“KSN News Poll shows Donald Trump losing ground in Kansas” says a stunning little article from a Kansas media site.
“The poll showed that Donald Trump would get 44 percent of the vote followed by Hillary Clinton with 39 percent. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson had eight percent. Nine percent of those polled were undecided. The margin of error is 4.2 percent.”
That’s right–Kansas, solidly Republican Kansas, edging toward Hillary Clinton. And while I wouldn’t bet real money against the GOP in Kansas, not ever, but the fact that Hillary is gaining and is within a few percentage points in the state really shows just how bad off Trump is nationally, for now anyway. The last time a Republican presidential candidate lost in Kansas was in 1964, when Goldwater scared even Kansans. Before that you have to go back to the Dustbowl years when FDR took it twice (beating a Kansan in 1936, Alf Landon, in fact). Before that it was when the Republicans tore themselves apart in 1912 and Kansas voted for Woodrow Wilson (by a plurality) and then voted for him again in 1916, with war looming. Before that it was 1896, when William Jennings Bryan, from next door in Nebraska, gave such an extraordinary acceptance speech (“You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!”)[ at the Democratic convention it swept even Kansans off their Republican feet. And before that is was never. Kansas was quintessentially Republican even then.
In fact, it’s hard to find a state more Republican than Kansas. After all the state had been born bloody, in 1856, with pro-slavers–Democrats all, in those days–from Missouri beating and burning and massacring the Kansas Territory’s free soilers, soon to be Republicans all, trying without success to chase them out and bring Kansas into the union as a slave state. Kansas was also where John Brown had done his killing, his sons massacring some local pro-slavers with swords, hacking them to pieces. It was an eye for an eye response to a massacre of local free soilers by pro-slave ruffians. Politics was a murderous affair in Kansas then, with some voting and a lot more shooting and burning and death threats and beatings, and we forget that John Brown was a Republican martyr. “John Brown’s body lies mouldering in the grave”, went the hugely popular song of the time, “but his truth goes marching on!” The lyrics were later transformed into the Battle Hymm of the Republic, a Republican Party anthem till the party turned southern in the Reagan years.
We forget too that what gave birth to the abolitionist Republican party had given birth to Kansas, indeed the struggles between good and evil in Kansas in the 1850’s helped to create the Republican party. Forgotten almost completely now is how those former pro-slavery Democrat ruffians from Missouri morphed into Confederate guerillas and came back to Kansas on a sunny day in 1863 to slaughter a couple hundred unarmed men and boys in the town of Lawrence, merely for being free state Republicans. Jayhawkers, as they called the free soil militias who fought the pro-slavery Border Ruffians, were incorporated into the Union Army and took their vengeance on Missouri many times over. That bitterness must linger in a zillion little ways even today. Certainly small town Kansas and small town Missouri seem like very different places. And as Kansas seems to drift blue, Missouri has shifted dramatically red. The strife had enormous consequences at the time. Bleeding Kansas, as they called it in the 1850’s, helped birth the Republican Party, but also sundered the Democrats into Unionist and Secessionists and utterly destroyed the Whig Party. The bloodthirsty politics of Kansas in the 1850’s foretold the American Civil War, just as the American Civil War foretold the politics of the century to follow.
Now it seems, a century and a half later, that the Tea Party experiment in the state’s governance–Kansas is its laboratory–has completely failed and the state’s electorate is planning on voting more Democratic than it has in over half a century. In most states that might not be that big of a deal. But this is Kansas. You could not find a single example on the electoral map this year that shows more clearly how catastrophic the nomination of Donald Trump could be for the Republican Party. Foretelling the future again? Who knows. People yell, people scream, people jump about excitedly and say crazy things. You can never tell who among us is making any sense till later, when our time now is history and most of us are dead and things so confused today appear so much clearer. Perhaps Trump is a one time thing and Kansas and the rest of the red states will return to their perennial rock ribbed Republicanism. Or perhaps, like the Whigs we can scarcely remember anymore, the Republican Party will break up on the rocks on Kansas and throughout the once quiet backwaters of Republicanism and new parties will emerge from the wreckage. That, after all, is how the Republican party was born.
Do I think so? No. My money is on the GOP recovering nicely. After all, the party recovered swiftly from the Goldwater debacle, gaining 47 House and three Senate seats in the 1966 midterms and retaking the presidency in 1968. And it seems likely that today there is more than enough Republican solidity at the state level for a quick, phoenix-like reemergence in just a couple years. But then in 1852 I would have bet on the Whigs lasting forever too. Hadn’t they just elected a president in 1848? By 1856 what remained of them aligned themselves with the Know Nothings and disappeared.
In 2012 Ted Cruz told the New Yorker that without Texas
the Republican Party would cease to exist. We would become like the Whig Party. Our kids and grandkids would study how this used to be a national political party. ‘They had Conventions, they nominated Presidential candidates. They don’t exist anymore.’
Cruz was referring to Texas turning blue because half of the state’s population is now Hispanic and the Republicans were doing all they could to alienate them. But it’s not Hispanics (about 6% of the population) giving Kansas its blue tinge this year. It’s Republicans and independents. White people. Donald Trump is scaring his own kind.