How To Purge Your Way To a Backlash, the Kansas Way

What does it take for an incumbent governor–usually a figure no one on her or his partisan “team” would dare annoy much less defy–to spur a large number of distinguished fellow party members to publicly come out for the other side?

In the case of Kansas governor Sam Brownback, it’s a combination of incompetence and malice. His fiscal policies–especially a big high-end tax cut package that’s created a large hole in the revenue base and downgraded the state’s bond rating–are increasingly regarded as a disaster, at least by those not committed to the quasi-religious belief that taxes can never be too low or too regressive. But Brownback has also made it easy for moderate Republicans (once an abundant tribe in the Sunflower State) to take a walk by waging holy war on them in primaries.

And so they are taking a walk: more than 100 current and (mostly) former GOP elected officials have formed a group called “Republicans for Kansas Values,” and have en masse endorsed Brownback’s Democratic opponent, state representative Paul Davis, who actually led the incumbent by 6 points in the most recent (Survey USA) polling. While the endorsements may not matter individually, their sheer bulk is a signal to Republicans and Republican-leaning indies that it’s okay to vote the Donkey ticket this one time. Davis is, of course, following the same split-the-opposition strategy that carried Kansas for Kathleen Sebelius in 2002 and 2006.

What makes the Kansas situation significant nationally is that Brownback is very clearly elevating ideology over every other value–including his own electability. That he could be in trouble in such a favorable environment (Mitt Romney won there by 22 points in 2012, and Republicans have a better than 3-2 registration advantage) is a sign he’s determined to do as much damage to the Great Satan of government as he can, even if it risks a second term.

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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.