In praise of Republicans
The Kansas GOP, the state’s dominant party, is rudderless.Indeed. The thing driving this momentum is that at long last, a Republican figured out how to strike back at the conservative activists running the show: switch parties.
The party has no front-line candidate for the 2006 governor’s race, and the three contenders in the race are generating little more than broad dissatisfaction.
Party members fret that Morrison could knock off Attorney General Phill Kline. Others, meanwhile, charge that the state’s two Republican U.S. senators, Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts, are MIA. Brownback is off running for president, Roberts heads up the Intelligence Committee, and neither is around to focus on party concerns.
Brownback, who needs a secure base at home as he gears up for his presidential run, doesn’t have it.
Suddenly it’s the woebegone Kansas Democratic Party that has the momentum. And that happens about as often as the Royals go to the World Series.
Democrats have understood for years. A lot of people vote party line Democratic in the general election, but register as Republicans to vote in the primary, which is all that matters. The real partisans even vote for the most conservative candidate in the primary, hoping to give the Democratic candidate an easier time.
Voting habits are tough to shift. Lots of people in Kansas probably don't care that the state Republican party has shifted in bizarre directions, but the smart ones have, and j.d. at evolution says they are sitting out elections. There's a story, perhaps apocryphal, that Bob Dole registered to run for his first office as a Republican because he looked at party registration out in Russell and decided that was the smart play. I think a lot of people made the same choice at the same time for the same reason, and can't quite overcome years of votes cast against Democrats.
Incidentally, that's the major problem with j.d.'s proposal – a third party. While it's not a bad idea, it'll lose too often. Plus, moderate Rs will insist that it's their party, and won't abandon it, while the conservatives will call them RINOs and compare them to ratheads in Coke bottles. Neither side will abandon the party's mantle, and the religious authoritarians will keep rolling over the traditional Republicans in the primaries, producing candidates like Kris Kobach, Phill Kline, Tim Shallenburger, Connie Morris, etc. And then the moderates sit out the general election, unable to pull either lever. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Changing the voters won't work for traditional Republicans, changing politicians will. When a well established politician crosses party lines, he takes voters with him. Paul Morrison is well respected, having put a couple of serial killers in jail. When he says that he's a Democrat because of the party's "strong commitment to safety, security and the rule of law," it gives law and order Republicans permission to look at other Democrats, too.
I'll never understand why a handful of moderate Republicans in the state House and Senate don't switch parties en masse. The Democrats would give them whatever they wanted, Majority leader, Speaker, committee chairs, etc., and would be able to set the agenda. It would be a moderate agenda, focussed on funding and improving schools, rethinking the way revenue is raised, and promoting the Kansas economy, all things that would sell in districts that elect moderate Republicans. Conservatives would have a choice between broadening their approach and trying to woo those moderate voters, or existing in the permanent minority status they'd counted on boxing Democrats into. They'd be able to block some things, but they'd need to work to splinter off that moderate middle. It'd be like a coalition government in a parliamentary system, and it would be good for Kansas as well as the moderates.
In another post I said that politics is about ideas, and that it's never good when politics is about party. This is why. Moderate Republicans are more aligned with Democrats on the bread and butter issues. They may not agree 100%, but the differences can be negotiated. Instead, the moderate Rs choose to try to find a common party identity with conservatives, people with whom they have deep and abiding differences in ideas. Conservatives want to impose their religious beliefs on all people, moderates want to make things work.
j.d. is right that "secular conservatives and moderate liberals" should work together ("moderate liberal" is a complicated idea in modern political parlance, but entirely consistent with the classical concept of liberalism). He advocates a distinct party, I think they should work as a parliamentary coalition. I certainly plan to endorse some Republicans in school board primaries, and if they impress me, I'll back them in the general election, too.
The grass really is greener over here, folks (no, not that grass).