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Kansas, Back in the Middle of the Country

The Republicans’ seven year quest to repeal and replace Obamacare is currently as dead as a proverbial door nail, and likely to remain so for a long while, so for now the party is mostly concerned with apportioning the blame. Many of the fingers are pointing at our beloved Kansas’ very own Sen. Jerry Moran, and from our wind-swept perspective here on the southern great plains that suggests the party has some hard-to-solve problems.
Moran and Sen. Mike Lee of the equally blood-red state of Utah simultaneously “tweeted” on Monday that they would vote “no” on the Senate’s repeal-and-replace bill, and with Sen. Susan Collins from deep blue Main already voting “no” because of the bill’s stinginess and Sen. Rand Paul from the hard-to-define shade of red Kentucky objecting to its largess, that that was two Republican votes too many for the bill to survive. On Tuesday Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, also from that complicated Kentucky, floated the idea of simply repealing Obamacare with a promise to replace it with something so great it will make your head spin within within two years, but Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of the reliably red state of Alaska and Sen. Shelley Moore Caputo of the West Virginia, which is only recently red but with all the fervor of a new convert, joined together to put the kibosh on that. All will be blamed for the party’s failure to get something passed, but we suspect that many of their colleagues are quietly grateful for the favor.

The Senate bill was polling so horribly it had actually made the hated Obamacare bill popular, which was more than President Barack Obama’s oratorical flourishes and outright obfuscations ever achieved, and every sort of Republican also had some objections. It wasn’t the root-and-branch repeal-and-replacement that the Republicans had been promising since every single member of the party had voted against the damned thing those many years ago, and retained many of the poll-tested but economically unworkable provisions of Obamacare that are currently driving up premiums in a politically potent number of states and congressional districts, so the conservative arguments were hard to refute. The bill also included significant cuts to Medicaid and other entitlement programs, and when Vice President Mike Pence tried to deny that at a governor’s conference several Republican governors politely explained he was flat wrong, and given that they and all those wary Republican congressional members are all polling much better in their home states than either President Donald Trump or his senate there’s no arguing with the political logic.
All politics is local, as the old proverb put it, and as Kansans we sympathize with how complicated that must be for Moran. Ever since the abolitionists came here to fight the Bleeding Kansas pre-civil war the state’s tended Republican, and except for the landslide elections of ’36 and ’64 it’s voted GOP in every presidential races and has only once sent a Democrat to the United States senate, but of course it’s more complicated than that. Those abolitionists were upright establishment New Englanders with high-minded ideas about good government, and of course they were also religious zealots and unabashed radicals, always facing the harsh reality of making a honest living on treeless plain, and those various forces still inform the political debate around here. They were later joined in the party by Swedes and Russians and Germans and the black Exodusters fleeing the slavery of the south, but the party remained in steadfast opposition to the Democrats and the even crazier Prairie Populists and in disagreement about everything else.
For the most part the moderate factions always prevailed, standing firmly against the most radical Democrat ideas but willing to embrace a certain amount of good government. The party generously funded the state’s schools, kept the roads between all the small towns paved, locked up the occasional mass murderers and other criminal types, paid the salaries of all the pointy-headed professors at the regent universities, and provided for widows and orphans. Kansas has always provided fertile soil for a more ruggedly individualistic style of conservatism, though, and it has also exerted an influence on the party.
When the election of President Barack Obama unleashed some of the Democratic Party’s more radical ideas back in ’08 the state was at the forefront of the “Tea Party” reaction, with pretty much the entirety of the Republican Party on board. All of the state’s congressional delegation, including then-First District Rep. Moran, voted against Obamacare and the rest of the Democratic agenda, and the conservative outrage trickled down to the rest of the state’s politics. By ’10 the Republicans in Congress and the statehouse who were deemed insufficiently rocked-ribbed faced primary challenges, the successor to Democratic-governor-turned-Obama-cabinet-secretary Kathleen Sibelius was replaced by the exceedingly rock-ribbed Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, and when some of the Republicans in the state legislature balked at his tax-and-budget-cutting proposals they were largely replaced by primary challengers.
