Bleeding Kansas

“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.

Preston v Sumner

Congressman Preston Brooks, left, Democrat of South Carolina, debating Kansas politics on the senate floor with Senator Charles Sumner, right, Republican of Massachusetts, 1856. Sumner had just delivered his fiercely abolitionist Crime Against Kansas speech, two hours of vituperative elegance. Brooks objected. And you thought things were hostile now. This beating, incidentally, caused an instant media furor (news was telegraphed then almost as fast as we tweet it now) that helped to turn the Republicans into the dominant party of the north. The Civil War did the rest. It wasn’t until the Great Depression that the Democrats retook control. And it wasn’t until the sweeping electoral victories of Ronald Reagan that Republicans became dominant again, by basically abandoning the world view of Senator Sumner and taking up that of Representative Brooks. OK, I exaggerate. But Donald Trump does have far more in common with Preston Brooks than with Ronald Reagan. Something changed. Perhaps politics is much more immutable down south, ancient beliefs lasting generations. When the GOP shed it’s northern skin and became based in the south, it began to take on a lot of ancient southern ideologies as well. Ideas and notions have staying power south of the Mason-Dixon line, while up north they come and go with the generations. John C Calhoun is still a living presence down there, and we up north and out on the coast can barely remember the name Henry Clay.

 

Advertisements

Boos

The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson just remarked that Ted Cruz not only “did not endorse Donald Trump, he unendorsed him”. Cruz had told people to “vote your conscience up and down the ballot.” The New York delegation, stage front, booed loudly and kept booing. I appreciate the enthusiasm of the New York delegation said Cruz, who then droned on without a word about Donald Trump. Cruz supporters–in Texas, in Colorado–applauded, but most other delegations, full of Trump delegates, joined in booing, and then the galleries joined in. The boos grew louder and almost drowned out Cruz. With perfect timing Donald Trump entered the hall to take his seat among the New Yorkers amid this chorus of boos. All of which was carefully noted by every reporter watching the scene. It has not been a good week for The Donald.

Trump, Cruz, Rubio and William F. Buckley

So I just saw a replay of that portion of the GOP debate in Texas where it degenerated into complete anarchy, kind of like the examination scene in A Day At the Races, but instead of the Marx Brothers you had three obnoxious assholes who want to be president. Then I switch stations and it’s an old Tonight Show. Johnny Carson is talking to William F. Buckley, and Buckley is using words I’ve never heard before, big huge words. It’s 1980 and he’s lecturing Johnny on conservatism which, he doesn’t know yet, is right on the cusp of its golden age. He was Mr. Conservative back then, the smartest guy in the world, a conservative so intellectual he could hate communists in iambic pentameter. They’d bring him out to argue with Gore Vidal or trade bon mots with Truman Capote. But today, after watching that debate, it’s like William F. Buckley was from another planet. Do they even have conservatives like him anymore? What happened? Was it Rush Limbaugh that made things so stupid? I like to think so, but it’s certainly more than that. Still, you could imagine Rush on stage here with the three stooges, pitching in, shouting at Cruz, calling Rubio names, yelling louder than Trump. But not William F Buckley. I can’t see him on that stage, I can’t see him asking questions, I can’t even imagine him in the same room. But I do wonder just what Bill Buckley would say, watching Trump, Cruz and Rubio on PBS yell insults at each other. Maybe he’d say the superstition that the hounds of truth will rout the vermin of error seems, like a fragment of Victorian lace, quaint, but too brittle to be lifted out of the showcase. Not that I have a clue what that means, but at least he didn’t say sweat.
William F. Buckley watching the debate at Cato's pad.

William F. Buckley watching the debate at Cato the Elder’s elysian pad.

Marco Rubio

I remember catching part of one of the early GOP debates and realizing that Marco Rubio scared the hell out me. He was too electable, and he could take big bites out of a potential Democratic majority in just the right places (e.g. Florida, New Mexico, Colorado and Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania) to give the GOP enough electoral votes in November. I breathed a sigh of relief, though, as he was stumbling and obviously wasn’t in this for the long haul this year. I said–either in a Facebook post or on my blog, I can’t remember–that the threat of Rubio won’t be this year, but in four years, or eight. Now he comes in second in South Carolina (after a weak fourth place finish in new Hampshire) and is obviously here to stay for a while. Two thirds of Republicans in South Carolina voted against Donald Trump. Rubio, Cruz and three losers split that two thirds. One of the losers, Bush, a hundred million bucks in the hole, drops out and his supporters despise Trump. Kasich can’t stay in much longer and it’s hard to see his supporters flocking to Trump either. Carson’s supporters I don’t know about. But as this race goes along, and as Trump still leads in polls nearly every upcoming race through the end of March, I’m wondering if half of that two thirds of Republicans will shrug and follow Trump, giving him the numbers he needs to win the nomination, or will they wait till Cruz and Rubio battle to the death and throw all their support to the winner. If either can hold on, and begin to win primaries by the end of March, then they could beat Trump. And we might be left with Marco Rubio, and I think Democrats who laugh at him underestimate his potential appeal to lots and lots of people who otherwise would vote for a Democrat. Cruz is not a genuine threat. He’s too doctrinaire, roo mean, too strident, and too unlikeable. Trump is not a genuine threat, he’s just loathed by too many people. Rubio, though, might have a Reaganesque appeal, in which case we Democrats have positioned ourselves too far to the left to win. If Rubio could appeal to moderate independents, a Democrat, any Democrat, could lose. A conservative Republican president is not something I like to think about. Hence Marco Rubio is the biggest threat to Democrats, liberals and progressives that the Republicans currently have. Let’s hope Trump keeps winning.