The Mark Kirk Dilemma

Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk is a sound, rational, all-around decent guy who represents the best that the GOP has to offer. In 2010 I made phone calls, walked the precincts, and generally laid out to get him elected. It isn’t clear yet who will challenge him in 2016, but it doesn’t matter. I won’t support him.

Sending Mark Kirk to the Senate has accomplished absolutely nothing other than to empower Ted Cruz and Jim Inhofe. Remember when Kirk stood up to Cruz over his ridiculous filibuster of a budget deal? No, I don’t either. He did it as quietly as possible, with a vote for cloture but no attempt to organize any opposition that might have rallied sane Republicans into a relevant power bloc.

Remember the time Kirk called out Rand Paul over his conspiracy-driven filibuster of a nominee to head the CIA? Nope. That’s because Kirk supported him, even making a show of bringing Paul a thermos and an apple, in reference to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Cute.

Contrary to popular belief, the Republican Party has a rich base of solid citizens with the country’s best interests at heart. Many of those Republicans occupy some of the country’s highest positions of authority. Senators like Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Rob Portman and Lamar Alexander are just a few examples.

The problem with these folks is that they are spineless in the face of opposition from the “whacko bird” caucus. Sensible Republicans have been trying for years to get a voice in national politics, but the people we elect have fled from every fight. That’s the Mark Kirk Dilemma and that’s why I won’t support him or any other Republican for a Federal office anytime soon.

Back here in Illinois, Kirk has been proud to support immigration reform. In Washington, silence. In Illinois Kirk has claimed to embrace scientists’ positions on climate change. In Washington when he could have taken a stand that mattered, he has hedged.

Kirk will claim that he’s been “courageous” in taking a stand with Democratic Senator Menendez to impose sanctions on Iran. What courage does that take exactly? Show me the powerful, well-funded pro-Iran lobby in Washington. In Washington, “taking on Iran” is just as courageous as taunting an asthmatic fat kid on the playground.

Kirk has reserved all his “courage” for political targets that can’t fight back.

Sane, sensible Republicans who occupy influential positions in Washington will tell you they are doing all they can. They will claim that they are carefully picking their battles. Climate change, immigration reform, and restructuring the tax code are issues they would like to push forward, but the party at the national level isn’t ready for sound solutions. I’m beginning to think they are right.

In that case, those folks shouldn’t be in Washington. They should be back here in the precincts with us fighting to change the party on the ground. They may claim that they can accomplish more from a position in the House or Senate, but so far there is no evidence to support that position. If Mark Kirk can’t use his platform in the Senate to fight climate change, push back against racist immigration rhetoric, promote sensible fiscal policy, or in any other way counter the power of Neo-Confederates inside the Republican Party, then he needs to come home.

Until someone in the Republican Party is willing to take a visible, courageous stand for sanity in the style of John McCain circa 2000, there is no reason to keep voting for them. I helped send Mark Kirk to the Senate in the hope that he might counter the influence of some very frightening people inside the Republican Party. That was a mistake I am not going to repeat.

Chris Ladd is a Texan living in the Chicago area. He has been involved in grassroots Republican politics for most of his life. He was a Republican precinct committeeman in suburban Chicago until he resigned from the party and his position after the 2016 Republican Convention. He can be reached at gopliferchicago at gmail dot com.

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Posted in Climate Change, Election 2016, Environment, Illinois, Immigration, Neo-Confederate
46 comments on “The Mark Kirk Dilemma
  1. flypusher says:

    This has to be the craziest thing anybody ever tried to get on a ballot:

    I really can’t grok what he thinks this will accomplish. Anyone with more than 2 functioning neurons knows this will get shot down. Is it a “no way you hate gay people more than I do!” thing?

  2. Anse says:

    “Kirk will claim that he’s been “courageous” in taking a stand with Democratic Senator Menendez to impose sanctions on Iran. What courage does that take exactly?”

    It’s a rather amusing thing among certain people. I think this is one reason why the GOP is so obsessed with tax cuts. They are, politically-speaking, the easiest things in America to push for. it takes the same amount of courage as hanging a flag on your front porch on the Fourth of July.

