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The Latest Front On the GOP Civil War

President Donald Trump has “tweeted” his displeasure with the Koch brothers and their formidable fundraising network, and all of our liberal and Democratic friends here in Kansas are enjoying the latest internecine conservative and Republican spat. From our old-fashioned Kansas conservative Republican perspective, though, we can hardly stand to look.
By now you surely know who Trump is, and well understand the passions he inspires on both sides of the political divide, but if you’re not a political junkie you might be less aware of the Koch brothers. They’re Charles and David Koch, who inherited their father’s multi-million dollar oil drilling and refining business and shrewdly parlayed it into a multi-billion dollar enterprise that not only refines most of the gasoline America uses but also carpets the country’s floors and builds the mattresses the country sleeps on wipes up its kitchen spills with paper towels. These days it’s just Charles, as David has resigned from public life as he continues a long battle against cancer, but their generous funding of pro-free market causes made both brothers and their John Bircher father a bogeyman of the left long before Trump arrived on the scene. Suffice to say that the left has long regarded anything Koch-funded with the same paranoia as the right’s response to anything that the left-leaning multi-billionaire George Soros has done.
Which makes a Trump vs. Koch feud so appealing to the left, and so difficult for us. We don’t like anything Soros funds, have our quibbles with certain Koch policies, and if you’re a regular reader you by now know that we don’t have much use for Trump.
We’ll have to admit to a hometown bias on behalf of Koch. Our elementary school was literally next door to the Koch Industries building, and although our former school has long since been razed and the Koch Industries campus has vastly expanded we find it hard to believe that any globalist conspiracies were ever hatched there. Charles Koch still shows up for work there everyday with a beautiful impressionist landscape by Kansas artist Berger Sandzen behind his desk, and it’s impossible to go to the symphony concerts or musical theater productions or art museum or zoo exhibits around here without seeing in the program that it was generously funded by Koch family, and he’s a big reason the Wichita State University Wheatshockers’ basketball squad is a perennial top-25 program. He was once a celebrity guest star at the local media’s “Gridiron” show, as well, and we found him a most friendly fellow when chatting backstage.
For the most part we’ve also appreciated his political philanthropy. We liked the emphasis on low taxes and limited government and a general live and let live attitude, although we disagreed with Koch’s libertarian stance on fighting Islamist terrorism and restricting illegal immigration, and in every case we figured it was Koch’s hard-earned money and free speech and none of our business how he spent it. Koch declined to support either Trump or the equally unqualified Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the last presidential election, as we did for our own reasons, and he continues to disagree with Trump on matters ranging from trade policy to federal deficits to presidential temperament, as we do for our own reasons, so the feud was inevitable.
“The globalist Koch Brothers, who have become a total joke in real Republican circles, are against Strong Borders and Powerful Trade,” Trump “tweeted” on Tuesday. “I never sought their support because I don’t need their money or bad ideas.” Trump boasted that Koch had praised his recently-signed tax cut bill and regulatory roll-backs and conservative Supreme Court appointments, as we have, alleged that Koch only opposed his protectionist policies to dodge tax on his multi-national earnings, then boasted that “Their network is highly overrated, I have beaten them at every turn.” From here on the political sidelines in the middle of the country, it all seemed pure balderdash.
If “globalist” means being generally supportive of the carefully crafted arrangements that have been made for the past prosperous decades of global prosperity, we’re sure that neither we nor either of the Koch brothers will mind the pejorative. As for the Koch’s multi-billion dollar network of like minded big bucks donors being a total joke, we’d love to see Trump produce the tax returns that show he’s got more money in the bank. Koch is indeed weak on the border, but only to the same extent that Trump’s border wall is fantasy is too draconian. The acknowledged merits of the tax cuts and regulatory roll-backs and Supreme Court appointments in no way disprove that pretty much everything else Trump has done to create “Powerful Trade: has been catastrophically stupid. Trump can rightly boast that he’s President of the United States without the Koch network’s support, but his base of support is among those budget-balancing “Tea Party” types in the Freedom Caucus who have benefited from Koch’s support than Trump’s support over the years, and whose rural constituents are smarting from Trump’s trade wars lately, and it remains to be seen if Trump will ultimately outsmart those wily globalists next door to our former elementary school at every turn.
At this point we don’t really have any dog in the fight, as the old political expression goes, and in any case we have our own mishegas to deal with here in Kansas. The heavily Koch-funded Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback introduced a radical tax- and budget-agenda to win election, got it enacted after a Koch-funded “tea party” wave ousted the more skittish Republican incumbents in the primaries and, and then narrowly won reelection even though the promised tax revenue increases hadn’t materialized. By the time Trump tabbed him to be something called “Ambassador for Religious Freedom” Brownback left office with same polling numbers as when President Nixon took that final flight on Marine One, and although we always found Brownback a nice enough fellow in our Kansas encounters and thought his economic theories worth a try, he’s left our party in a mess.
So far Trump is backing long time slavishly devoted acolyte Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who seems to be trailing incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer, who is talking about school funding and otherwise distancing himself from the Brownback agenda that got him elected as Lt. Governor and thus wound up with him in the governor’s office after that Trump appointment.
So far as we can tell, neither the Koch brothers nor Trump got it any of it right, and although none of the Democrats around here are very scary we don’t think they have any better ideas. We hold out some faint hope for what’s left of the Republican party that used to more placidly run things well enough around here, and guided our Republic through some perilous times, but jut in case we’re also hoping the Democrats don’t go crazy left.

