“Go Right and Win” in Kansas?

If you want a fresh example of the pathology afflicting the Republican Party, in which the answer to every question is “more conservatism,” check out Pat Roberts’ Senate campaign, which is coming to grips with a centrist independent opponent by recasting its mild-mannered hackish candidate as a bellowing troglodyte. TPM’s Dylan Scott has the story of Robert’s appparent “revival” in the polls:

He’s done it by playing hard to the conservative base that nearly ousted him in the Republican primary this summer and relentlessly pounding Orman as a closet liberal who would boost Obama’s agenda. But therein lies a risk. Roberts has rebounded by going hard right — but he has to hold onto some moderates to counter Orman’s appeal to the middle and his nearly universal support among Democrats.

It’s a narrow path to victory, everybody watching the race agrees. But it’s a much more realistic one than anyone would have thought a month ago.

Just one day after [Democratic nominee Chad] Taylor dropped out, the National Republican Senatorial Committee took over the Roberts campaign. Top fixer Chris LaCivita of 2004 Swift Boat Veterans fame was brought in as a consultant and GOP operative Corey Bliss assumed campaign manager duties from a longtime Roberts aide, Leroy Towns….

“He’s been busting his ass and risen to the challenge,” the strategist said of Roberts, pointing out that the senator raised $1.6 million in September after a paltry $60,000 in August.

That, and a belated infusion of some outside money, has allowed Roberts to hammer Orman as a closet liberal on the airwaves and the stump. Almost every ad has cited Orman’s brief 2008 Senate run as a Democrat and his previous campaign donations to President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. In some pro-Roberts ads, the “O” in Orman has been morphed into the famous Obama “O”. Roberts has developed a favorite refrain during debates that Orman is a Democrat by “word, deed and donation.”

Roberts, meanwhile, has raised the specter of “national socialism” on the campaign trail and stumped with tea party stalwarts like Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-CO), as well as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. The message has been distilled to: “A vote for Orman is a vote for President Obama and Harry Reid.”

“Shoring up” conservative support is obviously a legitimate task in light of Milton Wolf’s deeply flawed but still threatening challenge to Roberts in a relatively late (August 5) primary. But there’s something a bit counter-intuitive about abandoning the political center to a candidate already guaranteed Democratic votes, in the midst of a revolt by moderate Republicans against arch-conservative Gov. Sam Brownback.

Perhaps message-consistency between Roberts and Brownback was something national Republicans (or ideological help-meets like the Koch Brothers, who are defending their own Kansas base here) insisted on. But clearly, the Median Voter Theorem is taking a beating in the Sunflower State. And if Roberts and Brownback survive by biting the heads off donkeys in a lavishly financed surge of bloody rage, it will become another legendary talking point in the eagerly accepted brief on why Republicans can never, ever be too conservative.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.