We talked late last week about the Kansas Republican Party, led by Gov. Sam Brownback (R), making a concerted effort to purge GOP moderates from the state legislature. The far-right governor had a fair amount of success pushing an extremely conservative policy agenda in his first two years, but moderate lawmakers from his own party kept getting in the way.
By way of a follow-up, it’s worth noting that Brownback’s efforts paid off: several moderate Republicans lost in GOP primaries this week, including state Senate President Steve Morris. Brownback provided the political support for the far-right candidates, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce PAC and the Koch brothers provided the finances, and the result is a more rigid and ideologically pure party.
Team Brownback won. Morris lost by 4 percentage points, 4,969 to 4,635 votes, to state Rep. Larry Powell. A total of nine Republicans lost – nearly one-third of the GOP caucus. State Sen. Jean Schordof was a pretty typical victim. She was challenged by Witchita city councilman Michael O’Donnell, who told reporter Dion Leftler that the incumbent “doesn’t want to do anything to stop Obamacare.”
The Washington Post added, “[M]oderates in other states might start worrying for their own futures.”
That’s really the important takeaway here. In Kansas, Brownback will now have a radicalized Republican caucus controlling the legislature and signing off on every extremist scheme the governor can cook up. The state will suffer (though the Romney campaign would probably just urge those folks to move to Massachusetts).
But the larger trend is that moderate Republicans, in Kansas and elsewhere, keep receiving an unmistakable signal: either move sharply to the right or your career in public service will be over.
Political science models typical suggest this kind of radicalization inevitably backfires – a party becomes so radicalized that mainstream voters balk, the party loses, and has no choice but to moderate in order to recover electorally.
Republicans in the 21st century are putting this model to the test. At this point, if the GOP is even the slightest bit worried about blowback, they’re hiding it well.