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The Primary Concerns of a Convoluted Age

West Virginia’s Republican Party will choose its Senate nominee in a primary election today, and it makes for an interesting contest. The race features the state’s Attorney General, Patrick Morrisey, and the state’s current Third Congressional District Rep. Evan Jenkins, both of whom are by all accounts the sort of solid but boring conservative Republicans the Grand Old Party once prided itself on, as well as Don Blankenship, a brash and blunt-spoken business mogul and political neophyte who is self-funding a quixotic campaign despite the sorts of scandals that used to derail a Republican primary campaign.
In the age of President Donald Trump it shouldn’t be surprising that Blankenship has a slight lead in the public opinion polls on Election Day, even though his scandals include the year he served in a federal prison for his coal mining company’s violations of worker safety laws that resulted in a mine explosion and the death of 29 coal miners.
Republican majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell has directed his party’s congressional campaign fund to sink some six-figure expenditures into advertisements opposing Blankenship’s campaign, but Blankenship has doled out even more money for ads deriding McConnell as “Cocaine Mitch” and disparaging his Chinese-American wife and her “China person” relatives, claiming the year he served in prison on worker safety charges was a “deep state” conspiracy,” and has relished the opprobrium of the party’s hated Republican establishment. Meanwhile the Democrats have been spending their money attacking both of Blankenship’s more solid but boring conservative Republican opponents, sensing an easier kill, and the opprobrium of the entire hated political establishment explains his slight lead in the polls.
By Monday even Trump had “tweeted” his advice that West Virginian Republicans vote for one of the other two solid but boring conservative Republicans. It wasn’t because of Blankenship’s business decisions that had resulted in the death of 29 coal miners, nor because of the blatantly racist slurs against McConnell’s Chinese-American wife, who Trump had appointed as his Transportation Secretary despite his own crusades against McConnell and the rest of the rest of the hated Republican establishment, but because he’d concluded that Blankenship “can’t win.” Blankenship responded that he was even “Trumpier than Trump,” and given the Republican party’s current disdain for the entirety of the political order that might win him a nomination.
After a Republican primary in Alabama resulted in the nomination of an unapologetic theocrat and and convicted felon and credibly accused child molester, Trump had offered a full-throated endorsement of said nominee and suffered the embarrassment of eking out a win in that once-reliably Republican state, and he seems to have learned his lesson. Whoever wins the nomination in West Virginia will be up against unopposed Democratic incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin, who’s as hellbent on coal-mining at whatever the costs as Trump or Blankenship or any other Republican, and has been Trumpy enough on all the rest of the Trump agenda to offend all the Democrats in the other 49 states, At this point, even those solid but boring conservative West Virginia Republicans who still have a shot at winning their party;s nomination seem unlikely to add to the Republicans’ razor-thin majority in the upcoming mid-term elections.
Meanwhile, Indiana’s Republicans have an almost as complicated choice in today’s Senatorial primary, and the upcoming primary in Arizona to replace the admirably solid and boring conservative but not at all Trumpy and therefore retiring Sen. Jeff Flake features a former local Sheriff and current frontrunner who was pardoned by Trump for violating the Fourth and Ninth and 13th Amendment rights of that city’s longstanding and largely Republican Latino population, and has recently been praised as a champion of law and order by the previously boring but solidly solidly Republican Vice President of the United States. Around the rest of the rest of the country, even here in our usually reliable Republican Fourth District of Kansas the solidly conservative but boring sorts of Republicans or even the more Trumpy types seem in for a tough general election fight.
The Democrats are as bad as ever, as far as we’re still concerned, even that Manchin fellow in West Virginia. Despite and perhaps because of our longstanding Republicanism we’ll advise both our Democratic and Republican friends in any old state to vote for the most boring and establishment type they find on their party’s primary ballots, and hope the center holds despite all the craziness that has been unleashed in both parties in the age of Trump.