— Bud Norman

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Another Night of Mixed Results

The final rounds of the special election season came on Tuesday, with the same usual mixed results as before. Once again the Democrats fell short of victory in two more reliably Republican districts, but once again by margins that should worry many of the more vulnerable congressional Republicans up for re-election in ’18.
Those anxious Republicans can take some solace in the fact that the Republican prevailed in Georgia’s sixth congressional district despite the record-setting millions of dollars that Democrats from around the country threw into the race. The district is mostly the well-educated and well-heeled and mostly-white suburbs of Atlanta, and has been held by the Republicans for 40 years, including the entire famous tenure of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, but when a youthful Democratic candidate fell just short of a majority in the open primary his party sensed an upset. The national press paid outsized attention, the money from Hollywood and other Democratic denizens poured in, and there was much anticipation of an outcome that could be easily spun as backlash against President Donald Trump.
We’re far out of range of the broadcast commercials that were no doubt incessantly aired in Georgia’s unfortunate sixth district, and not very familiar with the local politics of the district, but so far as we can tell from all that outsized national press attention neither candidate tried to make the race about Trump. The Democrat presumably and reasonably believed that his opposition to Trump went without saying and instead focused on some local issues, which the Democrats in the rest of the country will no doubt regard as a fatal mistake, while the Republican reportedly ran as an old-fashioned establishment type who rarely mentioned Trump, which will surely annoy some Republicans and provide a lesson to others. Trump won the district in the presidential election by 2 percent, which was much lower than his margins in the less-educated and less-well-heeled and even whiter districts in the rest of the state, and the old-fashioned Republican who rarely mentioned Trump won by a slightly larger yet closer-than-usual margin, so the pro-Trump and anti-Trump people can make whatever they want of all that.
Less attention was paid and fewer donations were made to another race in the fifth district of South Carolina, which is less well-educated and well-heeled and more white than that Georgia district, and where Trump prevailed by more landslide margins, but that was also an embarrassingly close call. The Republican took just over 51 percent of the vote, far underperforming the the Republican in the election just eight months or so ago, and although local politics no doubt played a part there’s no spinning how that’s good for Trump.
All of the special elections have been in Republican districts where the incumbent was promoted to a cabinet-level position by Trump, which means that their would-be Republicans successors were necessarily well less qualified candidates, and of course the opposition is going to more energized than those less well-educated and well-heeled Trump supporters who are cocksure their man can take of himself. Still, the results are decidedly mixed.
The Democrats won’t be able to raise the kind of money for each mid-term race at the rate they did in that Georgia election, but neither will the Republicans. The Republicans did wind up winning all four of the races, albeit while losing percentage points that would flip a whole of districts. Trump retains a steadfast and significant percentage of voters, Trump’s detractors seem to have even bigger numbers, and it’s how they’re spread around the electoral map that seems matter. All politics really is local, too, so it’s hard to tell how that will play in out the hundreds of House seats and third-or-so of Senate seats up in a year and a few months from now. Of course there’s also no telling what might happen in a year and a few months from now.
Until then the Republicans retain the White House and the same majorities they held in the House and Senate before all this fuss, but for now they don’t seem to doing much with it, and the Democrats are still falling tantalizingly short of a victory to call their own.