When Brownback relinquished his Senate seat to run for governor Moran beat out the more “Tea Party” Fourth District Rep. Todd Tiahrt in a hotly contested primary, and a couple of years later the curmudgeonly conservative but by-now-establishment Sen. Pat Roberts barely survived a primary challenge from an even more curmudgeonly conservative political neophyte who was related to Obama on the Kansas side of the family tree, but the conservative and anti-establishment faction of the party was clearly in control.
Since then, however, the moderate and establishment wing of the Grand Old Party has been making a comeback. Brownback and Roberts and all the rest of the party won re-election in the nationwide Republican wave of ’14, but by then it was clear that Brownback’s theoritically-sound but admittedly radical tax-and-budget-cutting proposals weren’t spurring the economy and balancing the books as predicted, and that after so many rounds of cuts the schools and roads and prisons and the rest of the states business were bound to be affected, so suddenly the establishment moderate types were winning the primary challenges. Enough of them won in the last election that they were able to join with the Democrats to recently override Brownback’s veto of a tax increase. Tax increases are anathema to a Kansas Republican’s soul, but so are unbalanced budgets and uneducated schoolchildren and unpaved roads and unpunished criminals, and in Kansas as elsewhere politics is complicated that way.
Which is pretty much the complicated place that Moran found himself when he decided to cast a “no” vote that he surely knew would invite plenty of pointing figures, here and in the rest of the Republican precincts of the country. He and Lee shrewdly timed their announcements so that neither could be blamed as the guy who cast the fatal vote against repeal-and-replace, both reasonably explained that a “yes” vote wouldn’t have fulfilled their campaign promises of a root-and-branch repeal and replacement, and both surely have other unstated more moderate reasons that make an undeniable political logic.
Once you get outside the big bad city of Wichita and the trendy suburbs of Kansas City or the booming college town of Lawrence and the recently-recession-plagued state capital of Topeka, Kansas is mostly a scenic but sparsely populated expanse of rapidly aging small towns with a dwindling supply of rapidly aging people. In many of these locales, which are still quite charmingly all-American, the main driver of the local economy and the most crucial local institutions are the local hospitals and old folks’ homes, largely funded by Medicaid, and despite what Vice President Pence says on behalf of President Obama those Republican governors with the healthier poll numbers are probably right about the Senate bill. For all the economic harm Obamacare is doing to the healthy young hipsters of Lawrence and the family guys commuting back to the Kansas City suburbs and the factory guys here in Wichita, we can hardly blame Moran for not wanting to face the wrath of all those paid-up geezers in the rest of the state.
If Moran wants to cynically claim conservative principles to justify his more moderate political instincts, we’ll not blame him for that the next time he’s up for reelection. After a half-century of proud Kansas Republicanism, which instinctively stretches back to the abolitionist Bleeding Kansas days, we’ll not fault a guy for insisting on anything less than an root-and-branch repeal-and-replacement bill, and that a truly free market would have cared for those old folks in those charming small towns, and until then we’ll also figure we have to take care of them somehow.
All the rest of the Republican votes that killed the Republican dream probably have their own local logic. Trump won Utah by the same usual Republican margins that he won Kansas, but he finished a distant third in both state’s Republican primaries, and his polls numbers aren’t sufficient to scare Republicans in many states. The three senators who took the stand against repeal-only are all women, each of whom were excluded from the behind-closed-doors writing of the bill, which is one of the many very stupid things that McConnell did during the failed process, but we credit each of the ladies with more sensible local political reasons for their “no” votes.
Go ahead and blame them all for wrecking the Republicans’ seen-year quest, as they willingly volunteered for the finger-pointing, but from our perspective here on the southern plains there’s plenty of blame to go around. Trump arm-twisted enough House Republicans to pass a bill that he later “tweeted” was “mean” and lacking “heart,” never gave any major speeches with oratorical flourishes or outright obfuscations on behalf of the similar Senate bill, and not even such sycophants as Sean Spicer or Sean Hannity can deny that he didn’t made good on his campaign promises of universal coverage and lower costs and no cuts to Medicaid within 100 days of his inauguration. If you’re more inclined to blame McConnell and the rest of that GOP establishment that Trump vowed to burn down, well, we can’t readily think of any excuses for them.
Those treasonous turncoats might have saved the Republican Party from passing a wildly unpopular bill that set off another round of wave elections, though, and given the party a chance to go slowly according to old-fashioned good government principles and get things right, which is more than those damned Democrats ever did. That’s what we’re hoping for here in the middle of the country, at any rate.