— Bud Norman

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Biden Backs Off From the Future

Vice President Joe Biden finally got around to saying that he won’t enter the presidential race on Wednesday, which happened to be the very same day that Marty McFly time-traveled to in that old “Back to the Future” flick, so we were once again reminded of our limited powers of prophecy.
If we were the gambling sort we’d have bet good money, if we had any, that Biden’s candidacy was a sure thing. He has at least the typical politician’s ambition for the ultimate job and the usual vanity to think he deserves it, the Democratic field seems weaker this time around than during any of his numerous earlier attempts at the presidency, and he could have expected President Barack Obama’s implicit endorsement as well as his still-formidable funding-raising prowess and still-intact campaign organization. At least we didn’t predict back in the ’80s that kids would be scooting around on hover-skateboards and holographic sharks would be eating passersby and you could still find a newspaper rack on every corner at this point in history, among the other glaring things the “Back to the Future” filmmakers got conspicuously wrong, but we still must humbly concede that we once again blew another one of our own more short-term predictions.
Much of the rest of the media, somehow unchastened by their own sorry records of prognostication, persist in reading the tea leaves of Biden’s announcement to reveal the future well before any reasonable deadline would require it. The consensus of prophetic pundit opinion on both the left and the right seems to be that without Biden’s interference the inevitable coronation of former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will now proceed as planned all along, and that the public will go along with it, barring her being indicted on federal felony charges or some other hiccup, and it sounds plausible enough that even if we had any money we wouldn’t bet against it. We marvel that would anyone wager some valuable as a reputation on it, though, given how many other things might happen.
A felony indictment or some similarly serious hiccup is not out of the question, after all. The administration Clinton once served as Secretary of State hasn’t seemed at all interested in restraining the ongoing investigations, or the anonymous quotes from highly placed administration sources about it, and even without Biden being the administration’s dog in the fight it has little reason to be any more helpful. Even if the press and her Democratic rivals succeed in squelching the e-mail scandal here’s still all the conflicts of moonlighting interests among her top aides, and the donations by foreign nations to her family foundation, and the four dead Americans who begged for her help in Benghazi, Libya, a matter she’ll be forced to answer for before a congressional committee this very day and which the press will be obliged to report on, not to mention all her Wall Street connections and Wal-Mart corporate board membership and other corporate ties that might terrify the Democratic base, or her famously libidinous husband’s flying around on a corporate jet to tropical paradises with a billionaire ephebophile, or any of the many other things always seem to be happening with someone named Clinton. She might yet survive it all, as always seems to be happening with someone named Clinton, but in our experience even the hottest streaks seem to eventually end.
Some gut instinct also seems to suggest that all those prophetic pundits, who tend to be cloistered inside the beltway of Washington, D.C., have once again not only overestimated Clinton’s inevitability but also underestimated the admittedly ineffable appeal of self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Among our circle of friends and acquaintances and Facebook posters there are far too many Democrats, and we can’t help noticing that almost all of them are enthusiastic about Sanders’ candidacy, and that the rare Clinton supporters seem conspicuously unenthused, and that pretty much everyone else in the middle of that great red splotch on the middle of the electoral map agrees she’s just about the most godawful woman ever, so she’s never seemed all that inevitable to us. These crazy mixed-up kids today don’t understand that “socialist” is a dirty word, either, just as they seem not to understand that any of the dirty words are dirty words, and their ironic hipness is such that they can embrace a Cranky Old Jewish Man as the new Cool Black Guy, and the press has been obliged to report that his crowds have been bigger and more enthused than Clinton’s almost everywhere for months now, which is eerily reminiscent of the last time that Clinton was prophesied as inevitable, so as much as we wish it weren’t so Sanders still strikes us as an ongoing possibility. A Biden candidacy would have split the “establishment” vote from Clinton in the primaries and with Obama’s implicit approval would have stolen many of her crucial black voters and drained little from the very enthused ranks of mostly-white Sanders supporters, and thus would likely have been a boon to Sanders, but even without that gift he still seems from our perspective at least a serious contender if not an outright front-runner.
A good Hollywood screenwriter would be able to concoct countless other possible scenarios, most of which would prove no more prophetic and far less profitable than that “Back to the Future” flick, and our best advice is to cover all the bets as if it were a metaphorical roulette table. The Trump card is still in play, too, to mix our gambling metaphors a bit, so the conjecture is further complicated. We have our rooting interests in all of this, or at least we’re trying to choose them from a few remaining options, but we note how often our rooting interests differs with the way things turn, so at this point we’re venturing no predictions, except that it will prove interesting. There won’t be any Biden in it, which will deny the news writers and screenwriters some much-needed comic relief, barring some post-indictment plot twist, but it will prove interesting nonetheless.

