A couple weeks ago, former U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum endorsed Democrat Laura Kelly for Kansas governor.
Kassebaum joined a list of Republicans endorsing Kelly, including former Kansas Gov. Bill Graves. A handful of Republican officeholders, past and present, are also on the list.
I don’t know what impact, if any, those endorsements will have on the race. Endorsements are often overshadowed in the last-minute flurry of activity in any campaign, and the Republicans for Kelly may get lost in that shuffle.
But I do know what impact the endorsements have had on Kris Kobach, the GOP nominee. They’re driving him crazy.
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“They don’t speak for Republicans in Kansas,” the secretary of state told The Atlantic. “They are Republicans in name only.”
Kobach’s spokeswoman, Danedri Herbert, was just as blunt after the Kassebaum announcement. “Democrats trot out these same tired has-beens clinging to the past, pretending to be Republicans when they so clearly left the party a long time ago,” she said.
There are a couple of things wrong with these reactions. For one thing, no one gets to decide who is and who isn’t a Republican. There are no requirements for formal allegiance to the GOP, or any party for that matter.
But there’s a more fundamental issue at stake: Who really left the Republican Party “a long time ago,” as Herbert suggests?
The Kansas Republican Party — the party of Gov. Bill Avery, Sen. James Pearson, Kassebaum and Graves — once stood for a quality public education, an equitable tax structure, government efficiency. Even Sen. Bob Dole, the most conservative of the bunch, worked for a balanced federal budget and the taxes needed to provide one.
Kansas Republicans welcomed immigrants to the country, too: Dole and Kassebaum voted for the bipartisan Reagan immigration reform bill in 1986, which granted amnesty to millions of immigrants who were in the United States illegally.
Kansas Republicans were pro-business, with a dash of prairie progressivity. Kansas was admitted to the union as a free state and was one of the first to give women the vote. Kansas protected those who faced adversity.
For decades, the Kansas Republican Party adhered to those goals.
Kobach, of course, has tossed them out the window. His Republicanism endorses brutal tax cuts meant for the wealthy, no matter the cost to the state’s treasury. He’s skeptical of the idea of a public education. Government efficiency? Taxpayers are paying for his goof-up in federal court.
Kobach’s xenophobia and anti-immigrant animus are obvious. His views on race and gender equality are deeply suspect. Bipartisan? He’s told Kansans who dislike his policy approach to move somewhere else.
No, Nancy Kassebaum and Bill Graves didn’t leave the Republican Party. Kris Kobach and his supporters left the GOP many years ago. They are — there’s no other way to put this — Republicans in name only.
Kobach has been in government for most of his adult life. Real Kansas Republicans have a chance to help him return to the private sector, and soon. If they take it, they’ll help Kansas, and reclaim their party too.