— Bud Norman

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Health Care Reform in Surgery Recovery

Arizona Sen. John McCain is currently recovering from surgery, and for as long as that takes so is his Republican party’s attempts to reform America’s health care system.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has once again delayed a vote on a Senate health care proposal, not because McCain is a former party presidential nominee or exceedingly senior congressional member or otherwise an especially respected member of the party, but rather because at this point not a single a Republican vote can be spared. This point arrives after seven years of every establishment Republican and every anti-establishment Republican vowing repeal and replacement of the hated Obamacare law, with a solid Republican majority in the House and a sufficient one in the Senate and some sort of Republican in the White House, so the Republican effort to make good on that constantly made promise seems conspicuously sickly.
The prognosis for McCain’s recovery is reportedly good, and we certainly wish him our very best and offer our prayers, but the chances for that long-awaited Republican repeal and replace effort seem more iffy. Health care is complicated, as that putatively Republican president discovered shortly after he took office, and the politics of the issue are more complicated yet, so it’s foolish to make any bold promises such as the all of the Republicans have been making. The party’s congressional majorities might yet pass something, and that some sort of Republican president will surely sign it, but at this point there’s no guessing how that might turn out well.
That hated Obamacare law is indeed hateful, full of all the restrictions on individual liberty and increased costs for the middle class that the Republicans predicted, utterly lacking in the promises the Democrats made about keeping your doctor and your plan and pocketing a big chunk of change at the end of year, and the Republicans won three state congressional election and one-of-two presidential elections on the issue. The law never polled well, even when Obama was winning re-election, so replacing the damned thing should have been an easy enough task for a Republican congress and Republican president to do. Replacing it, though, has proved tricky even for the co-author of “The Art of the Deal.”
Some of Obamacare’s most unworkable provisions have always polled well, such as that guaranteed coverage of pre-existing conditions, and at least a few million photogenic and sympathetic folks have derived advantages from it, and it also expanded Medicaid coverage to a few more million folks in states that voted in Republican governors and senators and representatives. Obamacare still doesn’t poll particularly well, but both the House and Senate versions of repealing and replacing it are faring far worse, and at this point in this age of cynical pragmatism we can’t hardly blame any Republicans up for re-election in a year and a few month’s time.
Those poor politicians’ political calculations are further complicated by the complex nature of Republican politics at this point. One of the unsure Republican votes is Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who voted against Obamacare when it happened and is about as right-wing a Republican as you could hope for in a such a liberal state as Maine but is nonetheless reviled by the all the right-wing radio talkers in the red states and is voting against the Senate bill because it’s too austere. Another wavering vote is Sen. Ran Paul from McConnell’s own state of Kentucky, whose standing with the right-wing radio talkers is hard to assess at the moment, because the thinks the bill too spend-thrifty. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is holding out for an amendment that would allow young and healthy consumers the choice of low-cost and low-coverage plans for catastrophic care, which warms our traditional Republican hearts, but the Republican president called him “Lyin’ Ted” all the right-wing talk radio hosts aren’t sure what to make of the Cruz amendment.
Almost everyone on talk radio and the rest of the party still seems on board with that putatively Republican president, who ran on promises of coverage for everybody and the government paying for it and no cuts to Medicaid and lower costs somehow resulting, and he now tells his televangelist interviewer that he’s waiting in the Oval Office with his pen to sign anything the Republicans might put on his desk. He’s not given any speeches or even any “tweets” about why the Republican plan is so great it’ll make your head spin, but if the Republicans in congress do give him something to sign he’ll gladly take credit for it. If they don’t, he’ll be able blame it on those gutless and devious moderate and conservative establishment types of Republicans that he that he vowed to destroy, and we’re sure all those talk show hosts will heartily agree.
There’s a Republican case to be made for those widely unpopular House and Senate bills the Republicans came up, and for the compromise that should have been reached with complete Republican control of the government, and they might yet make it. Such Republicans as that putatively Republican president keep talking about how shrewd McConnell is at getting things done, and we note that he held a Supreme Court seat open long enough for the putatively Republican president to take credit for getting a conservative confirmed, but the Republican president ran on the argument that he or any other professional politician couldn’t get anything done, and that only a real estate developer could do the job.
If the Republicans don’t get the job done there will be plenty of blame to spread around, and we’re sure they’ll all do their best to spread it elsewhere. If something does get passed and sign, they’ll probably all claim credit, then start deflecting the blame somewhere down the electoral road.