— Bud Norman

Kansas Lurks Back to Normalcy

The Kansas economy has lately been swelled by the expense accounts of big city newspaper reporters, as much of the national media have rushed to our usually overlooked state to cover its Senate race. There’s no wondering why there’s a national interest in the story, as it could wind up determining which party controls the Senate, and it provides some reason for the reporters to hope that it will  be the Democrats who somehow prevail, and it is a most intriguing tale. The latest developments are more hopeful to the Republicans, however, and even the most partisan presses seem to have noticed.
Ordinarily even the reporters in Wichita and Topeka wouldn’t get out of their newsrooms to cover a Senate race in Kansas, which hasn’t sent anything other than a Republican to Washington since that one time everyone lost their minds early in the New Deal and Dust Bowl days, but this is not an ordinary year. Long-time incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts has been around a long enough time to have found disfavor with the Republican party’s anti-incumbent mood, and he barely survived a challenge to a little known and under-funded and underwhelming neophyte with a Facebook scandal only because a couple of crank candidates split the majority of the party’s throw-the-bums-out vote. Roberts then went into a three-way general election adorned with the out-of-touch and out-of-state label stuck upon him in the primary, hoping that another split of the anti-Roberts vote would save him, but the Democrats went to court insisting that they shouldn’t be compelled to run a candidate just because their party had gone to the expensive trouble of nominating one, and it was suddenly plausible that a well-heeled and largely self-financed independent candidate who was running on an appealing platform of common sense solutions and bipartisanship would win. That the most reliably Republican state in the Union over the past century and a half might allow the Democrats to retain control of the Senate was a tantalizing possibility, and thus the influx of national media to Kansas.
What they’ve found, however, is an impressive all-out effort by the Republicans that casts doubt on the upset storyline. Local newscasts have been saturated with advertisements for Roberts, almost all of which make the essential point that a Republican loss could allow the Democrats to retain control of the Senate, complete with scary pictures of the wildly unpopular President Barack Obama. There are also radio ads that combat the unfortunately true charge from the primary that Roberts hasn’t had a legitimate Kansas residence for years by touting his Kansas birth and Marine service and twangy-gravelly voice and weather-beaten visage and generally conservative voting record to remind voters that he’s still a Kansas kind of guy. Our internet browsing keeps popping up ads from the National Rifle Association touting Robert’s support for Second Amendment rights, the spots running on the local right-wing talk radio stations sound tailored to the concerns of those staunch conservatives who might be tempted to stay at home rather than for a man whose lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union is a mere 86 percent, and such anti-establishment heroes as former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin have taken to the hustings to shore up the base. With the Democrats successfully suing in court to avoid the ignominy of a third place finish the anti-Roberts vote won’t be split, but that and the annoying minority of Kansas’ liberals full-throated support for the indendepent have made it easier to portray him as the de facto Democrat in a state where the Democrats are begging to be left of the ballot.
Meanwhile, independent Greg Orman’s campaign has seemed unready for both Roberts’ sudden aggressiveness and the inevitable scrutiny that falls upon a frontrunner even when he’s front-running against a Republican. At first he tried to dodge the question of whether he would caucus with the Democrats and potentially retain their control of the Senate, then said he’d join whichever side held a clear majority on his inauguration day, and is now trying out the line that it doesn’t much matter which party controls the Senate. He’s also dodged such obvious questions as whether he’d vote to repeal Obamacare, telling a random curious citizen at a small town parade that it’s an “interesting question,” and has otherwise been vague about what he considers a common sense and bipartisan solution on such issues as gun control and the XL Keystone Pipeline. He can’t deny his past campaign contributions to Obama and Democratic Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid and other hated Democrats, or his past attempt to run for Senate as a Democrat, or the loud support he’s getting from that annoying minority of liberals, and in his rebuttal ads he’s been reduced to saying that Roberts’ criticism of the Obama agenda is “only half right” and that an equal portion of blame should be allotted to those who oppose that agenda. The argument is likely to fall flat with the vast majority of Kansas who express disapproval of Obama, even if it resonates with those confounded low-information voters who don’t stop to think about such claims,  and if Orman has some third way that both parties will follow toward a golden age, he doesn’t explain it in these 30-second spots.
There’s still plenty of time left for an October surprise, and if it comes it will be during a most peculiar election season, but we sense that Kansas is turning back to its traditional Republican form.

