“Whatever happened to the moderate Republicans of Kansas?” That’s a question I was asked this past week, and it’s not a new one. Similar questions have been asked all across America, as we have seen supporters of both parties — but especially on the Republican side over the course of Donald Trump’s presidency — become unified and defiant in a way they haven’t been in many decades. Here in Kansas, that shift away from moderation poses special complications.
Most students of politics in Kansas have long seen the parties as fairly crude instruments — organizations that roughly reflected the preferences of diverse voters, but which could also be carefully managed. The primary managers, in strongly Republican Kansas, were those moderate voters who faithfully supported the GOP, but also often rewarded those who dissented from any strict ideological line, thus keeping Kansas’s majority party somewhat flexible.
Ed Flentje, a long-time Wichita State University professor who wrote columns like this one for years, regularly presented this as the great virtue of Kansas politics: that the state’s Republican majority was divided enough that many of its representatives could move either left or right as the times warranted, thus allowing the party to adapt, innovate, and pursue good government policies, even progressive ones on occasion, without threatening its political stability.