Out­siderism’s mys­te­ri­ous ways

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - E.J. Dionne is syn­di­cated by The Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group. EJ Dionne Colum­nist

Will Mis­souri be the one state next Tues­day that pro­duces an anti­estab­lish­ment tri­fecta? And will we ever get to ex­plor­ing how Don­ald Trump, who has traf­ficked with old-style politi­cians all his life, has got­ten away with cast­ing him­self as the year’s premier out­sider?

Mis­souri was, as re­cently as 2008, a pres­i­den­tial swing state. This year, it’s Trump Coun­try. But when it comes to con­trol of the United States Se­nate, the state is liv­ing up to its old rep­u­ta­tion as a de­cider. Thanks to the po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­tise­ment of the year and a re­lent­less fo­cus on the Repub­li­can in­cum­bent’s rep­u­ta­tion as an in­sider, Demo­cratic Sec­re­tary of State Ja­son Kan­der, a 35-year-old Army Na­tional Guard vet­eran who served in Afghanistan, is within a whisker of up­set­ting Sen. Roy Blunt.

Blunt, who served 14 years in the House be­fore win­ning elec­tion to the Se­nate in 2010, is a courtly, old-fash­ioned politi­cian who is proud of his skills as a vote counter and touts his abil­i­ties as a bi­par­ti­san deal maker.

Such cre­den­tials might be as­sets in an­other year. But in 2016, Blunt’s es­tab­lish­men­tar­i­an­ism is un­der at­tack as Kan­der re­minds vot­ers that Blunt’s wife, daugh­ter and two of his sons are all lob­by­ists.

And the Demo­crat grabbed at­ten­tion na­tion­wide with a tele­vi­sion com­mer­cial in which he wears a blind­fold and as­sem­bles an AR-15 as­sault ri­fle while declar­ing his sup­port for back­ground checks. The cheeky close: “I ap­prove this mes­sage be­cause I’d like to see Sen. Blunt do this.”

The re­sult is that Mis­souri is pro­duc­ing polling re­sults like those in no other state. A Mon­mouth Univer­sity sur­vey re­leased on Tues­day showed Blunt lead­ing Kan­der by a sin­gle point even as Trump en­joyed a 14-point lead over Hil­lary Clin­ton. An Emer­son poll re­leased on Wed­nes­day showed the Se­nate race tied while Trump was up by 15 points. Kan­der, in other words, is shar­ing a lot of vot­ers with Trump.

And in the gov­er­nor’s race, an­other out­sider can­di­date, Repub­li­can Eric Gre­it­ens, was tied in the Mon­mouth poll with Demo­cratic At­tor­ney Gen­eral Chris Koster. In Au­gust, Koster en­joyed an 11-point lead.

Vic­to­ries by Trump, Kan­der and Gre­it­ens would mark Mis­souri as the coun­try’s most re­bel­lious state, which doesn’t sur­prise Woody Cozad, a for­mer Repub­li­can state chair.

“In Mis­souri, this sort of Trump feel­ing was there be­fore it was in a lot of other places in the coun­try,” he said. “It’s not a year to have been there as long as Roy has.”

Cozad sees a deep well of re­sent­ment around the idea that “govern­ment is run for the ben­e­fit of the peo­ple who run the govern­ment and not for the good of the coun­try.” Both par­ties need to face this, he said, no mat­ter how the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion turns out.

There are two the­o­ries as the con­test closes. Cozad and Jack Craft, an­other Repub­li­can cam­paign vet­eran, be­lieve the endgame will move Blunt’s way. “Repub­li­cans are com­ing home,” said Craft, who worked with Mis­souri Sens. Kit Bond and Jack Dan­forth, pi­o­neers of the GOP resur­gence in the state.

But Steve Glo­rioso, a Demo­cratic me­dia spe­cial­ist who has worked for Sen. Claire McCaskill, ar­gues that most vot­ers know Blunt and if they are not for him now, they are un­likely to rally to him. Glo­rioso cited the Mon­mouth poll find­ing that while 73 per­cent of vot­ers have an opin­ion on Blunt, only 56 per­cent have one on Kan­der. And those who do have a view rate Blunt, on net, un­fa­vor­ably, while bet­ter than 60 per­cent of vot­ers who have a view of Kan­der rate him fa­vor­ably.

That Kan­der has put Mis­souri into con­tention is a pleas­ant sur­prise for Democrats who need to net four seats to take con­trol of the Se­nate if Clin­ton wins, five if she doesn’t. Here, as else­where, there is un­cer­tainty about the im­pact of FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey’s de­ci­sion to in­ter­vene in the cam­paign by re­leas­ing word of a new group of un­ex­am­ined emails on a com­puter used by a Clin­ton aide. Repub­li­cans hope The Comey Effect will save some of their en­dan­gered in­cum­bents, in­clud­ing Blunt.

But this raises a ques­tion the na­tion needs to ask it­self. Trump has bragged about his in­flu­ence ped­dling and his clos­ing ar­gu­ment was re­in­forced with help from anti-Clin­ton Repub­li­can con­gres­sional in­sid­ers and the FBI as well. How in the world has he been al­lowed to paint him­self as an anti-es­tab­lish­ment rebel?

Yes, Cozad is right: In­sid­erism is un­pop­u­lar this year. But, be­cause of who Trump re­ally is, his phony out­siderism is a far big­ger threat to our coun­try.

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