It was encouraging to read about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders visiting Wichita, Kansas, for a massive rally in support of congressional candidate James Thompson. Is the red state ready to turn blue?
For those of you who live outside the Midwest, you should that there’s an anti-Trump sentiment that is strong — and growing, and slowly morphing into activism. It’s slow because, frankly, most of us born in the Midwestern aren’t activists, by nature. I won’t be surprised, though, to watch the Midwest develop their own version of a progressive movement and to watch this movement grow deep roots in the heartland.
No congressional candidate has ever done what Thompson is doing in this era of unrestricted corporate campaign donations: hold a progressive sword at the precise geographic heart of the dark-money beast.
The heart of the dark-money beast is Kansas, home to the Koch brothers, the billionaires who have many in the Republican Party in their pockets, but when asked if this is Trump country, Thompson responds with a definitive “Hell no!”
James Thompson is “full of piss and vinegar,” from a hard background and applying the lessons learned to the art of politics:
A hard story often comes with hard language. During a period of homelessness, Thompson bathed, washed clothes and fished for food in a canal. He fought for emancipation from an abusive parent and attended 16 schools before finishing high school. This is a not a man who, in the face of rising authoritarianism, will be “civil” to please pearl-clutching political leaders on either side of the aisle.
This is precisely his appeal in southern Kansas. Thompson might be a new star for coastal reporters. But his combination of progressive ideas and unapologetically impolite language has been gaining supporters – and even converting some Trump voters – for a year and a half without the national Democratic party lifting a finger.
In contrast to a version of liberal America often criticized as, well, a bunch of wimps, his campaign slogan is “Fight for America”.
And there are many in the Midwest hungry for a political alternative to a liberal establishment based in urban coastal cities and the politics of divisiveness, mastered by Trump and the current crop of crony Republicans:
Thompson told me he was first encouraged to run for office by Republican friends who felt out of sync with a party morphing into an “insanely right caricature”. A pro-choice, gun-owning military veteran who supports legal weed and social security expansion, Thompson can kick dirt with farmers at rural events, walk in Wichita’s recent pride and Juneteenth parades, and post a photo of himself smiling with two guys wearing “bearded deplorable” shirts after a long conversation about the issues…..
If a centrist model is what works [in Kansas] then why has that centrist model not won the past 20 years, and in fact lost by 20-30 points in every election since ?” Thompson asked me. “The idea that we need to be more like Republicans so we can beat Republicans is asinine. We need to have a clear choice. Something to vote for instead of against.”
Bernie puts it this way:
“It is beyond comprehension, the degree to which the Democratic party nationally has essentially abdicated half of the states in this country to rightwing Republicans, including some of the poorest states in America,” Sanders said. “The reason I go to Kansas and many so-called red states is that I will do everything that I can to bring new people into the political process in states which are today conservative. I do not know how you turn those states around unless you go there and get people excited.”
Thompson knows that, while the progress his would-be constituents seek is toward a serene, humane society, the fire in their bellies must now be summoned.