  3. flypusher says:

    I see the potential for a research proposal here – “The effects of Federal office on the vertebral structural integrity of self-professed moderate politicians”. There’s a whole lot of depressing data to use to build it, from both parties.

    I feel your pain Chris. I was so disgusted with the lack of critical questioning back in ’02 when Bush & Co were banging the war drum against Iraq. So much gutless, spineless, moral cowardice in Congress. And in the press.

    2000McCain, how we miss you.

  4. TMerritt15 says:

    I have been following your blog for several months now and find it interesting. I live in Seattle, WA and am basically fairly liberal and believe in budgets that are reasonably balanced. Your quandary with Mark Kirk is similar to the problem we had years ago with Slade Gorton. He was originally a moderate, Republican attorney general and lived in an area of Seattle that tended to be business oriented Republican. In Washington we have an East-West divide similar to Illinois South-North divide. The East side of the state is rural and very conservative, where as the Seattle metropolitan area is very liberal. When Gorton was elected to the Senate in 1980 during the Reagan sweep, he started moving to the right to fit in with the Republican party in Washington. We were disappointed in him and he was defeated in 1986. In 1988, he ran for the other Senate seat which was held by Dan Evans, who was retiring. He won narrowly by changing his campaign tactics to appeal to the conservative rural areas. He was hoping to build up some power in the national Republican party. That never happened, because he was not from the South and could not be conservative enough for the Southern right wingers. During the subsequent two terms, he consistently worked against urban Washington and for the rural areas and against the indian tribes. Finally, Maria Cantwell (D) defeated him in 2000. She is now completing her second term and is well regarded. She should have no trouble being reelected in 2016. She makes a conscientious effort to represent the entire state. Because she is Democratic she has room to compromise and adopt moderate positions.

    We have had similar situations with some female Republican representatives. They get selected to leadership roles, basically to be a female mouthpiece for the conservative talking points, but can never build up any power because they do not come from the South and will never be accepted by the Southern good old boys.

    Kirk appears to be following the same path as Gorton, i.e. don’t anger the ‘right wing nuts’ and attempt to split thread the needle, so as to win reelection and eventually build up enough seniority to develop some power in the Senate. That will never work, because he will never be a “true red, right wing nut” and the Republican “good old boys” will never accept him into leadership. Illinois best bet is to elect a moderate Democrat, who can represent the entire state.

  5. Moslerfan says:

    Speaking of Ted Cruz…

  6. Doug says:

    I’m thinking the Republicans are in serious trouble. People like you won’t vote for them because some won’t act like Democrats, and people like me won’t vote for them because they won’t act like Republicans.

    • goplifer says:

      I’m working to make sure that the divide you describe opens wide enough to force a realignment in GOP politics as soon as possible.

    • goplifer says:

      And let’s be clear, when that does actually happen, we might be surprised to find that we can coexist happily inside the same political party.

      Imagine for a moment a party that embraced a basic income in place of the social safety net and drug regulation instead of prohibition. Leave everything else aside for a moment. Wouldn’t that combination be intriguing to a lot of people?

      • texan5142 says:

        All it would take is people who work for a common good instead of party and/or personal beliefs. That includes both democrats and republicans.

      • 1mime says:

        “Leave everything else aside….”

        That’s a whole lot, Lifer. I couldn’t agree more that the Republican Party would be more appealing by moderating views, but I can’t see much hope for change in other social issues. Today’s Houston Chronicle has a lengthy article on the Cruz presidential campaign launch. The strategy? “… the second choice of enough voters in the Libertarian Party and social conservative wings to cobble together a coalition to defeat the chosen candidate of the Republican establishment.”

        There you have it. As you predicted. Let’s see if the American people can be played.

      • unarmedandunafraid says:

        You have my attention. I was just trying to imagine what the near future would bring with a weakened Republican party. Personally, a political party/coalition that just paid the bills would be an improvement. And I don’t care about the name.

        I’m tempted to add another plank but realize that might make it harder to pull a coalition together so I’ll settle for basic income and drug reform. In my opinion, these would solve many side issues.