— Bud Norman

Our Primary Duty

At some point today we will lace up our Converse All-Stars and walk the few blocks through our picturesque old neighborhood to the Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, where we will emphatically cast our votes in Kansas’ Republican primary. Voting is a favorite pastime of ours, right up there with minor league baseball and rock ‘n’ roll shows at sleazy dives and worship services at the West Douglas Church of Christ and the rest of the best of the glorious American heritage, so we never miss an opportunity.
Part of the fun is running into the liberal Democrat neighbors and friends whose votes we are gleefully canceling, but we don’t expect that many of them will bother to show up today. The Democratic party’s slate was pretty much pre-determined at a committee meeting last winter, where they seem to have concluded that this unfavorable election cycle doesn’t call for running any candidates who might come in handy at some later and more fortuitous time, so all the action is on the Republican side. Some of the Republican races have involved in much slinging of mud, a bit of which will stick to even the victor through the upcoming general election, and a few incumbents who would ordinarily cruise to re-election have been forced to dip into their campaign chests to stave off challenges from pesky insurgents,  but given the Republican mood in this Republican state these internecine squabbles should not prove a problem come November.
The most noteworthy challenges by pesky insurgents are an odd mix of politics by stereotype. There’s been some national attention paid to the senatorial race, where the facts rather neatly fit the press’ preferred narrative. Sen. Pat Roberts is about as establishment as one can get, having started his career in Washington a full 47 years ago as an aide to Sen. Frank Carlson, a name that only Kansans of a certain advanced age still associate with the the very establishment Kansas Republicanism of long ago, and he’s being challenged by Dr. Milton Wolf, a political neophyte best known but hardly known at all as a distant relative and vituperative critic of President Barack Obama and a radiologist who posted some of his patients’ x-rays on his Facebook page with sarcastic comments. We’ll still be debating the choice as we wander over to Gloria Dei, but at this point we’re leaning toward Roberts. He was always enjoyably salty company when we covered his previous perfunctory campaigns for major state newspaper, and although this Dr. Wolf fellow makes a pretty compelling case about the votes that Roberts and the rest of those longtime Washington guys have made over the past 47 years we don’t know him with the same familiarity. There’s a certain national talk radio host who will deride us as sell-out RINOs if we follow this instinct, but it’s such fun to hear him fulminate about establishment victories.
The state’s two contested congressional primaries turn the familiar narrative on its head. Here in the Fourth District, which is basically the relatively big city of Wichita and the relatively big town of Hutchinson and a lot of sparsely populated small towns and farmland, the impeccably conservative and unabashedly Tea Party incumbent Rep. Mike Pompeo is being challenged by his Bush-era predecessor, former Rep. Todd Tiahrt, who stepped down two terms ago to make an ill-fated stab at a Republican Senate nomination and now is arguing to get his old job back on the old promises of delivering federal spending and favorable “economic development” deals. We’ll march to Gloria Dei with enthusiasm for Pompeo, as we’ve promised the several campaign staffers who have called the house in the past few days, partly because we prefer his free market approach and partly because we find him the far more impressive individual. We hope this will placate that national radio host who fulminates against RINOs, and are fairly confident the majority of the Fourth District will reach the same conclusion.
Over in the First District, which is comprised by that huge empty place stretching from the Colorado border clear into northeastern Kansas, the race pits famously irascible Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who became a talk radio sensation and national Tea Party favorite with his full-throated rants about Obamaism, against the more politely Republican Alan LaPolice. The First is close enough to the Fourth that the political advertisements are permeating the local airwaves, and we note that LaPolice is trying to make hay of the fact that Huelskamp lost his seat on the Agriculture Committee by offending the more delicate sensibilities of House Speaker John Boehner and the rest of the RINO Republican leadership. It will be interesting to see how the Republican voters of the First District assess this, but we trust the judgement of a majority voters who can somehow live such enviable lives on the harsh high plains of western Kansas.
There’s an intriguing race between a deal-brokering Chamber of Commerce Republican and a stalwart stingy anti-government incumbent for the Fourth District Sedgwick County Commission seat, too, but that would probably exhaust your interest in our local politics. Suffice to say that we’re foursquare for the nay-saying skinflint, and will almost certainly wind up voting for the Republican in any case. These Democrats that the committee came up with are just awful, and even the most mud-soaked Republicans look good by comparison.