— Bud Norman

Tweeting and Twisting the GOP

The internecine Republican feuding has lately become more complicated. It’s still the same old story of the establishment versus the insurgents, the squishy moderates versus the principled conservatives, and the real Republicans versus the Republicans In Name Only, but the days it’s hard to tell who’s on which side. At this point in the plot President Donald Trump is “tweeting” threats against the House of Representative’s “Freedom Caucus,” so all the old labels of establishment and insurgent and principled and squishy no longer make any sense, and who the real Republicans are is very much up for debate.
As a relatively recent Republican Trump won the party’s nomination with a plurality of primary and caucus votes by running as an outsider and populist renegade hellbent on burning down the hated GOP establishment, as exemplified by party chairman Reince Priebus and House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, but following his improbable win of the electoral vote he seem surprised to find that he suddenly was the establishment. After running on grandiose promises of repealing Obamacare within days of taking office and replacing it with coverage for everyone at and lower costs and so beautiful it would make your head spin, Trump made Priebus his White House Chief of Staff and turned to Ryan McConnell to make good on his word, then went off to golf at his fabulous Mar-a-Lago resort, as populists do.
That was fine with the plurality of the party that now defines Republicanism as obeisance to Trump, and when it all went down in flames many of them were eager to blame Priebus and Ryan and McConnell and the rest of the hated establishment who had hoodwinked the naive Trump, even if he had also been elected because of his boasts of being both anti-establishment and the savviest deal-maker ever, and there was plenty of blame to be spread around the whole party. Some of those squishy moderates who somehow survived the past six years of insurgent anti-establishment primary purges bucked the party line on the bill because they were cowed by its 17 percent approval rating and all the looming sob stories from the 24 million people expected to lose health care coverage the first three years of premium hikes that were also forecast. More votes were lost from the “Freedom Caucus,” the same insurgent populists who had gained office by running on the original “Tea Party” wave of dissatisfaction with the Republican establishment, as they objected to the bill because it didn’t fully repeal Obamacare and replaced it with something that retained too many of the taxes and regulations and outrageous infringements of free market principles and individual liberty that the entirety of the party had claimed to be against from the get-go.
Trump took to “Twitter” to blame the “Freedom Caucus” members and threaten them with primary challenges by more obeisant Republicans if they didn’t come around. “The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast,” Trump “tweeted,” adding with similar eloquence that “We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!” Later “tweets” mentioned individual members by name, with similar political intimidation repeated, which leaves us wondering what the Republican establishment but not doubting that it’s likely to be burned down.
The “tweets” don’t seem likely to settle the matter, though, as the “Freedom Caucus” members defiantly “tweeted” back in Trump’s own blustery style. Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie responded with a snarky “#Swampcare polls 17%. Sad!” Virginia Rep. Tom Garrett of Virginia “tweeted” a simple “Stockholm Syndrome?” to suggest that Trump was now stuck with the hated establishment label. None appeared to be at all intimidated, and we can’t see why they should be. It’s easy to resist a populist movement that’s polling 17 percent in the polls, which is truly is sad, Trump’s numbers are hovering around 40 at a time when a president should be getting a honeymoon bump, and most of those “Freedom Caucus” members won their districts by bigger margins than Trump. Some of them really believe what they ran on, too, and can more persuasively argue why they voted against the bill Trump backed than Trump can argue for it.
To the extent that they can’t “tweet” the argument, conservative media ranging from the rabble-rousing radio talkers to the old eggheaded and think-tanky ink-and-paper publications will make it for them. Given that Trump’s remaining support won’t listen to any media that isn’t explicitly conservative, that’s a problem. Some of the conservative media are by now obeisant to Trump, but given their past full-throated supported for the “Freedom Caucus” and its anti-establishment stand they’re going to have some tricky talking to do. There are still enough Democrats hanging around Congress that Trump will need pretty much Republican vote to “get on the team, & fast,” which will be hard to do with a party that prides itself on its rugged individualism and stubborn independence and despite a certain reverence for order and tradition has lately come to regard any sort of establishment as needing to be burned down.
All of which leaves the Republicans with a whole lot of soul-searching about what their party really stands for. Given the current state of the Democratic Party, the country desperately needs the Republicans to get on with it.

