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“Undoing The Extremism”: Will The GOP Get The Message In Kansas?

For many political observers, the question about Kansas these days is no longer, “What’s the matter?” so much as, “What the fuck?”

There was the unexpectedly close GOP Senate primary—three-term incumbent Pat Roberts wound up winning by 7 points—and the forced retirement of the Democratic Senate candidate; there’s the fact that Gov. Sam Brownback, whose average margin of victory in state-wide races is 23 points, is now fighting for his political life. Tom Frank made the state famous for illustrating how its citizens elected conservative candidates whose actual policies went against the voters’ economic self-interest; after one term of Brownback’s “Tea Party experiment,” Kansas voters seem to have enlightened their self-interest and want to undo the extremism that Brownback both promised and delivered. The question remains as to whether their Republican candidates will ever wise up to the same conclusion.

There’s no doubt that Brownback’s radically conservative economic policies failed. Schools closed, the deficit ballooned, highways crumbled, jobs disappeared—I imagine ruby slippers were hocked. That failure has the reddest state in the nation blushing blue.

Citing the state’s fiscal woes, moderate and not-so-moderate Republicans have flocked to Brownback’s opponent, Paul Davis, who trails by just 0.6 points. On the Senate front, independent candidate Greg Orman, who may be forced to caucus with the Democrats by default (RNC chair Reince Preibus has said his caucusing with the GOP would be “impossible”), is reaping the benefits of that Tea Party-weighted primary. “Traditional Republicans for Common Sense,” made up of 70 Republican moderates who served in the Kansas legislature, endorsed Orman and he is favored by independent voters by a margin of 30 points.

In the face of this, both Brownback and Roberts have chosen not to battle for the wide swath of Kansas voters who identify as moderate Republicans (47 percent, versus 38 percent “conservative Republicans”), but to move further to the right. In a just world, Roberts’ violation of Godin’s Law (warning that “our country is heading toward national socialism”) would mean that we could simply ignore him from here on out. But his lumbering lurch toward the Ted Cruz tin-foil-hat convention should instead be an object lesson for Republicans to come. (Brownback can’t really be said to have shifted right but rather has celebrated already being there.)

It’s true both races have tightened, with Roberts eking out a lead: 5 points in an average of the latest polls. Their still-slim chances of victory, however, hardly validate the GOP’s decision to double-down on the hard-right voters who have yet to make the connection between the false populism of tax cuts and their own dire straits. For those seeking to figure out a long-term strategy for Republican victories in Kansas, shouldn’t who supports him matter less than the masses of voters who have left both him and Brownback?

Think about it: If a ruinous adventure into Laffer-land has already alienated many Republican voters, won’t a further march into the barren fields of zero-tax-revenue put off even more? Combine this possibility with the inevitable demographic erosion of the GOP’s base and one has to wonder not just if the Republican leadership is shooting itself in the foot, but why it is. Is it misplaced, or at least short-sighted, cynicism, which might have them believe that their old white guy coalition (if you can call it that) will sustain them a few more cycles? (At least long enough to pass voting restrictions?) Or is it a form of psychosomatic blindness, a function of such deeply held, incorrect perceptions, that the party leaders literally cannot imagine the need to change their tactics, much less their policies?

The motivations matter mostly because understanding them can help progressives sharpen their arguments, or maybe let us know if the argument is even worth having. In other words, are we dealing with cynics or zealots?

Obviously, one hopes for the former. Cynics respond to defeat, for one thing. Cynics and opportunists look at polls. Cynics are the lifeblood of representative democracy. Cynics will do anything to save their own skin, even change their minds.

 

By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, October 24, 2014

October 27, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Kansas, Sam Brownback | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“This Man Is Truly From The Dark Side”: Kansas Must Send Kris Kobach To Political Oblivion

If Sam Brownback wins re-election as Kansas governor, the world will not end.

If Pat Roberts wins re-election to the U.S. Senate, for sure the world will not end.

