains how Tim Huelskamp became the incumbent Congressman in the same First District that had previously produced such stereotypically squishy moderate “establishment” Senators as Bob Dole and Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran. Huelskamp has proved so hell-bent and hard -core that he got kicked off the agriculture committee and voted against the pork-laden Farm Bill that his challenged was backed by theĀ Kansas Farm Bureau and the Kansas Livestock Association, which can hardly be considered special interests in the First District, but Huelskamp had the backing of the Wichita-based Koch Brothers, which is as deep-pocketed and just as dear to our Kansas hearts, and contributions were also coming from all sorts of donors invested in such Republican squabbles, and all the national talk radio hosts were weighing in, and it wound up a mud-slinging fest with both candidates looking bad. After the initial Marshall argument that Huelskamp was too much an anti-establishmentarian bomb-thrower to get along the challenger wound up going with the theme that Huelskamp was a “career politician” dubbed “Washing-Tim,” which is so utterly ridiculous that we’re now rooting from across the county line for Huelskamp.
We’re rooting for our slightly more stingy bare-bones government right winger of a County Commissioner, too, but we will accept whatever verdict the Republicans in that part of town might render.

We’ll also happily cast a pointless vote for the unopposed Rep. Mike Pompeo here in the Fourth District, as he’s been just as conservative as Huelskamp or any other hell-bent type but has done so with the kind of tactful grace that has actually won him some plum assignments from the party bosses and good ink from the national press and a rising star status in the party. While we’re at it we’ll vote for that squishy establishment Senator running against the no-name and no-money kook who always shows up on the ballot, and figure we could do a lot worse. All the other Republicans down-ballot will get our support, too, and with similar sorts of holding majorities in state houses and occupying governor’s mansions and holding County Commission seats across a wide if sparsely populated swathe of this nation we’ll continue to cast our primary votes and hold out some hope for the Republican Party.

— Bud Norman