From Wichita, Kansas –
It might seem ridiculous that a Red State like Kansas could be in play in the 2016 race for President, but after spending the last week in the Sunflower State, it wasn’t hard to find parallels with the current state of the Republican Party and how some party officials and GOP voters still aren’t fully embracing Donald Trump.
This was a state that went easily to Ted Cruz in an early March caucus, as Trump was trounced across Kansas, and lost by a wide margin here in this state’s biggest city.
Even with that, Trump should be the big favorite here in Kansas for November.
There has only been one poll in the Sunflower State of late, and it was one that made you wonder whether it was totally wrong, because it had Hillary Clinton leading Trump in Kansas, a state which hasn’t voted Democratic for President since LBJ.
As that tweet notes, the political scene in Kansas has been more about Gov. Sam Brownback (R) in recent years, as he’s become a lightning rod which Democrats hope to use to get back in power – and yes, it might be possible that could filter into the race for President as well.
But those poll numbers about Trump and Clinton still feel like an outlier – at least right now.
While driving the roads around Wichita for the past week, I didn’t see much about this year’s election, in fact – this might be hard to believe – but I saw more evidence of support for Mitt Romney (in the form of bumper stickers left over from the 2012 election) than support for Trump in Sedgwick County, Kansas.
Other than a guy at the Wichita airport with a blue “Make America Great Again” hat on, there was only one other sighting of something to do with Trump – someone who had used white shoe polish to put the word “TRUMP” on his car windows.
That car – parked a bit illegally outside of a local candy spot called the “Nifty Nut House” – was the only thing I ran across that showed off support for Trump.
Even a quick review of Republican social media here in Kansas didn’t show much home grown appetite for Trump.
“The Republican National Convention is three weeks away!” trumpeted Kansas Republican Party chairman Kelly Arnold in his latest GOP newsletter that was released just as I was returning to Washington, D.C.
But while Arnold talked about the Republican National Convention, there was no mention of the words “Donald Trump” by the state party chairman – and if you dig further into what the Kansas GOP puts out on Facebook and Twitter, you won’t find Trump’s name there either.
Still, most people would expect a pretty big reservoir of support for Trump in Kansas on Election Day for the same reason that many GOP lawmakers have gotten on board with the real estate mogul – Donald Trump isn’t Hillary Clinton.
“I just can’t pull the lever for her,” was what I heard about Clinton from a woman who is a solid Republican, but doesn’t like what she’s seen from Trump.
Other reliable Republicans told similar tales of being turned off by the bluster and more of the presumptive GOP nominee.
“Four people have told me they’re going to write my name in, instead of voting for Trump,” one Kansan said of his work mates with a laugh.
Wichita is a pretty good example of the lukewarm embrace for Trump among Republicans, as this city is home to the Koch Brothers, noted arch enemy of Democrats everywhere.
But right now in Election 2016, the Kochs are just on the sidelines, using their money to focus not on Trump or Clinton, but more on efforts at keeping the U.S. Senate in Republican hands.
While Trump was blasting Hillary Clinton and making waves during his trip to Scotland last week, the biggest news media story about the Kochs was the family’s announcement of plans to build a new arts center in Wichita – not anything related to the GOP standard bearer.
While I was in Kansas, writer James Fallows was further west, finding people who are ready to back Trump – but who also don’t like his immigration plans.
That same sentiment is there in Sedgwick County and Wichita, where 14 percent of the population is Hispanic.
At one elementary school earlier this year, the school had students focused on the race for President – the problem was, when Trump’s photo went up alongside others who were in the race, someone would invariably deface Trump’s picture with a mustache, devil’s horns and more.
After replacing the photo and then seeing that Trump had been scribbled on again, the powers that be finally just gave up, and went on without his picture.
As I was waiting for my plane home on Tuesday, an email arrived from veteran conservative activist Richard Viguerie, discussing a meeting he and other more religious conservatives had attended with Trump last week in New York.
“I’d say that my overall impression was that, like Barry Goldwater in 1964, Donald Trump is going to run as himself,” Viguerie wrote.
My immediate thought was that Viguerie better hope that Trump doesn’t finish like Goldwater, who carried only Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.
1964 was the last time Democrats won in Kansas for President.