In Defense of Rep. Amash and a Very Few Other Republican Apostates

Way back in our high school and college days we passionately participated in scholastic debate tournaments, and although it was considered a nerdish pursuit by most of our classmates it had a lasting salutary influence on the way we look at politics. The sport taught to us to consider political questions with a dispassionate objectivity, carefully weighing the logic of the arguments made by both sides and the validity of the evidence presented, then considering the counter-arguments for any fallacies or false facts that had been presented.
Debates aren’t always won according to these gentlemanly and scholarly rules, of course, even in a scholastic debate tournament and especially in the rowdier and more low-brow public arena. We remember winning a match where our partner argued that there was no need to ban supersonic airliners because they’re flying too fast to cause air pollution, and also recall losing several rounds to even more preposterous arguments. During the last Republican presidential debates the failed casino mogul Donald Trump was declared the victor over Princeton University’s former national collegiate debate champion and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz with nothing but ad hominem attacks and outright falsehoods, and boasted to the press that Cruz wasn’t so tough when the rules allowed for rude and insulting interruptions of his carefully crafted arguments.
Even so, we’d like to think that questions of the utmost public interest can still be settled by facts and logic and respectfully deliberative debate. Which at long last brings us to the current acrimonious “twitter” debate between President Donald Trump and Republican Michigan Rep. Justin Amash.
Trump is by far the more famous of the two, we must admit, but this Amash fellow strikes us as pretty formidable. He’s in his third term representing Grand Rapids and the rest of western Michigan’s third district, and has earned a reputation as a penny-pinching libertarian who will occasionally defy Republican party leadership on matters of Republican principles, even going so far as to vote against spending bills that continue to ratchet up the national debt and to object to trade policies that burden his district with retaliatory tariffs. That was bad enough for some Republican tastes, but a couple of days ago he so far as to agree some with some of the damned Democrats that Trump has engaged in impeachable conduct.
The talking heads on the Trump-friendly networks and radio talk shows and internet “podcasts” all exploded, naturally, but our ears were open to Amash’s arguments, and we found them persuasive. He started off with a succinctly “tweet”-sized statement of “principal conclusions,” which included that: Attorney General William Barr mislead the public about the report by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russian government interference in the last presidential election; the report indicates Trump committed impeachable offenses by attempting to interfere with the investigation; that “Partisanship has eroded our system of checks and balances”; and that “Few members of Congress have read the report.”
Having followed all this stuff with a nerdish obsession we find it hard to argue with a single word Amash wrote, and at this point in the “twitter” wars are glad to see anyone laying out plausible arguments rather than misspelled screeds, and even more heartened to see that Amash correctly wrote “principal” rather “principle,” which even we had to confirm was correct.
Trump had no problem formulating a response, however, quickly “tweeting” that Amash was “a total lightweight who opposes me and some of our great Republican ideas and policies just for the sake of getting his name out there through controversy. If he actually read the biased Mueller Report, ‘composed’ by 18 angry Democrats who hated Trump … he would say that it was nevertheless strong on NO COLLUSION and, ultimately, NO OBSTRUCTION … Anyway, how do you Obstruct when there is no crime and, in fact, the crimes were committed by the other side? Justin is a loser who sadly plays right into our opponents hands!”
Trump’s die fans will surely find it convincing, and gloat that “at least he fights,” but by ingrained habit we glumly note that Trump never seems to fight back except with ad hominem fallacies and unsubstantiated claims. Amash might seem a “lightweight” and “loser” compared to the far more famous and wealthy Trump, but that does’t mean he’s wrong, and he seems to have the better argument. In subsequent “tweets,” all written in “tweet-sized” but according to the Queen’s pristine English and old-fashioned rules of rhetoric, he correctly noted that the Mueller reported cited several lied-about-under oath contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian operatives, at least 10 instances where Trump unsuccessfully tried to quash any further investigation into those contacts. The report then made clear it was constrained by Justice Department guidelines from seeking indictments, and plainly left it up to the damned Democrats and the rare maverick Republican in Congress to decide if any of that constitutes the “high crimes and misdemeanors” that the Constitution considers impeachable offenses. So far, so far as we can tell, Trump and his die-hard fans have no answer but schoolyard taunts and substantiated claims that his critics should be hanged for treason.
We don’t find it convincing, and although Amash is taking the sucker’s route along the high road in the debate we’ll say on his behalf that neither is any of the rest of Trump’s typically illiterate “tweet.”
For one thing, Amash seems admirably on board with what we’ve long considered the great Republican ideas and policies. He’s voted more often than not with what Trump wants, and more impressively has a 99 percent rating with the Club for Growth, a 94 percent rating from Americans for Prosperity, 87 percent with the American Conservative Union, and 85 percent with Heritage Action for America, and there’s no denying he’s better on budget deficits than Trump ever pretended to be. If Trump wants to call him a publicity seeker, which is pretty much the perfect example of the pot calling the kettle black, Amash can convincingly claim he’s chosen a principled way of getting attention.
Amash’s “tweets” have already provoked a primary challenge from a Michigan legislator who describes himself as a “pro-Trump, pro-life, pro-jobs, pro-Second Amendment, pro-family values Republican.” Trump very narrowly won Michigan’s electoral votes in the last election, and is behind in the state polls against all the leading Democratic candidates at the moment, but his inevitable endorsement of Amash’s challenger will surely have some weight in a 2020 Republican primary. Amash is by no means anti-life or anti-jobs or anti-Second Amendment or anti-family values, and especially in that last category we have doubts about how committed Trump is to any of these causes, but these days being anti-Trump is a problem for almost any Republican anywhere, and after winning three elections we’re sure Amash knows that.
The 2020 primary is still more than a year away, though, and there’s always a chance that by that point Amash will be able to proudly campaign as one of the few Republicans who was willing to stand up to Trump. Maybe not, and probably not, but at some point in the further future we expect that principled Republicanism will make a comeback, either before or after the country goes as bankrupt as a Trump casino, and that Amash will have standing to make the arguments. None of Amash’s Republican colleagues have endorsed his views, but for the most part they’ve declined to condemn them, and on both sides of the aisle most of these weather-watching politicians seem to be hedging their bets.

