GOP terrified of Kansas fiasco: How they're desperately trying to save Senate seat

Paul Ryan, Rand Paul and other "luminaries" are all flocking to Kansas, as GOP finally recognizes a mortal threat

Published September 24, 2014 6:59PM (EDT)

Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan                                                      (Reuters/Yuri Gripas/AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan (Reuters/Yuri Gripas/AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

The Republican Party, both nationally and in the state, appears to have come to terms with the fact that it may lose a Senate seat in Kansas and with it, potentially, a Senate majority. What's that all about? Well, it's largely about the Republican Party going out of its way to destroy itself in Kansas by pursuing Republican Party policies ... but never mind that. There are more important things to take care of right now, like saving this Senate seat, than an honest introspection of the party's fundamental ideological flaws. There's this independent running, Greg Orman --  thinks he's cock of the walk. Pfft! Time to squish him.

Polls are showing Orman, as the old Kansas expression goes, "kicking Pat Roberts' ass right now." He holds a mid-high single-digit lead over the longtime incumbent, and the election is in six weeks. And with the Kansas Supreme Court ruling that erstwhile Democratic nominee Chad Taylor's name does not have to appear on the ballot this year, Orman, and the Democrats, will likely get the one-on-one match-up they seek.

The Republicans have woken up, recognized the challenge, and are just starting to respond in kind. The strategy, as far as we can tell, is tripartite. It's not creative, as campaign strategies go -- they don't have to be -- but there is some risk to it: If Orman ends up winning anyway, he may not find himself interested in caucusing with the Republican Party.

So, about that strategy.

Have every vaguely famous Republican in the country visit Kansas to campaign with Roberts. John McCain, Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan and Rand Paul will all visit Kansas in the near future. Also: Sarah Palin. They're even wheeling poor old Bob Dole out onto the stage, bless him. Expect any other luminary who's hoping to build chits within the party ahead of a presidential candidacy to pop up in the next few weeks -- Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, etc. They'll all be there to explain to the decent salt-of-the-earth God-fearing folk of Kansas that this grand Republic of ours may well collapse if Pat Roberts isn't around for another six years.

Have Pat Roberts say crazy right-wing stuff all the time. "Word on the street" in Kansas was that after his narrow primary victory over some clown physician, Pat Roberts didn't do much campaigning at all. Now relaxation time is over, sorry to say, and the smelling salts have been issued to the patient. Roberts is cranking up the rhetoric to shore up support from the state's Republicans. It's just not clear that he is the most polished campaigner. Consider Roberts' remarks yesterday at an event with Dole.

But at any rate, we have to change course because our country is headed for national socialism. That’s not right. It’s changing our culture. It’s changing what we’re all about.

We're going to give Roberts the benefit of the doubt and argue that he's too dim to know that he said our country is headed for Nazism. But maybe in future speeches, he should change "national socialism" to "socialism, nationally" -- or just not say that the country is headed toward socialism at all, because that's obviously wrong. You wonder if Bob Dole, who's been critical of the GOP's rightward lunge in the last few years, and was shot by actual Nazis in World War II, heard that invocation of "national socialism" and reconsidered his decision to show up.

Savage Greg Orman in every way. Well, yeah. Even though Democrats are (quietly) rooting for Orman, there's no indication that he'd sign up with the blue team if he was elected. But for the GOP, tiptoeing around Orman's record to keep the party in his good graces is a low priority compared to winning the race for Pat Roberts. So they're going all-in to ruin Orman.

First, there's Orman's business record. Orman is a very wealthy man, and with great wealth comes ... shady associations: "[The GOP's] first volley this weekend: reports that Orman represented Rajat Gupta — the former Goldman Sachs board member who incurred criminal and civil fines of more than $18 million and was jailed earlier this year for securities fraud — on a two-person board of a Cayman Islands private equity partnership." (I, for one, thought that the GOP had ruled attacks on someone's business dealings in the Cayman Islands OUT OF BOUNDS during the 2012 presidential election. But minds change.) The Hill reports further that "Kansas Republicans say to expect more information on his business dealings to come out in the coming weeks — likely as a systematic drip-drip of information, to keep the issue alive throughout the race."

Meanwhile, Team Roberts has a new campaign manager, Cory Bliss, who's got all sorts of fun sound bites to share: "There’s not a single thing that Greg Orman is honest about: his political views, which party he’ll caucus with, his business background." The Hill adds that "Roberts has also already begun to hammer Orman for his policy positions on issues like a pathway to citizenship, which he supports, and ObamaCare, which he’s said won’t be repealed." And while Orman has donated to both Republicans and Democrats in the past, the GOP is going to drown the airwaves with messages about how Orman donated to the 2008 campaign of Barack Obama, the worst person in human history. Aside from Greg Orman.

These attacks will have teeth. So far, Orman and his team's responses to these accusations have been of the we need people to stop the character attacks and work to solve problems variety. They're going to have to do better than that. Should Orman manage to withstand the battering and win, though? It's hard to see how he'd be inclined to throw the Senate to the political party that just tried to ruin his life.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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