If independent candidate Greg Orman upsets Roberts for the U.S. Senate, again the world will not end.

If Kris Kobach wins re-election as Kansas secretary of state…well, that’s another story.

Kobach would fill the secretary of state’s seat for four more years, where he will continue to ignore his duties and spend his time in courts fighting one thing after another. But that’s only the beginning of the havoc he would to wreak.

Kobach, who is only 48, would then find himself in the catbird’s seat to run for governor in four years or to seek in six years the U.S. Senate seat that either Roberts or Orman would hold.

Kobach has to be nailed by the electorate in such a way that he goes away. Long, long away into political oblivion.

Of all the politicians I have covered in more than four decades, starting with a campaign trip with Richard Nixon in 1968, I have never run across a meaner, nastier, more egomaniacal politician than Kris Kobach.

Kobach is also the most brilliant and clever politician I have ever covered. The man is dripping with Ivy League degrees.

The combination of his traits is lethal, which makes him so dangerous.

I have known Kobach since he was first elected to the Overland Park City Council in 1999, when on his questionnaire he stated he was in favor of abortions. Four years later, when he ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Congress, he switched to a pro-life position.

Kobach knows how to play the public like a fiddle, although there is hope that Kansans have finally figured out that they have been played for saps.

He stokes anti-immigration fears by championing the most vicious laws and then travels from state to state, spewing his hate through the laws he writes — for huge fees. It is one thing to fret over undocumented immigrants, but Kobach seeks with his obsessive plots to make their lives as miserable as possible, while he personally gains.

But because he presents himself as waging a heroic battle, too many Kansans have, at least until now, met his grandstanding with oohs and aahs.

The handsome, charismatic candidate in 2010, running for secretary of state, told Kansans he was going to stamp out voter fraud. More oohs and aahs. Who wouldn’t be for that?

But there had been, on average, only a dozen cases of voter fraud each year between 1997 and 2010, despite Kobach’s best efforts to dredge up more. He was scamming the electorate, plain and simple.

That did not stop Kobach from ramrodding through legislation that has disqualified almost 20,000 would-be voters because the state now requires them to come up with identification papers such as passports or birth certificates. The secretary of state, who is supposed to encourage voter turnout has, instead, crushed it. Between 2008 and 2012, voter turnout in Kansas declined more than other comparable states. A federal report finds this was likely due to Kobach’s voter registration laws.

Because of a quirk in the court rulings on Kobach’s scheme, it has left Kansas with a two-tiered voting system. New voters who have not presented their passports or birth certificates can only vote for federal candidates but cannot vote for state officials

Kobach’s swan song, I hope, was his creepy efforts to keep Democrat Chad Taylor on the ballot for U.S. senator, thereby splitting the vote with independent Orman, which, in turn, undoubtedly would have elected Roberts through the back door. Fortunately, the Kansas Supreme Court stomped on his shenanigans in a unanimous vote. Both Republicans and Democrats on the bench rejected Kobach’s attempt to mastermind the outcome of the vote.

After the courts ruled against him, Kobach attempted to intervene in a subsequent lawsuit that would have forced Democrats to put someone else on the ballot. The courts said Kobach could not intervene, and then ruled against the Kobach position.

Kansans, this man is truly from the dark side.

Kris Kobach must be stopped now, before we find him in an even more powerful position to ply his diabolical schemes.

 

By: Steve Rose, Columnist, The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, October 14, 2014

October 15, 2014 Posted by | Kansas, Kris Kobach | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“There Are Limits”: Yes, A Backlash To Conservative Extremism Is Possible

I think it’s safe to say that the single greatest source of frustration to progressives today is the relatively small price the Republican Party appears to be paying for the extremism that has gripped its ranks since (at least) 2009 (the second greatest source of frustration may be how Democrats have dealt with that phenomenon, but that’s a subject for another post). It seems that no matter what havoc the GOP has inflicted on the country before and during the administration of Barack Obama, the bulk of the blame will be assigned to the president and his party, rewarding the conservative wrecking crew for its irresponsibility.

