A political fundraising letter usually starts with this premise: If only we had raised more funds, we could have been more successful in the most recent election, and to ensure future success, we need even more money.
The truth is, money is usually only one factor and may not be the main one.
A conservative Republican group in Johnson County just sent out a fundraising letter. The pitch from the Conservative Republicans of Southern Johnson County starts like this: “The two most common questions fellow conservatives have asked me since the 2016 primary and general elections in Johnson County are, ‘What on earth happened? And what can I do to not let it happen again?”
The answer given in the letter was that conservatives were outspent. There are two problems with this admonition. First, it isn’t true. There were many races where moderate Republicans were outspent by conservatives and their outside organizations, including Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity.
And, even more important, the letter misses the big point, which was that this election was a total rejection of the conservative ethos, namely to slash taxes and starve schools, higher education, highways, pension funds, children’s programs, health care for low-income Kansans, prisons, mental health — virtually anything and everything that government provides.
The 2016 election was a statewide bloodbath for conservatives, but Johnson County stood out as one of the most revolutionary upheavals anywhere in Kansas. Out of a 33-member delegation, eight Republican conservatives, mostly incumbents, were overthrown by moderate Republicans in the primary, and another three conservatives bit the dust by losing to Democrats in the general election. That is a huge swing, about equal to the conservative sweep of moderates four years earlier.
What happened in Johnson County this time around had very little to do with money and had everything to do with higher turnout and Republican moderates delivering a unified anti-message about Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.
Conservatives may have been lulled into complacency after winning big four years ago. Moderate Republicans, on the other hand, claim huge door-to-door campaigning. Dinah Sykes of Lenexa, for example, prevailed over incumbent Greg Smith for the Kansas Senate by knocking on, by her estimation, 16,000 doors. Most other moderate Republicans claim to have knocked on at least 5,000 doors each. And moderate political organizations sprang up all over Johnson County to create a tidal wave of support for their selected candidates.
The many mailings from conservatives, which usually work, apparently fell flat this time. Their efforts to link moderate Republicans to liberals, attacking their desire to raise revenue and to spend, spend, spend was just not the right message. Countering those usually reliable messages in a Republican primary, moderates swung back with vigor, blaming Brownback and all conservatives for the state’s budget crisis. Moderates were clear about detailing the voting records of conservatives, who claim to be, for example, pro-education in their campaigns but who then vote the opposite way in Topeka.
I hope conservatives will continue to delude themselves into believing all they need to do is write bigger checks. Then they will ignore the revolt that swept them from power and allow their influence to wane even further.