Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. February 28, 2015.
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

I’ve written before that, much as we all may argue about the respective roles of bigotry and economic anxiety in the rise of the global far-right movement, sometimes there are stories that lead to a third conclusion: “conservatism” has in some parts of the world taken on all the aspects of cult dogma, little different in its own way from Leninism or any other totalizing political ideology.

When Oklahomans cut taxes so deeply that they can’t afford to run their own schools more than four days a week, that’s not an act of prejudice, or a wistful vote to bring back the factories, or an angry yawp to punish rich coastal elites. That’s an act of political blood sacrifice to appease the market gods.

When the residents of southern Oregon have embraced the Heritage Foundation mantra so purely that they can’t even fund their own police departments, it’s only partly to thumb their noses at the hippies in Portlandia. These people are true believers, and there’s not much anyone will do to persuade them.

Notably, they were true believers well before the advent of Trump. In fact, while they certainly voted for Trump in overwhelming numbers, Trump himself represented on the campaign trail (if not in actual governance) a sort of apostasy from purebred free market conservatism.

So it’s heartening in a way to see that Kansas, which has long been ground zero for the most extreme version of tax-cut orthodoxy in America and has suffered mightily for it, is finally coming to its senses somewhat. A new wave of more moderate Republicans have joined with Democrats to raise taxes enough to fill in some of the deep gaps left in Brownback’s “cut taxes for the rich and let everything else crumble” budget.

Not that there isn’t resistance from the true believers:

Yet Dan Cox, the institute’s research director, said that Brownback’s defeat did not augur more victories for Republicans pursuing more moderate economic policies. He said Republican policymakers and their advisers around the country are likely to view the example of Kansas as a failure of implementation, rather than one of principle, and they will argue that Kansas’s experiment would have succeeded had the legislature reduced spending even more.

Moreover, Cox said, the business lobby remains more influential in the party than those who support centrist or populist points of view.

For some, conservatism can never, ever fail. It can only be failed. Anything else would be heresy.

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David Atkins

Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.