The Fine People of Wichita

Several years ago, a Twitter friend shared with me his map of the political evolution of the Show Me State (Missouri). Most likely, his focus was on the incredible gains of the Missouri GOP across the rural regions of the state. Upon viewing it, this blogger noted that, despite the rural explosion that had turned Missouri from tilts GOP into solid Republican turf, the party’s performance in the Springfield, Missouri metropolitan area had seen not insignificant declines, a problematic development for Republicans.

While Springfield is not the focus of today’s article, a similar middle America community is – Wichita, Kansas. Mid-sized metros in the American Heartland like these two places (and like Tulsa and Oklahoma City to the south and Omaha, Nebraska to the north of them) are the beating heart of the Republican Party. In fact, the state of Kansas is perhaps the historically most Republican state in America, and will likely celebrate not having sent a Democrat to the US Senate for 100 years come 2032.

In 2016, Sedgwick County (where Wichita, Kansas can be found) cast roughly 180,000 ballots for President, with Donald Trump dominating Hillary Clinton by an impressive 56-39%. Two years later, Sedgwick County completely reversed course, voting by more than 5% in the Kansas gubernatorial race in favor of Democrat Laura Kelly over conservative firebrand Kris Kobach, a contest won in an upset (at least by state partisanship) by Kelly. Kobach, who eeked out a victory in the 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary, is best known for his devotion to Trump, most notably Trump’s anti-immigration platform, and is something of a scourge in establishment GOP circles.

Several weeks ago, to the chagrin of both the Kansas and national GOP, Kobach endeavored to make his political comeback via his run for the open Kansas Senate seat.  Hoping to face him in November in what was perceived to be a winnable race (winnable against only Kobach), Democratic PACs funded several million dollars of advertising against Kobach’s primary Republican opponent Roger Marshall.  To the relief of the GOP, Marshall hammered Kobach by a 41% to 26% statewide margin.  And as the results rolled in, the fine people of Wichita delivered the fatal blow to Kobach’s chances, as he was obliterated by 22% in Sedgwick County despite winning there in the 2018 primary by 8.5% (a victory which propelled Kobach to his statewide victory).

Put simply, from 2018 to 2020, the Republican voters of Wichita transformed from Kobach-curious to anti-Kobach.  The more he become known to them, the less liked he became.  This fall, this commentator expects to see the same transformation among Wichita general election voters in the 2020 Presidential race.  Where Donald Trump won a resounding 17% victory in 2016 in Sedgwick County, expect to see a substantially smaller Sedgwick County margin in favor of Trump in 2020.  The fine people of Wichita may have been Trump-curious four years ago, but the prediction here is that the Trump Presidency has made these voters considerably more Trump skeptical.  Moreso, expect to see similar, substantial declines in Trump’s performance across mid-sized Heartland metros such as Springfield, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and Omaha.

While this blog speaks a great deal on GOP problems in the suburbs, the post-Trump resurgence of the national party will start with regaining an ironclad hold on the Wichita-like mid-sized metros scattered across the central United States.  Many of these places include substantial representations of various blocs of core winning GOP coalition voters: college-educated conservatives in both the business and professional classes, socially and culturally conservative blue collar workers, and transplants from rural America who moved to the “bigger city” to obtain more opportunity without going too far from home.  Each of these groups is central to future GOP success: winning the professional class in Wichita means fighting back in the suburbs despite Trump-era declines; winning the blue collar workers represents continued strength in the industrial Midwest; and winning the rural transplants consolidates Trump-era gains throughout rural America.

For the GOP, win the fine people of Wichita, win the country.  Get it right, Republicans.