— Bud Norman

Another Trip to a Republican Primary

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

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

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

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

— Bud Norman

An Ordinary Flap in an Extraordinary Year

The Republican presidential campaign of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz committed one of those unforced errors the other day, and it’s a doozy. A high-ranking staffer “tweeted” his outraged reaction to an erroneous report in a college newspaper that rival Florida Sen. Marco Rubio had casually disparaged the Holy Bible, the story was quickly retracted, the high-ranking staffer was quickly fired, and there was much indignation from Rubio and some inevitable snarky “tweeting” from the front-running Donald J. Trump, and at the very least it’s a whole news cycle that Cruz did not need at this moment in his beleaguered campaign.
In an ordinary election an apology and a sacrificial firing would probably suffice, and after a day or two of press flagellation that matter would be long forgotten, but this is no ordinary election for Cruz. His hard-earned tough-guy anti-establishmentarian image has made him a target of the “establishment,” or whatever remains of it, but so far he’s gone only one-for-three against the tough-guy anti-establishmentarianism of a boastful billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television mogul who also boasts he can make the right deals with whatever’s left of the “establishment.” Despite his Baptist preacher’s son credentials he’s even losing a lot of the evangelical Christian to a thrice-married gambling mogul who mocks the handicapped and boasts about all the married women he’s bedded and really did try to have an old widow thrown out of her home, and now he’s forced to publicly apologize to Rubio, who was virtually tied with him for second place in South Carolina and is suddenly the darling of the not inconsiderable number of Republicans who are starting to think that maybe an “establishment” isn’t the worst thing that can happen to their party.
So both of Cruz’s rivals in what is shaping up as a three-way race stand to benefit, and perhaps even beyond the news cycle. Both Trump and Rubio have been relentlessly questioning Cruz’s honesty, and although their accusations have often been lies some of it is bound to stick after a while, so admitting that a campaign has even inadvertently spread a falsehood does not help. It’s not the first time, either, after another staffer passed along an erroneous report from the Cable News Network that fading rival Dr. Ben Carson was dropping out of the race just before Cruz won a crucial victory in the Iowa caucus, which the second-place Trump was happy to claim was a theft of his rightful victory, and they also sent out those awful letters telling people they’ve checked on their voting records, and there’s been enough of it unsettle some potential supporters. The incident also raises the question of why Cruz would have hired a high-ranking staffer who wasn’t suspicious of a college newspaper report claiming that such a savvy politician as Rubio, of all people, had disparaged the Holy Bible, of all things, and in front of Cruz’s Baptist preacher father and his own young son and one of those ubiquitous cell phone cameras at that.
We don’t doubt the sincerity of Cruz’s apology, and we’re sure that he had no intention of questioning another candidate’s faith, and we wish this were an ordinary election where that would suffice, but this crazy time around the apology is probably the worst of the damage done. Trump has openly questioned Cruz’s faith, and he once regaled an Iowa crowd by ridiculing Carson’s biographical story of overcoming a childhood temper through prayer and Christian faith, saying he was still “pathological” and akin to a pedophile, even though he did later wax indignant about what Cruz did to his good friend in passing along that erroneous CNN report, and he never apologizes, just as he never apologizes for disparaging women’s looks or mocking handicapped people or belittling American servicemen who suffered wartime captivity for their country or using the most vulgar language in front of the old women and young children, and this time around about one-third of the Republican electorate seems to love him for it. Not acknowledging or apologizing for an obvious mistake, apparently, is what it takes to make America great again.
Which leaves the aggrieved Rubio as perhaps the biggest beneficiary from this campaign brouhaha. He still has a lot of ‘splainin’ to do — as fellow Cuban-American Desi Arnaz used to say — about that crazy immigration deal he cooked up with those dastardly Democrats, which raises questions about his own honesty and competence, but there are honesty and competence questions about everyone. We could go on all day posing questions about it to Trump, and perhaps even longer about either of the potential Democratic nominees, but for at least a news cycle Rubio has an edge over the other guy that will meet Trump in a two-way race. We’d like to see whichever victor emerges go into that matchup without being too bloodied by the preliminaries, and hope that Trump suffers a few more slips he’s forced to not apologize for, but everybody needs to improve their game.

