The GOP breathed a huge sigh of relief Tuesday night when Republican Ron Estes eked out a narrow win to become the next Representative of the 4th District of Kansas.The previous holder of the seat, Mike Pompeo, who stepped down to become director of the CIA, won each of his three elections for the seat by at least 30 points. So a single-digit margin of victory for the Republican candidate is a huge comedown.
It was a victory that was at once a relief and an embarrassment for Republicans. In November, Donald Trump won the district by 27 percent; on Tuesday, Estes beat Democrat James Thompson by single digits. And that was after a last minute infusion of cash from national Republicans, robo-calls from both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence encouraging Republicans to vote, and a Monday in-town rally with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
“We just had to scare everyone out to vote,” Kansas GOP Chairman Kelly Arnold told BuzzFeed News.
But BooMan is not impressed:
I'm no longer really amused by the gamesmanship that allows us to claim moral victory if we lose an election by less than 30 points. In this case, it's not even remotely true because the problems for Republicans in Kansas are highly specific to that state. Gov. Sam Brownback may be a hard-right Christian politician but his name is a dirty word even among his evangelical base. If the Democrats do well in the special election tonight, it will have a lot more to do with Brownback that anything to do with Trump.He has a point. Did you see the Morning Consult poll showing that Chris Christie is the most unpopular governor in America? Sam Brownback is the second-most unpopular governor. He has 27% approval in his state and 66% disapproval.
Dave Weigel tells us this about Ron Estes:
... in Topeka, the state capital, he became associated with a Republican governing team that has presided over a weak economic recovery and a series of budget deficits. Democrats — and increasingly, voters — came to blame Gov. Sam Brownback’s supply-side tax cuts, which ate into the state’s revenue.So there are state-specific issues involved. This wasn't a referendum on Trump.
In 2016, as Republicans won across the country, the party lost ground in Kansas. Democrats gained 12 seats in the state House and one seat in the state Senate, after moderate anti-Brownback Republicans defeated conservatives in a series of primaries. On Election Day, Trump carried the 4th District easily — but Republicans lost three of their party’s state House seats.
Or, more precisely, it wasn't just a referendum on Trump. Without detailed polling, we can't tell how much this was a rebuke to Trump and how much it was a rebuke to Brownback and his acolytes.
Either way, the results suggest that voters in deep-red areas might no longer be automatically turning out in great numbers for candidates seen as maximally anti-Democratic. You can say that Trump isn't a traditional Republican, but he did define himself as the antithesis of two Democrats, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, so in that way he's not very different from Brownback and members of his wing.
Also, the results suggest that deep-red voters are disillusioned by crap legislation, even if it comes from their beloved Republicans (the budget in Kansas, Trump/Ryancare in Washington).
So that's good. Let's celebrate that. Let's go for some wins in more competitive districts -- and put up a fight in every district.
And maybe there's a future in the Republican Party for right-centrists who don't say no to every idea from the left. That new legislature in Kansas may still be Republican, but it voted for an Obamacare Medicaid expansion, although Brownback vetoes the legislation and an attempt to override the veto failed. In Congress, Republicans who are skittish about rolling back Obamacare helped kill the Trump/Ryan repeal-and-replace effort, and stand in the way of any attempt to revive it. And in that Morning Consult poll, the two most popular governors are Republicans who express open support for Democratic positions on some issues, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Larry Hogan of Maryland. I'd rather elect progressive Democrats, but a less toxic GOP would be very good for the country.