Kansas Republicans just can’t learn from history

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

That’s the original phrase by George Santayana we mangle from time to time as “If you don’t remember history, you’re doomed to repeat it”

Either one should be the motto of the Kansas Republican Party.

In 2018, a contentious gubernatorial primary produced a wounded nominee in Kris Kobach, and a fractured party to compete with an inconsequential Democrat in Laura Kelly with little record of accomplishment and a gadfly Independent candidate in Greg Orman who liked to run for office just to have something to do. At least in that campaign, observers didn’t have to hear him constantly bray about “Pat Raaabberts…Pat Raaabberts” as he had done four years earlier. The GOP never united, the losing primary candidate’s supporters took their ball and went home, and the Democrat, despite only 25% in party registration in the state, went to Cedar Crest.

Arlyn Briggs was jailed during a portion of his campaign for the Kansas Republican nomination for governor for allegedly threatening Anderson County Sheriff’s personnel. He garnered 80,000 votes in the Kansas 2022 governor’s race primary.

Fast forward four years and as Yogi Berra used to say ‘It’s déjà vu all over again.’ Except this time there was no contentious primary, save for a malcontent yahoo from Kincaid who did some of his Quixotic campaigning from a jail cell. The nominee was “a liberal”, declared this Defender of the Faith, “pro-illegal immigration” and other sins that made him unfit to be governor. Incredibly, this Eugene V. Debs wannabe got 20% of the primary vote – 80,000 Republicans – an ominous sign.

The Democrat was still inconsequential, but with a record this time to prove it. She turned the state over to Dr. Strangelove of the state health department; closed businesses and schools in a Covid Panic, vetoed laws to protect female athletes from boys-who-say-they’re-girls, and presided over an incompetent Labor Department where people she had thrown out of work couldn’t get jobless benefits – but criminals and hackers could.

There was also another Third Wheel, desperate for attention but pitifully short on accomplishments. Dennis Pyle echoed the nominee’s county jail inmate annoyance in the primary – “there was no difference between the two candidates…peas in a pod,” Pyle huffed.

Greg Orman, another Independent oblivious to his effect in electing a Democrat Kansas governor, scuttled the 2018 race for the GOP in the Sunflower State.

Pyle had no hope of winning and no idea what to do if he did. This tantrum candidate had no grasp of history, either, identifying him as a true Republican, regardless of what he called himself. He was oblivious to what conservative icon William F. Buckley had cautioned his readers and audiences: “Support the most conservative candidate who can win”

Pyle didn’t; neither did his supporters have an epiphany in the waning days of the campaign when they could see the light in the tunnel was a train bearing down on their party and their governorship.

Kansas Republicans didn’t invent the circular firing squad, they’re just perfecting it.

This is a party with 45% of the voter registration in the state, yet they couldn’t prevent Laura Kelly from winning two terms, after Kathleen Sebelius won two of her own. They even let Joan Finney win a term.

Joan Finney.

But Republicans have a history (there’s that darn word again) of stealing defeat from the jaws of victory. Even The Gipper was guilty once, or at least his supporters were. When Ronald Reagan lost the nail-biting 1976 GOP nomination to President Ford, neither man, nor their wives, could stomach one another long enough to make peace, unite on a ticket, and win an election against a nobody. So, the nobody – James Earl Carter Jr., governor of Georgia – won. And Americans paid the price.

Missouri Republicans were so incensed by the nomination defeat they turned on their own governor – Ford-supporting Kit Bond – who had convinced himself he was on Ford’s short list for a running mate. If he was, he lost – as he lost his day job a few months later when Reagan supporters sat on their hands, and Bond’s national ambitions were derailed in a stunning upset.

The 1992 vanity campaigns of Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot undid George Bush’s second term ambitions, and ushered in eight years of Bill and Hillary Clinton, the blue dress, and later on, “the basket of deplorables.”

So, Dennis Pyle did just what came naturally. He and his supporters got the governor they wanted. Problem is, the rest of us get to share the government they deserve.

– David Hicks is a political analyst living in Bonner Springs and a contributor to The Anderson County Review.