Pro-Choice GOP Win, Kline Defeat Signal End to Social Conservatism

There’s no place like home.

Pro-Choice Republican Lynn Jenkins defeated Anti-Choice social conservative former Congressman Jim Ryun in the Second Congressional District in Kansas. Anti-choice national nemesis Phill Kline, who was defeated as Kansas Attorney General two years ago, lost his election to remain Johnson County District Attorney.

Kline didn’t just lose. He was trounced 60-40 percent. Jenkins won a very narrow victory that may be subject to recount.
Kansans have spoken loud and clear and they are rejecting extremist anti-choice rhetoric. The far-right has overreached, as has the Bush Administration on so many levels, and moderate Republicans tonight claim their first real victory in Kansas, with similar national implications, since Nancy Kassebaum was elected as the first woman to win a U.S. Senate seat from Kansas, in 1978.

Many people in the nation will not think "trend-setter" and "Kansas" belong in the same sentence, but take it from a native, this is a sure sign that the end is near for social conservative ideologues and their stranglehold on the GOP.

Kansas politics historically ebbs and flows between conservatives whose politics descended from Southern pro-slave forces, and progressives with politics that descended from Abolitionists who came from New England.

"Bleeding Kansas" set a trend toward Civil War, tonight Kansas could be witnessing the first evidence of Culture Peace; the beginning of the end of a 30 year political cycle dominated by social conservatives.

This pro-choice Republican victory in uber-conservative Sen. Sam Brownback’s home state, should give Sen. John McCain pause as he considers his selection for vice president. The extreme fringe of his party, whom he once referred to as "agents of intolerance", is trying to deny former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge a spot on the GOP ticket because he is proudly pro-choice. Will McCain recognize the trend in time, and offer independent and moderate Republican women voters a reason to consider his candidacy, or will he treat pro-choice voters with the same respect he treated his wife when offering her up to compete in a wet tee-shirt contest in which pickles and bananas are involved?

Kline, along with Jim Ryun, who lost his Congressional seat to Rep. Nancy Boyda (D-KS) two years ago, are paragons of the social conservative ideal of family values. Kline abused his offices and ignored real issues to doggedly pursue Dr. George Tiller, a Wichita physician that performs abortions, trying to get his hands on the private medical records of Dr. Tiller’s patients. Ryun, an Olympic silver medal runner, was exactly what many anti-choice legislators are – a reliable vote on social issues who doesn’t aspire to accomplish anything substantive in Congress.

But they had the right "family values" and thought voters didn’t care, and/or wouldn’t notice, as they pursued ideological agendas on taxpayer time. As they and other social conservatives put their narrow views above the work of the taxpayers, the country slowly slipped into economic free fall, got entangled in a war that should never have been waged, and racked up the largest deficits in our nation’s history. Social conservatives and their family values propped up the careers of Phill Kline and Jim Ryun, both now distinguished as signs of end times for their ideological movement.

Social conservative family values, it turns out, are about controlling other people’s personal life decisions, invading their privacy, and distracting our democracy from critical economic and security issues. Social conservative family values, it turns out, are further outside the American mainstream than they would like us to believe.

Last week on Race for the White House, NBC’s Political Director Chuck Todd said;

The Republican Party has been eating itself alive.
The party just went too far to the right in too many instances. So many
libertarian-style Republicans, they are not motivated by social issues,
but are motivated by taxes and smaller government … They are not
going to be able to use social issues [in states like Ohio] as
effectively as they have in the past.


If, as Tony Perkins of the conservative Family Research Council said in his newsletter last week, they "can claw their way back into this election", it will not be because the GOP followed social conservative ideologues off the far-right cliff. But that is what Tony Perkins thinks. It is what Sen. Sam Brownback and Sen. Tom Coburn think. It is what James Dobson thinks, along with Pastor John Hagee, the Catholic Conference of Bishops, the Concerned Women for America, Karl Rove, Operation Rescue, Fox News, Anne Coulter, Laura Ingram, Rev. Pat Robertson, Rush Limbaugh, and many others who have profited handsomely from the movement they helped build. No, those on the extreme right believe the Republican brand is in trouble because the GOP has not yet gone far enough to the right. American voters appear to see it differently.

The Kansas GOP primary suggests a very different path for McCain, but Democrats need not fear. The McCain of 2000 who saw the truth of these "agents of intolerance" is nowhere to be found. The McCain of 2008 will follow Perkins, Brownback, Coburn, Hagee, Dobson, and the rest of the anti-contraception, anti-choice extremists off the cliff in a futile attempt to rally a base that never has, and never will, trust him.

Sen. John McCain may then have the satisfaction of presiding over the demise of the social conservative movement that forced him to give up his maverick image as a straight-talker. In the end, history may judge that as his greatest contribution to his party and his country.


Special thanks to Todd Epp, former producer/reporter for KTWU-TV in Topeka, Kansas for his live blogging on the races at Kansas Watch. Great to connect Todd!

See RH Reality Check’s Phill Kline coverage for more details on just how huge this win really is.



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  • invalid-0

    Wow – this is HUGE!! Great insight – Obama 08.

  • invalid-0

    …wasn’t Kansas also one of the first states to reject abstinence-only funding?

  • invalid-0

    I’ll be celebrating tonight!

    Always a Proud Kansan — even when things were crazy (creationism in the classrooms anyone?!)

  • invalid-0

    It is sad that a split in the Republican party allows such things to happen. We are one of the only states that allows “abortion” for viable fetuses, and nothing is done to stop this!

    Boyda has tried to join the Blue Dogs, and is moving into the conservative area of the Dems—she may even switch her views on choice—to reflect her constituency (Nemaha county has the largest concentration of Catholics in the US in two townships, and her husband’s home county is 70% Catholic). Boyda is quiet about RH—Jenkins isn’t. Dumb-move.

  • invalid-0

    It’s sad to see someone rejoice in a victory against human life, but its not surprising that a commentator on this website will defend anything abortionists do, even when there is clear evidence that it violates state law.

    When killing unborn children, the “doctor” can do no wrong — especially if it is the biggest abortion provider on the planet, Planned Parenthood.

  • scott-swenson

    Matthew: Actually what I wrote about was noting a decided shift in the electorate away from judgmental policies and politicians that seek to divide, ignore the people’s business, and have created the economic and global crises we now face. You can continue to believe that the economy would right itself, that our reputation in the world would be restored and that jobs, schools and our health care system would be perfect if only we made one medical procedure illegal. The truth is, even if you had your way, it would do nothing to stop abortion, it would only make them illegal and unsafe, criminalizing women and doctors. Education and prevention are what the vast majority of people who are truly interested in the lives of women and children are focusing on moving forward, now that we can see the passing of the social conservative era. Like prohibition, it will be an odd but interesting historical footnote. Thank you for continuing to help us make our case though, the more you comment, the more people see that for anti-choicers it is about controlling the private family and personal life decisions that we all face in different ways. No one on this site is trying to tell you what to believe or how to live your life. We’d appreciate it if you’d do the same.

    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • invalid-0

    The entire premise of your article is false. Jenkins is pro life in the vast majority of cases. She only wants an exception for rape, incest, and if the life of the mother is in danger. Social conservatism is not dead at all.

    “On abortion, Ryun describes himself as “pro-life” while Jenkins has favored restricting abortion but wants exceptions for rape, incest and protecting the life of the mother”