— Bud Norman

A Federal Elections Commission Filing With Legs

Those complicated financial statements that presidential candidates are obligated to file with the Federal Elections Commission every month are usually dull reading for all but us most inveterate political buffs, and unless they contain some notorious name among the contributors or some fishy expenditure they typically get but a few column inches and a couple of ritual tsk-tsks about all the big money in politics, but this time around in this crazy election year there are enough angles apparent in the figures to keep the story going for at least a few days.
The latest filings indicate that presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton raised $19.7 million in the month of May, which is not bad but not so garishly good by recent standards to justify any more than the usual tsk-tsking about big money in politics, while presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump raised $3.1 million, which is undeniably awful by recent standards and yet unlikely to earn the self-described billionaire any plaudits for keeping big money out of his campaign. At the end of the month the Democrat had $42 million in cash on hand, which is pretty good by recent standards, while the Republican was reporting a paltry $1.3 million on hand, which is about what you’d expect for a House seat candidate in a flyover district and probably less than the monthly advertising budget of that Mack Weldon underwear outfit that lately has had intrusive ads popping up at every internet site we visit. The Republican Party and its “Super PACs” report a similarly large lagging behind their Democratic counterparts, and that gaping gap alone is enough to fuel at least a couple extra days of media coverage.
Trump and his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters are already saying that the round-the-clock coverage his megawatt celebrity brings and his boisterous and violence-plagued rallies and the devastating insults of his widely-followed “tweets” will easily make up the difference, and after it sufficed to vanquish a promising field of 16 better-funded and far more qualified opponents in the primary races we can’t dismiss the possibility that they might once again be right. Still, the difference between $42 million and $1.3 million in cash on hand is is newsworthy, especially by Trump’s bottom-line way of looking at things, and it raises a lot of questions that Trump’s numerous opponents on both the left and what’s left of the erstwhile right are already asking.
Thus the Trump campaign will surely be on the defensive for a while, fending off questions that call into doubt all its grandiose promises, and while both the crazed left-wing Democrats and the last redoubts of old school conservatism are unleashing their resources they’ll have to hope that Trump’s phoned-in appearances on the Today Show and MSNBC’s obscure “Morning Joe” and the more obscure-yet Alex Jones’ “InfoWars” conspiracy channel radio can counter it. A few million dollars worth of air time on the popular reality shows that persuasively reminds voters about how the presumptive Republican nominee really did once mock a handicapped person for the amusement of his boisterous rally-goers will likely have some effect, and although a similar few million dollars could buy enough air time to persuasively remind all those reality-show viewers that the Democratic nominee has done countless things that were at least as disgusting it doesn’t seem likely to happen. Why not is hard for the the Trump campaign to explain.
The reality is that there are far more targeted swing state voters watching those reality shows than there are watching Trump’s phoned-in interviews on morning shows and afternoon cable fare and lunatic-fringe radio programs, and that the failure to financially make up the difference undermines many of the campaign’s claims. One is that the presumptive Republican nominee possesses 10 BILLION DOLLARS, with the capitalization always added, and that he would patriotically tithe a cool billion or so of it to Make America Great again, the capitalization once again added, so the latest FEC filing calls that into question. We were never swayed by the argument that influence-buying billionaires have so thoroughly corrupted the political system that we should only vote for self-funded candidates, the only one on offering being a self-described billionaire who openly boasts of all the influence-buying he’s done over his checkered career, and at this poorly funded moment it’s no more persuasive to anyone who’s been paying attention that 10 BILLION DOLLAR figure is not to be taken seriously. The most reliable sources estimate Trump possesses less than half of that amount, one author who claimed it was far less than a single billion wound up winning a prolonged libel suit, which included Trump’s sworn testimony that his estimation of his wealth depended on his daily feelings of self-regard, which range from yuge to very yuge, and by now it should be clear to even his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters that he wouldn’t part with a tenth of it even if he did have 10 BILLION DOLLARS just to Make America Great Again.
Which calls into question whether he really is the organizational and economic and deal-making genius that earned him that apocryphal 10 BILLION DOLLARS and will surely Make America Great Again, and already the left is having fun with a hash-tagged “Trump So Broke” internet meme, which includes some admittedly funny insult comic shtick about how he can’t afford a decent haircut and how his next trophy wife will come from Mexico, and worse yet there’s the more dour reluctance of what’s left of erstwhile conservatism to support his candidacy. As much as a majority of the Republican is still hoping for another nominee, the presumptive nominee is still sneering that he’ll do fine without them, yet he’s apparently depending on the hated party “establishment” that he and his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters have vowed to burn down for a field operation and some respite from the paid-media blitz, and there’s still a slight chance that the inevitably “establishment” delegates will make another choice.
For now we’ll continue to hope so, because that presumptive Democratic nominee is so indisputably awful that a just few million more from the party’s rank-and-file and billionaire donors might just prove effective on behalf of someone other than Trump.