— Bud Norman

The 45 Percent Solution

We’ve been poring over all the recent numbers from the Republican presidential race, trying to decide if the party’s metaphorical glass is one third-empty or two-thirds full. In either case, it’s not at all where we’d hoped it would be.
There’s no longer any way of denying that the front-runner is Donald J. Trump, the billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul, which most certainly is not what we’d hoped for. After a double-digit win in the supposed anti-insurgent “firewall” state of South Carolina he’s two-for-three in actual voting, and following an even bigger win in New Hampshire and a respectable second-place in Iowa, and with similar leads in national and upcoming state polls, he’s looking formidable.
Still, we are not yet ready to abandon all hope. As formidable as Trump might seem, he’s only got 61 of the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination, there are still 47 states and some territories yet to vote, and thus far Trump seems stuck at the two-thirds plurality that has provided him two seeming landslides in a seven-way race. Given that the Republican front-runner is regarded unfavorably by most Republicans, and fares even worse than Hillary Clinton among the general public, which is saying something, he’ll have to find something pretty outrageous to bolster that total in a two-or-three-way race.
Trump has already bounced former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush out of the race, which deprives him of a favorite scapegoat for that darned establishment that folks are so riled up about these days, and which deprives him of the tens of millions of dollars that Bush and his supporters were for some reason spending on attack ads against Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who wound up in a virtual tie with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in South Carolina. It’s hard to imagine anyone who preferred Bush switching his support to Trump, and if Rubio had added most of Bush’s numbers to his own, which he would have, since he’s stuck with that darned “establishment” label at this point, and if he could have picked up the votes of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who took second in New Hampshire and is still hanging in after a shellacking in South Carolina, with more to come, it would have been a win for Rubio in South Carolina. If Dr. Ben Carson had gracefully bowed out most of his votes would have likely gone to Cruz, who relishes the same iconoclastic trouble-maker reputation as Trump and makes the same pitch to evangelical Christians, many of whom for some reason or another prefer the thrice-married and proudly adulterous gambling mogul, so Cruz might have also contended in a three-way race.
The race might not winnow down to two or three by the time the delegates start piling up, which is soon, but if it does come down to Trump and Rubio and Cruz almost anything could happen. There will be some very close races in several states, with Trump’s accusations of cheating and threats of lawsuits following any narrow loss, either Rubio or Cruz could commit some disaster blunder that will derail his candidacy, although at this point we do discount the possibility that even a threatened shooting on Fifth Avenue will knock Trump below that two-third margin, and so anyone who gets very far past that two-thirds mark could win a clear plurality of the primary and caucus votes.
Anything less than 45 percent, an elusive Nielsen rating that has thus far proved beyond the grasp of even Trump, might not be enough to get to the still far-away number of 1,237 delegates. If you don’t have that you don’t win on the first ballot, and on the second ballot all the delegates are free to do whatever they want, and it’s and old-fashioned convention from way back even before our time. Trump’s mastery of “The Art of the Deal” will be sorely put to test as he deals with at least a majority of Republican delegates who are pretty much the same “establishment” that Trump has promised to tar and feather, even if they do want Cruz, who has been denounced as a “liar” and “nasty guy” by Trump, and if it comes to that it will be the first reality television show in ages that she’s been glued to.
It could wind up with Trump versus Clinton, the former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and presumptive First Woman President of the United States whose reputation for honesty and integrity is as abysmal as Trump’s and who seems to have vaunted herself back into the Democratic party’s front-runner status with an inexplicable win in a convoluted and small turn-out Nevada caucus. Both the left and the right and especially that mushy middle are all so riled up about big donor fat cats and corruptible politicians and those know-it-alls who think they know how to run an entire are about to have a choice between one of those big donor fat cats and one of the corruptible politicians that he’s paid off with big bucks and public praise and an invitation to his latest wedding, both of them have plenty of red-flag career catastrophes in their past, both offer themselves as models of competence and high moral standards, and that might be the choice.
In which case, we are reminded of an old Woody Allen commencement speech bit, where he told the students: “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