— Bud Norman

The Losses Mount

We had hoped that the Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress would restore some constitutional order and common sense to the federal government, but so far it doesn’t seem to be working out that way. This week Democratic discipline and Republican defections doomed an effort to block the president’s executive orders on illegal immigration, and despite a few defections of their own the Democrats were able to sustain a presidential veto on bill to at long last allow construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. If the Republicans can’t win on these issues, it’s hard to see how they’ll ever score a victory.
There is little public enthusiasm for offering amnesty and work permits and government benefits to millions of illegal immigrants, thus inviting millions to cross the border, and even less for the unprecedented presidential power that is bringing it about. The only opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline comes from a relatively small group of radical environmentalists, who seem to believe that the planet will somehow be better off if Canada’s oil is refined in China rather than America, and the president’s veto of the project is part of a broader effort to raise energy prices that is also unpopular. Two better opportunities to confront the president might not come along soon, even if the president does have a knack for proposing unpopular policies and seems to grow even less concerned about public opinion the nearer he gets to the end of his second term, so the losses are especially discouraging.
Buoyed by public opinion and prodded by his party’s conservative base, the usually timid House Speaker John Boehner managed to pass a bill that would deny funding to the Department of Homeland Security to carry out the executive orders, and the usually timid Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell made an effort to get it passed in the Senate, but it all came to naught. The Democrats used the same filibuster rules they had decried until the Republicans took control of the Senate, threatening a shutdown of the entire department, and although one would expect the Democrats to be blamed for making such a dire threat, especially for the sake of an unpopular policy being enacted through unpopular means, enough Republicans panicked to force capitulation and cough up a full year of funding. The Republicans’ nervousness is understandable, given the scathing press coverage that always accompanies the word “shutdown,” and some of the ones who bolted represent districts that include a large share of Latino voters, or simply pay too much attention to the newspapers that are still peddling the notion that inviting in millions of illegal immigrants to sign up as Democrats is a smart political move for the Republicans, but the issue was worth some risk and might even have been winnable. That House bill would have funded all the department’s necessary work against terrorism, and it was the Democrats who would have shut it down rather than refuse funding for the executive orders, and it’s always possible the public would have been made to understand that despite the best efforts of the press.
Alabama’s stalwart Sen. Jeff Sessions has vowed to continue the fight by whatever legislative means present themselves, and we’re sure that at least he will do so, and there’s always a chance that the court ruling against the executive order will be upheld, although we’re not at all sure the courts will ever again do the right thing, so perhaps some sort of victory can be achieved down the road. For now, though, the president wins again.
He managed to win on the Keystone veto, too, although seven Democrats who are facing re-election in states where the oil industry is prominent felt more responsive to public opinion and joined the Republicans. Even when they’re vote the Democrats were able to muster the 35 votes needed to sustain the veto, which is a testimony to the party’s ability to keep members in line. When the Democrats are willing to back their president on even such a damned fool idea as blocking the Keystone XL pipeline, the chances of overriding any other vetoes are not good. There is some speculation that they might do it with a bill imposing economic sanctions on Iran, but we wouldn’t bet against the president winning yet again. There is great public support for Israel, whose Prime Minister just this week defied the president by asking Congress to impose the sanctions as a means of ending its nuclear weapons program, but Israel will never be as popular as cheap gasoline.
The Republicans’ conservative base is once again clamoring for new leadership in both the House and Senate, and they’re probably right to do so, but the Democrats should also be getting some pressure from the public. President Barack Obama need no longer care what the people think, but almost everyone in Congress will eventually be up for re-election can’t afford to be so openly disdainful of public opinion. Whoever the Republicans choose for their leaders, they’ll need to be a bit more persuasive to at least a few more Democrats who are bound to be at least a bit nervous about where the president is leading them.