But as Greg Sargent notes today, there are two places where Republican extremism is bearing surprisingly bitter fruit:

A new batch of NBC/Marist polls released over the weekend showed Democratic Senator Kay Hagan hanging on to a four point lead in North Carolina, while independent Greg Orman now leads incumbent Republican Senator Pat Roberts in Kansas by 10 points. The North Carolina finding is in sync with the average, while the Kansas one isn’t, though the Kansas average does show Orman leading.

It would have been awfully bold to predict six months ago that Republicans would be trailing in North Carolina and Kansas. But what’s notable here is that both these states are home to two of the nation’s leading experiments in conservative state-level governance.

Greg goes on to observe that Thom Tillis’ leadership role in what he himself proudly called a “conservative revolution” in state government is clearly an issue in the NC Senate campaign. And there’s little doubt that a revolt of moderate Republicans against KS Governor Sam Brownback has spilled over into the Senate race there, lifting independent Greg Orman into an otherwise inexplicable lead.

Suffice it to say it’s unusual for state-level politics to infect federal contests to this extent; usually it happens the other way around. But it should be a message to Republican pols, and to the right-wing oligarchs playing such a conspicuous role in these two states (the Koch Brothers in their native Kansas, and the most conspicuous Koch Lite, Art Pope, in NC) that there are limits to what they can inflict on subject populations.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 6, 2014

October 7, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP, Midterm Elections | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Unlikely Opportunity?”: It Could Come Down To Kansas, Where GOP Trails Badly

The news for Democrats in the latest round of Senate polling is sobering: Republicans have +4 point leads in enough states to give them a 50 Senate seats. That’s just one short of what they need to win control of the Senate.

Four other seats are also up for grabs, placing Democrats in danger of losing the majority in Iowa, North Carolina, Colorado and Kansas. Even so, while polling shows the first three of these races as tossups, Democrats have been showing remarkable resilience maintaining slim edges or even odds.

If Democrats do hold their ground in Iowa, North Carolina and Colorado, control of the Senate would come down to Kansas. Not exactly fertile ground for Democrats under normal circumstances, but the rank incompetence of the GOP combined with the distant hubris of Senator Roberts has allowed independent Greg Orman to open up a blistering 10-point lead.

That’s a big deficit to make up before the first mail-in voters get their ballots less than two weeks from today, and there’s little indication that Greg Orman would caucus with the Republicans should he be elected.

Kansas is a strange place for Democrats to pin their hopes, but it does provide hope that even in the reddest of red states, Republican overreach and self-destructive policies may open up unlikely opportunities for unexpected gains.

 

By: David Atkins, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 5, 2014

October 6, 2014 Posted by | Kansas, Pat Roberts, Senate | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Dole, Nazis, And Desperation In Kansas”: Pat Roberts’ Oblique-But-Clear Hitler Comparison

Weren’t politicians supposed to agree that invoking Hitler is usually a bad idea? Somebody better remind Pat Roberts, the Kansas senator on whom the GOP’s hopes of taking over the Senate increasingly depend, that that’s the general bargain. Because lately, the evermore desperate incumbent is going around the Jayhawk State saying things like this:

“There’s a palpable fear among Kansans all across the state that the America that we love and cherish will not be the same America for our kids and grandkids, and that’s wrong. One of the reasons that I’m running is to change that. There’s an easy way to do it. I’ll let you figure it out. But at any rate, we have to change course because our country is headed for national socialism. That’s not right. It’s changing our culture. It’s changing what we’re all about.”

All right, no explicit Hitler mention. But…national socialism? We’ve all heard Obama equals socialism until it’s coming out our ears. But national socialism? That’s Nazism. The National Socialist Democratic Workers’ Party, in case you’d forgotten. And there was only one. Benito Mussolini came out of the more straightforwardly named National Fascist Party. Japan had something called the Imperial Rule Assistance Association.