— Bud Norman

The Politics Around Here

Kansas holds a primary one week from today, and the state is already awash in politics. Yard signs are proliferating, the mailbox is full of fliers, the pitchmen for identity theft protection agencies and the guy from the Good Feet Store have been chased off the talk radio airwaves by campaign commercials, and some of the races are intriguingly nasty.
All of the action around here is on the Republican side, as usual. The state’s beleaguered Democrats always pick their candidates well in advance of the primary at some committee meeting or another, where a strange cabal of airplane plant union bosses and political science professors and some die-hard lefty activists left over from the good old Prairie Populist days take care not to choose anyone who might have a chance in the long-awaited favorable election cycle. There’s some faint hope of knocking off incumbent Governor Sam Brownback, a budget-cutting anti-abortion stalwart who is hated by the state’s Democrats with a red-hot fervor usually reserved for the likes of Dick Cheney or Sarah Palin, but the supposedly mainstream candidate they’ve come up with is not only a Democrat but also from Lawrence and will have a hell of a time explaining those embarrassing facts to the rest of the thoroughly Republican and decidedly non-college town state. Meanwhile, all the Republican races are being hotly contested between the go-along-to-get-along crowd and the tar-feather-and-pitchforks folks.
Even. Sen Pat Roberts, who has been winning elections in the state since it joined the Union just prior to the Civil War, has lately been forced to resort to some strenuously negative advertising to stave off a primary challenge by Kansas City-area radiologist and political neophyte Dr. Milton Wolf. Wolf’s shoestring campaign got off to a good start with free publicity about his distant family relation to President Barack Obama and scathing commentary on everything Obama has done, and picked up further free steam from media reports that Roberts hasn’t actually lived in the state for years, but was derailed through the summer by news accounts of how the kindly doctor had posted his patients’ x-rays on his Facebook page with darkly humorous commentary. Lately one of those anti-establishment Republican groups have taken to the airwaves with a compelling critique of all the debt and failed grand bargains that Roberts has voted for after so many decades of practical politics, and a prominent national talk radio host has championed Wolf’s cause, but Wolf’s name recognition remains low and he’s yet to make the case for himself. Wolf’s challenge is serious enough that Roberts is unaccustomedly spending campaign money on a primary, and we’re still undecided how we’ll cast our own vote, but our sense is that Roberts will survive and suffer little damage in what should be an easy general election campaign against whoever it is that the Democrats have already offered up as a human sacrifice.
The weakness of Wolf’s campaign should be taken into consideration when reading the inevitable stories about the establishment-versus-insurgents rift within the Republican, but other races indicate where the rift is actually occurring.
Here in the Fourth Congressional, which includes relatively densely-populated Wichita and the rest of relatively sparsely populated south-central Kansas, an incumbent who is still an impeccably insurgent sort even after two terms is being challenged his predecessor from the Bush-era of the Republican establishment. Former Rep. Todd Tiahrt always ran as a rock-ribbed Republican, and voted as one often enough to thrice win re-election, but to distinguish himself against his post-Tea Party opponent and explain his past spending votes he’s made an old-fashioned pitch to bring home the earmarked pork to the district in general and its key aviation industries in particular, with his ads making special mention of an “aviation zone” project that his opponent declined to fund. Rep. Mike Pompeo, the incumbent, has responded with spots arguing that the aviation industry needs to be freed from burdensome regulation rather than subsidized, touting his own proposed legislation to achieve that, and noting he is a successful aviation entrepreneur