— Bud Norman

Playing the Impeachment Game

Reports indicate that President Barack Obama is planning to issue executive orders that will effectively grant amnesty to millions of illegal aliens, and there is much speculation that he will do so with the intention of provoking impeachment charges. The notion is so outrageous, so far removed every standard of presidential behavior that at this improbable moment in American history it seems all too plausible.

The speculation is predictably coming from outraged Republican congressmen, who can be counted on to find such executive orders so highly provocative that it appears Obama “is begging to be impeached,” but is also being fueled by Democrats both inside and outside the administration. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was accusing the Republicans of secretly planning impeachment even before the reports of an executive-ordered amnesty surfaced, a senior advisor to the president acknowledges that the move “will certainly up the likelihood that (Republicans) would contemplate impeachment at some point,” and the party’s allies in the media are already salivating over the prospect, and the fund-raising letters to the true Democratic believers are already exploiting the issue. Presidents don’t usually beg to be impeached, but this one might once again prove an exception to the usual rules.

One can easily imagine the theory that might have been devised by the political minds within the White House, insulated by layers of security and the comforting blanket of the mainstream news coverage, about how it all might work. The story, which will be respectfully repeated at the top of every evening network newscasts often enough to make it sound believable, is that the racist and xenophobic rednecks of the Republican party so hate our brown-skinned brethren that they refused to act according the president’s wishes and he was therefor forced against every instinct of his adjunct professor of constitutional law’s soul to boldly act alone. With sets designed by the same guy that did Madonna’s tour and the soundtrack music by Beyonce the production will a huge hit with the public, the necessary number of Democrats will hold firm no matter what and the president will be acquitted by the Senate, and the Republicans will suffer the same drubbing in the mid-terms that followed their failed attempt to remove President Bill Clinton from office. At the very least it will distract all attention from the sluggish economy and proliferation of part-time jobs and Obamacare’s latest troubles and the fighting in Gaza and Ukraine and Libya and Syria and the South China Sea and the nuclear weapons program in Iran and the scandals at the VA and the IRS and the NSA and the rest of the alphabet soup and everything else that currently has everyone expecting the Democrats will suffer a drubbing in the mid-term elections.
At the most it could even rescue Obama’s presidency from its current unfavorable standing and restore him to his former heroic status, much as President Andrew Johnson’s little-noted presidency is on occasion fondly recalled for his successful defiance of another impeachment attempt. In Johnson’s case the radical Republicans wanted him to impose a harsher Reconstruction on the defeated Confederate states, and Obama would have surely been among their number if he’d been around at the time, but at this point he’ll probably take whatever favorable historical analogy he can get. The inevitable failure of any attempt to remove Obama from office will also leave him free to flout whatever constitutional limitations on his office he might choose, and by the time the courts get around to imposing whatever restrictions they can get past the Obama appointees he’ll be safely ensconced poolside at his fabulous California mansion and awaiting the glowing the reviews on the memoir that earned him a $20 million advance.
It’s so crazy it might just work, but we see risks that the domestic policy advisor from La Raza might not have included in the briefings. While an impeachment trial would certainly draw almost all attention away from all those other pesky issues that are pulling down the president’s poll numbers, it would also shine a glaring spotlight on immigration policies that are every bit as unpopular. Public opinion polling shows that most Americans have no desire to grant amnesty to the millions of immigrants who have illegally flooded an already tight labor market and strained schools and social service agencies, and even in such allegedly liberal areas as Massachusetts there are large and angry protests springing up wherever the recent influx of illegal minors is being shipped. Obama’s reportedly imminent executive orders would not only be defying Congress, which is always a risk-free political proposition, they would also be defying public opinion, which is always a rash move no matter how the media support.
The impeachment ploy depends on the missteps of the Republicans, which of course increases its odds of success. Thus far the Republican leadership has declined to take the bait, and although we’re no fans of the Republican leadership we think that for the moment this is the wisest course. Any noise about impeachment prior to the election will only distract from issues more favorable to the Republicans, will energize a Democratic base that is currently dispirited, won’t have any hope of a favorable outcome so long as the Democrats retain an unquestioningly loyal majority in the Senate, and even if a miracle were to occur the most favorable outcome would be President Joe Biden. The public outrage that is sure to follow the president’s amnesty orders could give the Republicans solid majorities in both houses of Congress, although not enough in the Senate to win an impeachment verdict without a few very scared red-state Democrats, but until then talk of impeachment is fanciful.
It might well be necessary, though, if the executive orders are far-reaching as they’re described and the most obvious implications of the Internal Revenue Service scandal are proved no matter how fortuitous the computer problems turn out to be, but that tricky question will be best addressed after a successful mid-term election.