— Bud Norman

On the Darkest Day, and the Days After

The news usually takes a holiday around Christmastime, and thus far we’re relieved to see that this year is no exception to the rule. We can’t quite break our yearlong writing habit, however, so we’ll briefly note the significant fact that the winter solstice occurred early this morning.
We don’t attach any pagan sort of significance to the event, but we’re always happy to see it arrive nonetheless. As the old song says, it’s a long, long way from May to December, but the days grow short when you reach September, and it starts a slow and dreary slide into the darkness of winter, and while there’s still plenty of darkness and cold left until that long awaited vernal equinox it’s good to know that at least from now until the arrival of that gloriously sunlit summer solstice the days will grow imperceptibly yet incrementally longer. This astronomical certainty somehow heartens us, even as we glumly consider everything else we might write about.
The news is still out there, of course, even if the newsmen and newswomen are polite enough and preoccupied enough with personal matters to pay it as little attention as possible. There’s still the matter of whether a “Santa Claus rally” will soothe the stock markets’ recent freakout about an interest rate hike that can only be measured with a micrometer, and what that says about an economy that’s sputtering into a seventh straight Christmas shopping season of sluggish growth and stagnant wages. There are still at least few hundred million crazy people around the world who are trying to kill us, too, and that ongoing debate about how many of them we should welcome in our country as honored guests. The President of the United States assures us that none of it is quite so alarming as the threat of anthropogenic global warming and attributes any discomfort Americans might have about all this to cable news and racism, even as he prepares to take a carbon-spewing jet ride to Hawaii for another lavishly taxpayer-funded vacation, and the two front-runners in the ongoing contest to replace him are a man who sounds suspiciously like your drunk neighbor and a woman who makes Lucretia Borgia look like one of those Little Sisters of the Poor who are being forced by federal law to purchase contraception coverage in their mandated insurance plans.
Put it all together and it seems like the darkest day, but there’s something almost astronomical about these news cycles. Starting today the sunset comes about a minute later, so in a mere ten days there’s an extra ten minutes, and a month from now provides a whole half-hour of extra daylight. Just a month or so from now the Iowa caucus might reshape the Republican race, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation might even come down on that Borgia-esque woman in the Democrat race, and although you’d never know it by what they teach in American history these days the country has been through dark days before and found its way back to sunshine. Just three days from now is an even more significant date, when we’ll join with family to celebrate the age-old good news that still trumps all the bad, and in the meantime we will be hopeful.

