Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s GOP rivals for the Kansas gubernatorial nomination are shouting themselves hoarse — in Ken Selzer’s case, literally — trying to convince voters that there’s no difference between them. (Well, except that Gov. Jeff Colyer says that Kobach lies a lot, while Kobach says nooo, it’s Colyer who does that.)
This does not strike me as much of a plan. But with the exception of former state Sen. Jim Barnett, who has refused to participate in these party-sanctioned softball-lobbing contests, there they were, at their debate in Johnson County on Thursday night, competing in the harshness of their plans.
Just as Sen. Marco Rubio trying to behave like then-candidate Donald Trump was never going to work, no one can out-Kobach Kobach.
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Speaking of imitators, the debate audience, which came across like an overflow crowd from the Roman Colosseum, was suspiciously unlike the Johnson County Republicans who only two years ago forced the state to walk back some of Sam Brownback’s destructively deep tax cuts.
Some of those aerobically booing Colyer and cheering Kobach’s harshest promises seemed like the same demographic that would have turned out to watch Christians torn apart by wild animals in public executions.
But the candidates gave them what they came for — entertainment, of course — and seemed to assume that even in Johnson County, moderate and/or Trump-skeptical Republicans either no longer exist or are not even worth a nod.
In their opening statements, both Colyer and Kobach spoke as though the most pressing problem in Kansas is the altered flag on display at the University of Kansas as part of an art exhibit. I thought the conservative point-of-view these days — and one with which I agree — is that under the First Amendment, even offensive speech is protected. But those outraged whenever a conservative provocateur is disinvited from a college campus, supposedly over security concerns, demanded that KU take down a controversial piece of art, supposedly over security concerns.
The whole night was like that — on taxes, the Affordable Care Act and abortion — with each candidate trying to top the other in saying they’d abolish all of the above or die trying.
On immigration, Colyer promised to send Kansans to the border to help build Trump’s wall. Both Kobach and Selzer swore to end Kansas’ status as a sanctuary state. Like Trump in Brussels, claiming victory when NATO allies agreed to pitch in what they’d already said they would, the candidates can celebrate, because as of today, Kansas is not a sanctuary state. Just as it wasn’t yesterday, or the day before.
The most cynical answer of all, though, had to have been on Trump’s trade policy, which they all said they loved without reservation. “I’m disturbed by some people in our part of the country already starting to shoot at the president” by objecting to the real and potential harm it will do to farmers and others, Kobach said. Yes, “even if it hurts us in the wallet a little bit.”
There were only a few matters on which they differed even slightly. Kobach called spending more money on public education under a state Supreme Court order “paying ransom.” Colyer said he didn’t want to boost funding but had to under the law.
And while Colyer and Kobach acted like Jesus himself had come out against in-state tuition for immigrants who arrived here illegally as children, Selzer said otherwise, sort of. He’s for ending that help to immigrant families, too, but let it slip that Kansas has bigger problems than the $3 million it spends on its 700 such students.
“If this is what politics is, it makes me want to jump off the stage,” Patrick Kucera, a self-described “evangelical entrepreneur,” said of the eye-jabbing portion of the program. Next month, Republicans and unaffiliated voters who cast a ballot in the GOP primary will decide whether that is what they want politics to be. Between now and then, Kobach’s competitors might want to offer them an alternative.