— Bud Norman

The Uncivil War Comes to Kansas

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

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

Just a few months back, which somehow seems a very long time ago, one of our liberal friends was giddily explaining to us why Barack Obama was certain to win re-election by a landslide. He had various reasons for his optimism, but most of it was based on the assumption that Obama was going to raise a billion dollars of campaign funding and overwhelm his opposition with advertising.

We were skeptical of that billion dollar figure, even though it was being bandied about in all the news media and was an article of faith in liberal circles, but conceded that Obama would likely be able to outspend his opponent. Now it appears that the vaunted Obama fund-raising machine won’t be able to match the efforts of Republican nominee Mitt Romney, and even Obama admits it.

The latest fund-raising figures haven’t yet been disclosed, but there is ample evidence that the Obama isn’t bringing in the amounts of money that had been expected by his giddy supporters. A major convention event planned for the enormous Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina has reportedly been cancelled for lack of funds, and even a small event in tiny Durham, New Hampshire, created a public relations mess for the campaign when it tried to stick the cash-strapped locals with a $20,000 tab for security costs. The campaign’s efforts to woo donors are becoming conspicuously desperate, with resort to such widely ridiculed gimmicks as “I’m Out For Obama” t-shirts for sale to homosexual supporters and hoodies emblazoned with the campaign logo for sale to the thug-American voting bloc, raffles to have dinner with the president or the hilariously snooty Anna Wintour and her high-fashion friends, and an “Obama Registry” that invites people to make a campaign donation in lieu of a wedding gift.

These difficulties should not be surprising. Obama’s last campaign was largely financed by Wall Street financiers and big businesses, despite a popular myth that he was able to vastly out-spend John McCain’s low-budget campaign because of all the idealistic young hipsters who decided to forego a café latte in order to send a small donation, and many of those former deep-pocket donors have grown understandably weary of being pilloried in presidential speeches, threatened with new taxes, and subject to ever more regulations. The public sector unions are as enthusiastic about Obama as ever, but they’ve lately been losing members and membership dues, and have already spent much of their war chest on a losing effort to unseat Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Many of those small donors have probably changed their minds about Obama or simply aren’t able to afford either campaign contributions or café lattes. The entertainment industry is still donating generously, but all that hobnobbing with the glitterati will also make it harder for Obama to argue that his opponent is an out-of-touch rich guy who doesn’t relate to the common man.

Should Mitt Romney wind up with more money in his campaign’s account, expect Obama and his supporters to wax outraged about the evil influence of money on the democratic process. When they do, remember that they weren’t so concerned about it just a few months ago when it was widely assumed that they’d have the financial advantage.

— Bud Norman