backed by all the titans of the local industry. Tiahrt still enjoys the loyalty of many of the substantial number of anti-abortion voters in the district, who played a key role in his initial upset victory and were always rewarded with his undying loyalty, but Pompeo’s voting record on abortion issues has not been faulted by any of the anti-abortion scorekeepers, and the Pompeo campaign has also been airing ads with religious right hero and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee extolling the incumbent’s solid family values. We’re solidly for Pompeo, partly because the top-of-his-class West Point grad and high tech business success strikes us as a far more intelligent fellow, but also because we’re more worried about paying off the debt than bringing home the bacon. Despite some recent tightening in the polls we’re still expecting most of the Republican voters in these parts will reach the same conclusion.
There’s no telling what stories the national media will tell about the Fourth District race, but at least they won’t embarrassed by any attention paid to Sedgwick County’s Fourth District Commission race. The battle between incumbent Commissioner Richard Ranzau and longtime state Sen. Carolyn McGinn is our favorite political pastime of the the summer, much as the Wichita Wingnuts’ campaign in the Double-A American Association is our current sports passion, and we like to think that both of these seemingly local concerns potentially portend the future of the United States of America. Any national media in search of a more rock-ribbed Tea Party insurgent anti-establishmentarian will find no one more closely resembling their favorite stereotypes than Ranzau, who has become locally famous by County Commission standards for voting “no” against almost everything. He’ll spend a Sedgwick Countian’s hard-earned tax money on water and roads and locking up the roustabouts and all of the few other things than even a Republican originalist such as Abraham Lincoln would have sanctioned a county commission doing, but when it comes to the rest of the hogwash that the do-gooders and the teachers’ unions cook up he’s been on the losing end of a lot of four-to-one or three-to-two votes. So principled is Ranzau in his stinginess that he has even voted against programs that would be paid for entirely by federal funds, a response to the nation’s $17 trillion dollar debt that the local media, machine Democrats, and even the more of Chamber of Commerce-y sorts of Republicans regard as utter madness. Ranzau could happily dine in the hippest bistros of San Francisco or New York or anywhere else outside Sedgwick County in complete anonymity, although the other customers would probably notice something suspiciously Sedgwick County Republican about his ill-fitting brown jacket, but among the polite opinion in Riverside and downtown and the other semi-fashionable portions of the Fourth District he’s as reviled as a Koch brother.
Running against Ranzaus and his outrages is McGinn, an exemplar of the more respectable sort of Republicanism that has prevailed in Kansas pretty much since the Reconstruction era. She can legitimately claim a fairly conservative voting record on spending in her ads, in which she proudly declares “I demand accountability,” but she also boasts of having the “courage” to vote for “investments” in the future of the county. We’ve covered enough economic-development conferences and hearings and bill-signings to recognize the reference to the same old eco-devo boondoggles that have become such an entrenched part of federal and state and county and local government it takes little courage to vote for them, so we’re inclined to to Ranzau’s and Pompeo’s preference for lower taxes and fewer regulations. McGinn seems a fine woman, conservative enough by the standards that prevailed through most of our lives in the Republican Party, and we don’t worry that Sedgwick County will perish by rule, but we’d like to see Ranzau’s underfunded re-election bid prevail. We enjoy taunting our more polite neighbors about him, much as we enjoy taunting them with our admiration for the Koch brothers, and would like the think the rest of the Republican party is just as serious as he’s been about the government’s proper roles..