— Bud Norman

Romney Rides Again

The Washington press is abuzz that Mitt Romney seems poised for another run at the presidency, but we wonder how many of the people who will be voting in the Republican primaries and caucuses share the excitement.
There’s no wondering why the press is excited. The investment mogul and former Massachusetts governor and past Republican nominee adds a familiar name to to their too-early-to-read campaign reports full of little-known governors and congressional long shots, sets up an intriguing storyline about the inevitable fight for big-money donors and the party establishment’s support against a former Florida governor with the familiar last name of Bush, and otherwise serves a favorite press narrative about top hat-wearing and moustache-twirling plutocratic Republicans and their internecine battle with the tin foil hat-wearing conservative crazies. Romney will also be a legitimate contender for the nomination, given all that big-donor money and establishment support and the fact he was once palatable enough to the people who vote in Republican primaries and caucuses to become the past nominee, so there are even valid journalistic reasons for the attention being paid.
Presidential re-runs are not unprecedented, of course. In the early 1800’s Charles Pinckney was twice the candidate of the Federalist Party, losing both times, which helps explain why there is no longer a Federalist Party. Grover Cleveland won, lost, then won again for the Democrats in the late 1880s. William Jennings Bryan won the Democratic nomination three times in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with his brand of prairie populism, and lost the general election in each case. Thomas Dewey was twice the Republican nominee in the ’40s and twice the loser to Franklin Roosevelt, and Adlai Stevenson was twice the Democratic nominee in the ’50s and twice the loser to Dwight Eisenhower. Nixon was the Republican nominee in ’60 and lost but came back “tanned, rested, and ready” to win in ’68, so unless you remember how that turned out the record isn’t entirely gloomy.
There were those polls a while back showing that Romney would have won a re-match with President Barack Obama, too, and the next batch of surveys will no doubt show that he has a lead on all the candidates whose names are being thrown in the mix. Whoever survives the early blows between Romney and Bush will have the “establishment” support to himself while a wide field of contenders are still battling for “conservative” bloc, and that does provide a plausible plot for the Romney scenario. Money and organization and professional expertise matter, as well, and Romney will have plenty of them. There’s also an argument to be made that he would be a good president, and we proudly made the argument that he would have been better than Barack Obama, and that also matters even if it won’t be a part of the press narrative.
All of that will earn Romney a look from Republicans, but we expect it will be quite skeptical. A more robustly conservative candidate running an effective national campaign could have beaten Obama at any point in the last two years, which Romney failed to do when he had the chance, and that lead you see in the next batch of polls is over a group of more conservative Republicans that have not yet announced their candidacy much less launched a campaign. Among those little-known governors and congressional long shots are some impressive candidates, and they comprise a field far more formidable than Romney faced last time around.
Texas’ Gov. Rick Perry imploded with poor campaigning after a surgery and the weight of the deals he had made on immigration to win a crucial share of the Latino vote in his home state, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was tarred by personal scandals and lobbying ties and the years of vituperation by the left, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum couldn’t resist being lured into divisive social issues, former pizza magnate and future talk show host Herman Cain had a sex scandal, “tea party” favorite Rep. Michelle Bachmann dropped out early on, promising former Minnesota Gov. Tom Pawlenty dropped out for no apparent reason even earlier, and the likable and competent Romney suddenly seemed the best shot. This time he’ll face the likes of Gov. Scott Walker, who has won three elections to serve two astoundingly successful terms despite the most furious efforts of the Democratic left, Governors Rick Snyder and John Kasich of Michigan and Ohio, respectively, who have won re-election in their crucial states with the same sort of conservative policies, as well as a fully-recovered Perry who managed to demonstrate his anti-illegal immigration bona fides before leaving office, and the likes of Kentucky’s Sen. Rand Paul and Texas’ Sen. Ted Cruz, who have shown the sort of boldness conservatives desire on economic issues and represent the polar ends of a crucial intra-party debate on foreign policy.
Any candidate that emerges from that field should be able to win the nomination. Our guess is that the Romney will win the fight with Gov. Jeb Bush for the “establishment” mantle, given that Bush has irrevocable positions on illegal immigration and that horrible “Common Core” curriculum that the federal wants to impose on local education systems that are anathema to all but the wealthiest Republicans, but the Washington press doesn’t seem to understand that “establishment” is now a most foul epithet among the people who vote in Republican primaries and caucuses. The intense scrutiny that the other contenders have already endured suggests there won’t be scandals to knock any of them out of the race, and they’ll have strong arguments to make about Obamacare and regulations and taxes and getting the government out of the way that the technocratic Romney will have trouble countering. He’s a legitimate contender, but by no means a front-runner.
We might be proved wrong, of course, in which case our only consolation is in knowing that Romney would be a better candidate than anyone the Democrats might put up.

— 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

Playing Out the String, Sloppily

Even the most avid sports fans tend to pay less attention to the regular season scores after their team has clinched a playoff spot, and even the most dedicated political buffs often stop checking the primary results after the nominations are locked up. In both cases they might be missing something important, because a late slump by a complacent team can carry over into the post-season and a relatively weak showing in the late primaries can reveal weaknesses that might harm a candidate in a general election.

Tuesday night’s largely ignored primaries in Kentucky and Arkansas illustrate the point. Presumptive nominees Mitt Romney and Barack Obama won their respective parties’ contests, as expected, but a closer examination of the box scores reveals some interesting problems for both men.

