Steve Rose

Graves and Kassebaum are still model Republicans. But would today’s GOP accept them?

Sen. Nancy Kassebaum at the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego
Sen. Nancy Kassebaum at the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego AP

Am I still a Republican? I claimed to be in two recent columns, as I announced that I am reluctantly voting no on four-term Republican Congressman Kevin Yoder and hell no on self-aggrandizing Kris Kobach, Republican candidate for Kansas governor.

Thus, those who have questioned my self-identification as a Republican have every right to express skepticism.

I can say unequivocally that I am a Republican cut from the same cloth as Bill Graves, a moderate Republican who served as Kansas governor for two terms, 1995-2003. And I am 100 percent the same kind of moderate Republican as former Kansas U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, who served three terms, 1978-1997. We all three see the world from a similar point of view. And all of us are misfits in today’s Republican Party.

Each of them just endorsed Democrat Laura Kelly for Kansas governor over Republican Kobach. If they can do that and still call themselves Republicans, then so can I. The question is, are they still accepted as Republicans themselves?

To find that out and to hear their thoughts about the direction of today’s GOP, I called both and had lengthy conversations. The chats were long because my many questions were not easily answered. We are all a bit stunned by the speed and breadth of the changes that have taken place within the Republican Party. The last 20 years have been nothing less than a GOP revolution. Yesterday’s leadership has become today’s outcasts.

Both Graves and Kassebaum were, in their day, very popular moderate Republicans. Their approval ratings each exceeded 70 percent, almost unheard of for incumbents. Yet, if the primary elections were held today, they admit it would be difficult, if not impossible, for either to even be nominated as the GOP candidate for the offices they held.

That’s because moderate Republicans today are anathema to the GOP conservative base, which is in control. They disparage moderate Republicans as RINOS — Republicans in name only. Those who so easily dismiss their moderate brethren with that simplistic label have revealed themselves to be mindless Republicans who defend their party and its candidates no matter what. They worship at the altar of today’s dogma and follow like automatons President Donald Trump, somehow overlooking his disastrous flaws and misguided policies.

Nancy Landon Kassebaum, whose father Alf Landon was the Republican nominee for president in 1936 against Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, insists she is still very much a Republican.

“I’m a Republican, but that doesn’t mean you walk lockstep always with the party,” she said. Kassebaum thinks for herself, which runs counter to the prevailing rules that you are either with us all the way, or you cannot be taken seriously.

Graves also has little patience for those who do not think for themselves but instead accept and defend whatever is pronounced as the latest official GOP policy. In fact, Graves was not so quick to say that he self-identifies as a Republican anymore.

“I am agnostic,” he said. “I am more interested in the person who is running than their party label. A party label tells you nothing.”

In the blink of an eye, Republicans have become inflexibly conservative and so blindly loyal to Trump. Polls show 84 percent of Republicans approve of the president — those remaining, including many moderates who might disagree with the party’s direction, for now find no big tent to welcome them.

The doubters are instead dismissed or ridiculed. Count me among the disenfranchised. I cannot fairly claim to be a Republican while rejecting many of the party’s current policies and vehemently disagreeing with most of the Trump agenda, if there is one besides impulsivity.

I join Graves and Kassebaum and untold numbers of kindred moderate souls who have been set adrift.