      • 1mime says:

        Another Salon mind-bending piece about the changing world of politics. A “must-read”. Here’s the summation:

        “Out of the chaos of this prolonged moment and inside the shell of the old system, a new culture, a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Call it what you want. But call it something. Stop pretending it’s not happening.”

        It lays the whole situation bare…..and it’s not going along the expected trajectory.

      • flypusher says:

        “The strategy? “… the second choice of enough voters in the Libertarian Party and social conservative wings to cobble together a coalition to defeat the chosen candidate of the Republican establishment.”

        Interesting that I don’t see anything beyond becoming the GOP candidate.

      • 1mime says:

        Emperor Cruz is still working out the details (-:

    • johngalt says:

      I’m curious, Doug. How is it you think Republicans should act?

      • texan5142 says:

        The purity test?

      • Doug says:

        Primarily, not like lying weasels. Say what you’re going to do, and if you get elected, do what you said.

      • 1mime says:

        “lying weasles…” So, you’re ok with the right wing fundamentalists?

      • johngalt says:

        That’s what scares me about many current Republicans, that they might actually do what they say in their campaigns.

      • Houston-stay-at-Homer says:

        Given the rhetoric upon which the GOP candidates tend to run, then heaven help us all if they actually had the power to do those things.

      • 1mime says:

        Heaven help us if they really had to power to do what they say………

        As someone (you?) stated earlier, we are one president away from that being a possibility. When people of Cruz’ ilk feel they have a real shot at the presidency through whatever means, the chance becomes much more real. The prospect, frightening.

      • 1mime says:

        Surely Homer you’ve noticed that they DO do the crazy things they talk about…..I’d be fine with it if they wanted to impose their views within their own family, but, that is not how they roll.

  7. 1mime says:

    McCain’s independent streak bought him a lot of positive attention in Dem circles even as his selection of Palin killed his chances. In the past couple of years, however, I find him much less appealing – hewing to positions that he used to oppose.

    I am more concerned about seeing our government begin to work again than worrying about “who” will run, or not.

    It’s disappointing to work hard for a candidate only to watch them fail to live up to expectations. I hope Dems find someone worthy of your vote, Chris. For that matter, I hope they find lots of worthy candidates so we can restore a true system of checks and balance in Congress. Then maybe the people’s work will get done.

    • goplifer says:

      That 2000 campaign lit me up.

      I had been drifting out of politics after getting married and having a kid. The nutjobs had taken over the Harris County GOP and I found myself dealing with the likes of Gary Polland down at the courthouse on a consistent basis. He is one nasty creature. With him in charge of the local party I wanted nothing to do with any of it. McCain’s campaign convinced me to jump back in. Those were some eventful years as I got introduced to what was left of the “moderates” in Houston politics.

      I still remember McCain’s speech in Virginia Beach in 2000. He never had the balls to do that again. It makes me sad. Terrible opportunity lost. The 2008 campaign was humiliating.

      • 1mime says:

        Lifer, I’ve seen it happen to so many promising candidates over years of watching the political process churn. Hopes and good ideas fade once the process entangles them. They either aren’t strong enough in their core beliefs to buck the hard elements of their party (either), or they become enraptured with the idea of being in Congress and sell their souls. Governing becomes subservient to staying in office, at whatever cost. How else can one explain the Norquist paranoia, or fear of the NRA on issues which ought to clearly be independently driven by common sense?

        It’s become a game of perpetuation in office and party power versus statesmanship, such as what McCain once represented. He personified the true independent thinker of his times, yet Repubs always accused him of being a RINO. Boy, have we come far to the right from McCain’s brand of individualism! In hearing Steve Schmidt speak about this experience (I admire Schmidt), it was an incredibly painful campaign, so I can understand your disappointment.

        And, Monday, Ted Cruz launches his Presidential bid. How far we’ve come.

      • texan5142 says:

        All the criticism that was laid at Obama’s feet when running for potus should be equally applied to Cruz except for one thing. Obama tried to
        do his job as senator, Cruz has done nothing but obstruct , and yet, those on the right will overlook the blatant hypocrisy .

