Limits of Wingnuttery In Kansas?

A new PPP survey of Kansas shows that pace Tom Frank, there are limits to the appetite of Sunflower State voters for the aggressive wingnuttery of the currently ascendant conservative wing of the GOP.

PPP’s newest Kansas poll finds that Sam Brownback has continued to become even more unpopular in the last year, and that he slightly trails his Democratic opponent for reelection. Only 33% of voters in the state approve of the job Brownback is doing, compared to 51% who disapprove. That’s down from a 37/52 spread when PPP last polled the state a year ago. It’s not surprising that Brownback is doing poorly with independents (33/51) or Democrats (10/76) but what really drags his numbers down is that even Republicans aren’t particularly enthusiastic about him, with just 46% approving to 37% who disapprove.

Brownback is suffering from backlash against his highly regressive tax policies and a deliberate starving of public funds for public education. And despite the famously thorough crushing of the once-dominant “Establishment” wing of the GOP in the state, it seems to have survived in rank-and-file Republican opinion.

The possibility of Sam Brownback going down the tubes probably won’t get as much attention over the next few months as the right-wing effort to purge conservative incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts as being insufficiently savage. That deal will go down one way or another on August 5, and if purge leader Milton Wolf gets the Senate nomination, he will likely join Brownback as being vulnerable in November despite all the advantages the GOP enjoys in a midterm election in a state it has recently dominated.

But I’m interested in Brownback’s fate not only because he’s helped turn Kansas into a conservative policy laboratory with test tubes blowing up left and right, but because it would be good to know that bad government will be punished even in a state where the Democratic president is a lot more unpopular than the Republican governor. Do Kansans view the midterms as nothing more than a referendum on Obama, as so many political scientists say it must be? We will find out in November.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.