— Bud Norman

No Refuge in China

President Barack Obama is currently in China, far away from any pesky Republicans, but he doesn’t seem to be enjoying the trip. He’s getting the obligatory red carpet treatment from his hosts and the obligatory softball questions from the press, has been afforded an opportunity to wear exotic clothing, and is getting his picture taken with the leaders of the world’s most powerful nations, all of which usually cheers him up, but the photographs all portray a rather glum fellow.
The Asia-Pacific economic summit being hosted in Beijing offers the president a chance to get away from mounting domestic problems and strike a statesmanlike pose, along with the other perquisites of diplomatic travel, but little else. He made a grand announcement of an agreement with China on carbon emissions, but once he gets backs to Washington those pesky Republicans will have something to say about that, the Chinese will continue emitting carbon as they please, and an increasingly skeptical American public will not be impressed by a proposal to restrain the American economy. Little progress is expected on restraining China’s expansionist ambitions or predatory copyright infringements and cyber warfare and currency manipulations or other pressing problems, and no one is expecting any important diplomatic breakthroughs with any of the other assembled leaders. The president managed to dodge a condescending pat on the back from Russian President Vladimir Putin, but their brief exchanges apparently have not resulted in a Russian retreat from Ukraine.
Still, the president’s dour expression in all those photographs, looking self-conscious even in that rather dapper Fu Manchu outfit, is curious. Previous diplomatic journeys proved just as pointless but still put a smile on his face, and the lack of any news from the trip can only improve his standing with the public. We can only speculate that he’s feeling insufficiently appreciated. Despite the diplomatic niceties the Chinese government broadcast its sneering contempt for Obama’s leadership through the state media in the days before his arrival, Putin’s ostentatiously chummy behavior seemed calculated to express a similarly superior attitude, and no one among the friendlier leaders was looking to him for all the answers. We suspect that this is not what Obama had anticipated for the sixth year of his presidency, which was supposed to be when the world joined hands and started singing “Give Peace a Chance” in tune with his pitch pipe, and that he is disappointed with the world.
Obama is always more energetic and ruthless in his dealings with America’s real enemy, those pesky Republicans, so perhaps he’ll perk up when he returns to Washington. He’ll have to dodge a condescending pat on the back from presumptive Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, though, and we don’t expect that in the resultant photographs his facial expression will be any sunnier. America is proving disappointing to the president, as well, and it’s going to take a heck of a pep talk from Valerie Jarrett to keep his chin up to its usual heights.

