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Chapman Rackaway: Wolf faces challenge running as outsider

  • Published Sunday, March 23, 2014, at 12 a.m.

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The fervor of true outsiders leads them to reject everything about the existing structure they revolt against, even those things the old guard does well. That reactionary attitude is usually what ensures the outsiders will make mistakes while learning.

For instance, movement conservatives have led an effort to drive the Republican Party toward hard-right outsiders since the tea party movement began in 2009. Some of the outsider candidates have succeeded. But for the most part, these candidates have been disastrous examples of why while the public might scream for new blood in politics, it craves the polish and strategic professionalism of traditional candidates.

The outsiders have now set their sights on Kansas, and so far the candidacy of Milton Wolf has shown the potential for the same kind of train wreck that plagued tea party-affiliated candidates in the past two cycles.

Wolf comes with all of the outsider bona fides that tea party organizations look for: success in private business, no political experience and an extreme vocabulary that borders on inflammatory. The fact Wolf is a physician gives him a legitimate voice in opposing Obamacare, and his distant relation to the president likely makes Obama detractors giddy.

Taking on Sen. Pat Roberts is tough enough, even though Roberts’ approval numbers are below 50 percent and suggest electoral vulnerability. But Wolf has not been able to communicate that sense of Roberts’ vulnerability to donors: Wolf took in less than a quarter-million dollars from donors in the fourth quarter of 2013, about one-third of Roberts’ haul. And challengers who unseat incumbents generally must outraise their in-office targets by a factor of 2-1 to merely be competitive.

Also, professional campaigners spend significant time training candidates in saying the right thing and scrubbing their personal behaviors to ensure they do not get the campaign off message. But Wolf was knocked off message with reports that he had in the past posted patients’ X-rays on his Facebook wall and made inappropriate comments about them.

Even if Wolf won the primary, he might repeat the fate of other tea party candidates: implode in the general election and hand what was a safe Republican seat to Democrats. Democratic challenger Chad Taylor’s candidacy is certainly indicative of the strategy: Taylor could whip Wolf in a general race, but would tilt at windmills against Roberts.

Wolf and his untested brethren give movement conservatives hope that they can lead a revolution of outsiders in Washington, D.C. If the outsiders they want to elect are Democrats, then they’re right.

Chapman Rackaway is a professor of political science at Fort Hays State University.

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