— Bud Norman

Not Dead Yet

Two of the biggest stories in this week full of big news are little-known economics professor Dave Brat’s upset victory of Rep. Eric Cantor in a Virginia Republican congressional primary and the humanitarian crisis occurring inside the squalid makeshift detention camps in Arizona and Texas that are housing a recent flood of youthful illegal immigrants from Central America. Although separated by a couple thousand miles of America, the two stories are not unrelated.
Brat’s unprecedented primary victory over a House majority leader was caused by a number of factors, including a growing sense among the Republican’s conservative that its Congressional leadership has been too timid in resisting the president’s agenda and an occasionally successful insurgency by the “tea party” to make the GOP more conservative, but the issue of illegal immigration seems to have been the most important. Cantor had long been popular in the district, and was once a darling of the conservatives and a favored villain of the liberals for helping to maintain the party discipline that kept Obamacare from getting so much as a single Republican vote even at the height of the president’s popularity, and his occasional heresies and frequent caution since then would not ordinarily send such a high-ranking incumbent to defeat. Cantor had gone wobbly enough on the immigration issue to endorse amnesty for children, however, and although it wasn’t enough to placate the pro-immigration activists who stormed his headquarters after the race it was enough to lose a majority of his district’s Republican primary voters to a shoe-string campaign by a political novice who relentlessly stressed his longstanding call for strict border enforcement.
Several days of distressing headlines about the flood of children lured across the porous southwest border by that promise of amnesty to squalid, disease-ridden camps probably didn’t help Cantor’s cause. The fiasco hasn’t helped the broader pro-illegal immigration cause, either, and the conventional wisdom know holds that Cantor’s defeat will scare enough wobbly Republicans into line that the the slim chances of a “comprehensive immigration reform” bill being passed in the next two years have vanished. One can only hope this is true, but “comprehensive immigration reform” has more lives than movie monsters that keep crawling out of the grave and wobbly Republicans can just as easily be scared by the prospect of bad press and being called a racist by somebody. There won’t be any meaningful border enforcement for the next two years, no matter how successful Prof. Brat might prove, and the open borders faction won’t quit until those makeshift detention camps are popping up everywhere. They’re already spreading as far northeast as Massachusetts, and the issue already resonates as far east as central Virginia, but it’s nice to see a stiffening of the Republican spine.
The big upset also proves that there’s still some life left in that much-maligned “Tea Party” that has all the respectable folk riled up. This is good news, as the Republican spine needs stiffening on all the fiscal and economic and individual liberty issues that the movement espouses. They’ve taken their share of losses in the primaries thus far, but their winning percentage against far better-funded incumbents is nudging a lot of incumbents to the right and such a high-ranking scalp as Cantor’s will increase that salutary influence. This time around they also seem to be running better candidates who won’t make the rookie mistakes that cost winnable elections in the past, and Brat seems a particularly impressive nominee who should do well in the general election if the state and national party professionals are smart enough to donate a few extra shoestrings.

— Bud Norman

Remaking the GOP

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.

Similar uprisings are occurring within the Republican parties of other states, and have already knocked out some entrenched incumbents who became too comfortable with the ever-expansive politics as usual. The newly energized conservatives should eventually exert their influence from the bottom all the way to top of the ticket Republican, and could even prove a decisive factor in helping the reputedly moderate candidate that wound up with the party’s presidential nomination. The Democrats will be peddling the same old Roosevelt-era tax-and-borrow-and-spend policies while complaining that the Republicans are peddling the same old borrow-and-spend policies, but it should be apparent eventually that this isn’t the same old Grand Old Party of the long-ago Bush days.

— Bud Norman