— Bud Norman

How to Ruin a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy

One of the most prominent conservative talk radio hosts spent most of Wednesday’s broadcast railing at full volume against the Republican Party’s senatorial nominee in Kentucky. This does not bode well for the GOP’s otherwise excellent chances of winning a Senate majority in the upcoming mid-term elections.
The host did not go so far as to endorse the Democratic nominee, but neither did he offer any criticisms of her mostly liberal platform or employ any of his characteristic schoolyard taunts against her. On the whole, she had to be pleased with the broadcast. Early polling suggests the race will be close, with the Republicans needing a strong turnout to prevail, and having a popular voice of the right shreiking against their candidate can only help the Democrats.
Prior to Tuesday’s primary we would have had some sympathy for the host’s fulminations against Republican Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell. He scores a solid 90 percent on the American Conservative Union’s usually reliable rating of right-winginess, and his position as the Republican Senate leader suggests he has the respect of the party’s most highly elected officials, but that heretical 10 percent includes some rather egregious transgressions and the party’s pooh-bahs have too often proved timid in the fight against Democratic craziness, so we welcomed the intra-party challenge by the more rock-ribbed investment fund manager Matt Bevin and wished him well in the effort. After Bevin lost by a solid margin of 60-to-40, however, we’d rather that conservatism’s focus is now on the race between McConnell and Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Call us squishy establishment country club RINOs if you want, but we’ll take the Republican Senate leader with the 90 percent ACU rating over any Democrat that even a state such as Kentucky might come up with. Grimes has been running as a moderate, and is shrewd enough to always mention her support for the embattled coal industry when distancing herself from President Barack Obama, but she doesn’t pretend to be as conservative as McConnell. She enjoys the enthusiastic support of Bill and Hillary Clinton, commentators at the far-left Daily Kos site embrace her as “the best we can get,” and Democratic party discipline is formidable enough that she’s certain to wind up ever further left once in office. For all his many failings, and for all the infuriation they caused to conservative sensibilities, McConnell is clearly preferable to Grimes.
We’ll also take respectful note of the indisputable fact that a clear majority of Kentucky Republicans, who were better able to observe the primary race than that radio host or us, preferred McConnell to Bevin. This might have been due largely to the fund-raising advantage that McConnell enjoyed as Senate minority leader, even if Bevin did have contributions pouring in from disgruntled conservatives around the country, but it also seems due at least in part to some embarrassing missteps by Bevin. The unavoidable problem with breath-of-fresh-air outsiders is that by definition they are not seasoned political professionals, and Bevin was often amateurish in the worst sense of the word. His reasonable arguments against McConnell’s vote for the Troubled Assets Relief Program that bailed out the big banks in the first days of the Great Recession was undermined by the revelation that he’d supported it back in his investment fund managing days, he was forced to apologize for a speech at a pro-cockfighting rally, and he couldn’t woo Tea Party darling Sen. Rand Paul or other prominent Kentucky conservatives to his cause. Such missteps and the fund-raising disadvantage suggested he would have been less likely to beat Grimes and her well-oiled political machine, so perhaps that majority of Kentucky Republicans who voted for McConnnell wasn’t entirely comprised of squishy establishment country club RINOs or just plain rubes easily duped by high-priced advertising.
The folks at the Senate Conservatives Fund that largely bankrolled Bevin’s insurgency were quick to endorse McConnell after the results came in, even if the candidate and his talk radio supporters have been less gracious in defeat, so there is hope the party can unify to defeat the far more liberal candidate and bolster the party’s chances to win the Senate and more effectively block whatever foolishness the Democrats had planned for the last two years of the Obama administration. It won’t be the Congress of our fondest conservative dreams, alas, but it would be markedly better than the Reid-Pelosi Congress of our worst nightmares.
Unity requires compromise on both sides of the Republicans’ internecine squabbles, of course. We’d prefer that House Speaker John Boehner and other party big wigs must cease their schoolyard taunts against the party’s more conservative and assertive ranks, and would be happy to see a Republican House and Senate purge from the leadership ranks even if the Republican voters in their districts decline to do so, but are willing to offer our support so long as they do. The “tea party” has suffered many bitter defeats this primary season, but its core principles of limited government and low taxes and individual liberty remains essential arguments even for the most “establishment” Republicans. Those “tea party” candidates that do pick up the occasional win should get the full support of t, but it’s he big donors and party professionals, a fair trade for the votes of those disgruntled conservatives who grumpily trudge to the polls for the likes of McConnell if only to keep the likes of Grimes out of Washington, and let any lingering arguments can be settled by the majority caucuses in both houses of Congress.
With the public belatedly wising up to the incompetence and wrong-headedness of the Obama administration, on everything from the rapidly deteriorating foreign affairs to the still-sputtering economy to all those scandals of bureaucratic bumbling that keep popping up, it will be hard for the Democrats to make a winning argument no matter how much money the unions pump in or how many inches of attacks the press write. The Republicans will be hard-pressed to blow it, but some of them seem determined to pull it off.