But only Hitler’s Germany had a national socialist party (well, also certain successor offshoots, as in Hungary). So it’s pretty clear what Roberts is saying here. He would deny it, of course, if Kansas reporters tried to ask him. But denying it would be like giving a speech that makes reference to gruesome murders by repeated stabbing and using victims’ blood to write “Helter Skelter” on the walls and then saying goodness no, whatever gave you the idea that I was referring to Charles Manson?

This is not okay. But I would suspect Roberts is going to get away with it, because Greg Orman, the independent challenger who is lately running ahead of him, is not going to stand up in the state of Kansas a few weeks before Election Day and defend Barack Obama on anything, even an oblique-but-clear Hitler comparison.

The more one studies Roberts, the more one concludes that he is the kind of fellow that former Nebraska Senator Roman Hruska had in mind when he famously quipped that mediocre people are entitled to a little representation, too. Mediocre at best, malevolent at worst. It interests me that he’s lately trotted out old Bob Dole to campaign with him. Dole, coming as he does from an earlier time and now a defanged nonagenarian, represents a degree of old-school moderation at this point in his life, so by appearing with Dole while making references to national socialism, Roberts can cleverly have it both ways. But I hope enough Kansans remember what Roberts did to Dole when the latter was counting on him most.

Dole, who suffered a crippling injury in the Big War, had been one of the leading sponsors of the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990. He always called it a proud moment. Fast-forward to late 2012, when the Senate was considering approval of an international treaty designed to spur other nations to emulate the United States’ groundbreaking law. Dole was its most famous spokesman. On December 4, 2012, the now-wheelchair-bound ex-senator rolled himself onto the floor of the old chamber to pigeonhole his former colleagues. A heart-rending scene. How could he lose?

Well, one way he could lose was for his old friend Roberts, who was in the House while Dole was in the Senate, to vote against him, which Roberts did. In fact both Kansas senators did—Jerry Moran’s betrayal was even worse, since Moran had committed to the measure publicly, which Roberts hadn’t. The right-wing lobbying machinery got cranked up and warned God-fearing Americans that approval of this treaty would give the United Nations the power to end home-schooling, or something like that. And so the world’s greatest deliberative body voted down a treaty inspired by our own good example because, you know, one-worldism, Obama, national socialism, and so on. And Roberts and Moran were the prime profiles in cowardice.

The only other time in his career that Washington took much notice of Roberts came during the Iraq War, when he walked point for the Bushies in bottling up for more than two years a report on how the administration misused pre-war intelligence. If you followed such things at the time, perhaps the phrase “Phase II report” will snap a synapse or two. Roberts made repeated promises early on that he would release the report, that there was nothing to fear and that he certainly wanted the truth. Then the weasel words crept in and he started to say things like: “I’m perfectly willing to do it, and that’s what we agreed to do, and that door is still open. And I don’t want to quarrel with Jay [Rockefeller], because we both agreed that we would get it done.” He reversed himself and danced all over the floor. The report was eventually released, but long after it would have had any dramatic political impact, which was of course why Roberts delayed in the first place.

So this is the career Roberts is seeking to salvage by dragooning the man he once betrayed into last-minute service and by raising the specter of America’s Nazi future. Roberts is behind right now, and GOP Governor Sam Brownback looks like he’s going to lose, meaning perhaps the top two Republicans in deep-red Kansas might go down in flames. And it would be nice to think that the right-wing extremism of the Obama era would come back to bite them in, of all places, the Koch brothers’ backyard.

UPDATE: I see from Greg Sargent that Roberts was asked about this quote by a reporter yesterday. He said: “I believe that the direction he is heading the country is more like a European socialistic state, yes. You can’t tell me anything that he has not tried to nationalize.” Great. So a United States senator has no idea what “national socialism” means. I guess in this case that qualifies as reassuring.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, September 26, 2014

September 28, 2014 Posted by | Kansas, Pat Roberts, Senate | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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