In the Kentucky primary Romney finished more than 54 points ahead of his closest competitor, the famously stubborn Ron Paul, but only garnered about 67 percent of the total votes in a four-way race. The results were similar in Arkansas, where Romney took about 69 percent of all the votes, with Paul and fellow also-ran Rick Santorum picking up about 13 percent each. Given that all of Romney’s competitors have stopped campaigning, and even offered mild and begrudging endorsements of Romney, the numbers suggest that the all-but-certain Republican nominee still needs to arouse some enthusiasm among the party’s hard-core conservative base, especially in the South.

More notable, though, were the scores on the Democratic side. In Arkansas, Obama lost about 40 percent of the vote to a quadrennial crank candidate named John Wolfe, and in Kentucky he lost 42 percent of the vote to “uncommitted.” Coming just two weeks after an embarrassing showing in the West Virginia primary, where Obama lost 37 percent of the vote to a candidate currently serving time in a federal prison, the results suggest that a sizeable minority of Democrats are not satisfied with their party’s nominee.

The Obama campaign and its allies in the news media will do their part to ensure that the primaries remain largely ignored, and for those who do take notice they’ll downplay the results as peculiar to small redneck states that aren’t going to vote for the president’s re-election anyway, but it’s impossible to argue convincingly that such large numbers of defectors don’t represent a problem. There are Democratic rednecks in every state, after all, and even in such respectable jurisdictions as New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Maryland the president hasn’t topped the 90 percent threshold that is to be expected for an incumbent president running against nominal or even non-existent competition.

After all the talk about the hard-fought Republican primary, the Democrats suddenly seem the less united party.

Those die-hard Republicans who continue to insist on voting for Paul, Santorum, Newt Gingrich, or any of the other conservative also-rans aren’t going to cast a vote for Obama. A few of them will stay home on election day, but we expect that the looming possibility of a second Obama term will be sufficient to get most of them to the polls to vote for Romney. Those Democrats who voted for a felon, a crank candidate, and “uncommitted,” on the other hand, might very well be persuaded to vote Romney.

— Bud Norman

When a Win is a Win

Every now and then the car radio scans past one of the sports talk stations, usually in the middle of a caller heaping such scathing criticism on a team’s performance in a recent contest that the listener is surprised to learn he’s talking about the victor. The day-after news reports on the Michigan and Arizona primaries had a similar tone.

Mitt Romney won both halves of Tuesday’s double-header, one of them by a large margin, but listening to the nit-picking of many of the pundits one might have mistaken him for the ’72-’73 Philadelphia 76ers or the ’62 New York Mets.

The former Massachusetts governor’s 20 point victory in Arizona went largely unmentioned, presumably because there was little fault to be found in it, while all of the critical attention was focused on Michigan. Because Romney was born and reared in the state, and his father was once its governor, his three point victory there over former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum was widely considered a woeful underperformance.

This analysis overstates Romney’s “favored son” advantage, we think. If Michiganders are anything like Kansans they’re no doubt inclined to feel a bit insulted that someone would desert their beloved state, especially for a place like Massachusetts, and George Romney was the governor a long, long time ago. It is worth noting that Romney lagged in the polls until his advertising stopped touting his past ties to Michigan and began emphasizing his solutions to the state’s present problems.

The critics also understate Santorum’s advantages in the state. Santorum belongs to that exceedingly rare species of Big Labor Republicans, and Michigan is a state so heavily unionized that even the Republicans are members. Despite the old media’s insistence that Santorum only talks Satan and birth control, Santorum’s campaign has long stressed an economic plan to bolster manufacturing, a subject dear to most of the workers in the state, and among the farmers who comprise the rest of the state’s workforce the talk of Satan and birth control apparently played well. The popular perception of Santorum as more blue collar and less blue blooded than Romney should have been enough for a victory in a state such as Michigan, grease-stained hands are de rigueur.

Given Romney’s home field disadvantage, the win seems at least good enough. Although he wound up splitting the delegates with Santorum due to the state’s proportional distribution rules, Romney at the very least staved off the denunciations that would have surely ensued had he actually lost the Michigan primary, and at best it strengthened his claim to most-electable status going into next week’s important “Super Tuesday” contests.

Those sports talk callers like to repeat the late football mogul Al Davis’ famous admonition to “just win, baby,” and it seems apt here.

— Bud Norman