— Bud Norman

What’s Bugging the Republicans

The young folks might not believe it, but way back in the ‘70s illegal electronic eavesdropping on a political office was considered a very big deal. When some men were caught doing it on behalf of President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign it was all anybody could talk about. The television networks ran the congressional hearings on the matter instead of soap operas and game shows, and in the dark days before cable that meant everyone had to watch, minor players became major celebrities, books were published, a Hollywood movie with big-name stars was made, and Nixon wound up resigning in disgrace with his party was so tarnished that Jimmy Carter wound up as president.
This largely forgotten episode was brought to mind Tuesday by Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell’s allegation that his political office has been “bugged,” as the ‘70s-era lingo would have it. A Federal Bureau of Investigation probe has reportedly just been launched and as of yet there is no officially sanctioned truth to the allegation, but neither is there any other apparent explanation for how an audio tape of a campaign strategy session conducted in McConnell’s office wound up in the hands of the far-left Mother Jones magazine. Even if the worst-case scenario is proved true it is unlikely to become such an all-consuming story as the Watergate scandal once was, but given the past standards that inspired so many of today’s press one would expect some attention to be paid to even the most innocuous possibilities.
Mother Jones and much of the rest of the press seem more scandalized by what’s on the tape, however, instead of how it was acquired. The tape captures McConnell and his staff discussing how they might respond to a potential challenge by the motion picture actress Ashley Judd, which is apparently shocking conduct at a campaign strategy session, and they even compound the horror by considering pointing out flaws in her character and political positions. One aide goes so far as to suggest they make an issue of her past mental breakdowns and other psychiatric problems, information he acquired by reading her autobiography. Judd eventually decided to not run for Senate in her long-abandoned home state, presumably on the advice of more seasoned Democrats who advised her that a far-left Hollywood with outspoken views against guns and coal and other beloved Kentucky values who brings a “psychological support dog” to interviews was unlikely to win in a staunchly conservative state that had recently elected the likes of McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul, no matter how memorable her many nude scenes, but it was still outrageous to the refined sensibilities of Mother Jones that McConnell would ever even contemplate saying anything unfavorable about her.
Certainly the people at that “bugged” Democratic National Committee headquarters back in the ‘70s would have never been caught uttering an unkind word about Nixon, or at least that was the impression one got from all that wall-to-wall Watergate coverage back in the day. The only story then was that political operatives had illegally eavesdropped on an opponent’s conversations, and it was considered so abhorrent that even such stalwart Republicans as McConnell now use the term “Nixonian” to disparage the practice. This time around the outrage will probably be relatively muted, and McConnell’s stalwart Republicanism is likely the reason why.

— Bud Norman