Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas has made his decision on whether to debate his primary opponent, tea partier Milton Wolf.
No thanks, the senator said this week.
In making his decision, the Republican had to evaluate a host of political and civic obligation considerations. He sided with the political.
Let’s consider this for a moment. After three terms in the Senate, eight terms in the House and 13 more years as a congressional aide, Roberts is sidestepping what to me is a fundamental obligation. At election time, we expect our candidates to stand side by side with their opponents and address the day’s pressing issues.
At least once, right?
It’s a simple proposition. The idea is to let voters compare two candidates answering the same questions.
Roberts is a Marine who portrays himself as willing to stand up to anybody. But he won’t stand up to Wolf, whose feisty, upstart campaign has given the incumbent headaches from the start.
But, hey, talk to people who follow Kansas politics closely and you’ll find almost unanimous agreement. Roberts, they say, has no business debating Wolf. Roberts has nothing to gain by putting himself out there.
Let’s count the reasons why.
By debating Wolf, Roberts would at least temporarily elevate his rival to the same level he is. They’d share the stage. Roberts would risk another verbal gaffe like the one that Wolf has made hay with recently. That’s where Roberts said in a radio interview that he comes back to Kansas “every time I get an opponent.”
That comment dovetailed nicely with the central theme of Wolf’s campaign, which is that Roberts really isn’t a resident of Kansas anymore. He’s a Virginian.
And, really, what would Roberts stand to gain from a debate? He’s already so well known that picking up votes isn’t likely. So why bother with all the hassle?
I get the politics of it. But then there’s Roberts’ own words. On a KCMO “Morning Show” radio interview the other day, the senator said it plain and clear: “I’d like to have a debate.”
“So you are willing to debate?” an interviewer asked.
“So you’re saying you will debate him?”
Roberts: “Of course.”
He went on: “I’m confident we can have a good debate.” He insisted that his “conservative credentials and values and competency are not at issue.”
“Let’s get it organized,” the senator said.
So Roberts was asked yet again: You will debate him?
Turns out, not really.