      • texan5142 says:

        Harris county is full of nasty creatures in politics.

      • 1mime says:

        Harris County is full of nasty creatures in politics…………..You got that right!

      • 1mime says:

        Bobo “Does it have a name, as in “Because we believe in _________________, we did those things.”

        Totally agree. Messaging is the weakest part of the Democratic strategy. They work like hell to achieve specific goals but don’t package them in a way that the average voter gives them credit for. As a Democrat, I can clearly tell you what I stand for. It should be the same for the Dem Party leadership. All that aside, I am informed so I can connect the dots. Most people (of both parties) have become so disgusted with the process they don’t even pay attention until the end.

        Elizabeth Warren is a champion of clear, unadulterated views – like them or not, it’s clear where she stands and why. Howard Dean is rougher around the edges but his message is also focused and direct. It’s time Democrats stop fighting skirmishes without explaining why. Then, maybe more Americans would get on board. Given the direction America is trending – greater inclusion and tolerance – Dems have a true opportunity to grab that sensibility and run with it. If they will. I think they’re right on most of the substantive issues, but poor at selling it.

      • texan5142 says:

        One more thing, wouldn’t April first be a better day to announce his run.

      • Houston-stay-at-Homer says:

        From the article: “It is one thing for the leader of the Christian Coalition to be accused by liberals of mixing church and state. It is quite another to be accused by a popular pro-life Republican presidential candidate and war hero of “shaming our faith.” The cardinal rule of regicide is that if you go after the king, you had better kill him. John McCain is still alive.”

        That John McCain is no longer alive. He started dying in 2006-2007, and was long gone even before he tapped Palin as VP.

        As entertaining as John Stewart is, I don’t subscribe to the notion that he shapes a lot of thinking or voting. People who watch John Stewart already generally agree with John Stewart.


        John Stewart loved John McCain from 2000 – 2006, then McCain changed. Watching The Daily Show during that period was somewhat fascinating as you watched Stewart slowly come to grips with McCain giving in to the right fringe in order to secure the nomination.

        McCain of 2000 would have gotten my vote in 2008. That McCain might have been able to stand up to the congressional GOP social goofballs.

        Unfortunately, that McCain was long gone by 2008.

  8. stephen says:

    I am a fiscally conservative socially moderate kind of voter. When the opposite party’s nominee is closer to that I have no problem crossing party lines. While registered GOP I vote idependent.I found myself voting Obama in 2014 mainly because he was closer to that than his opponent.Who frankly I did not believe had the balls to stand up the fanatics of the GOP. Quite a few Republican moderates I know did the same in my area, the I-4 corridor of Central Florida a key swing area of my state. As close as Florida was we most likely gave Obama the margin of victory in Florida , not that he needed my state to win. I think my children have re-register independent or Democrat. I have not discourage them from doing that. If you always no matter what give your vote to one party you get ignore and that party gets complacent about your concerns. Something Blacks should also realize and rectify.

  9. way2gosassy says:

    Chris, I have always admired your honesty and passion for politics. While I don’t always agree with you on every issue your arguments are always based in reality. I am truly sorry for your disappointment in Mark Kirk and I think all of us in our own way have shared similar disappointments with politicians that we spent a lot of personal capitol in.

  10. RobA says:

    There are two GOP’s, really. The chasm between the tea party and the “sensible” republicans is probably larger then the one between the Sensible Repubs and most dems.

    Unfortauntely, the moderate wing of the party is completely cowed by the lunatic fringe (can they even be called “fringe” anymore within the GOP?). I don’t know how the party can continue to exist like this.

    I expect a fracture if 2016 goes as I expect it will.

    • Bobo Amerigo says:

      If the Repubs do indeed split, I think that will put the Dems in a perilous position.

      Right now, national-level Dems only have to state they are not crazy, which is not much of a political philosophy.

      If ‘sensible’ Repubs clearly state their philosophy and how they want to put that philosophy to work for voters, it would be refreshing and may sound pretty good. The Dems would be scrambling to figure out a response.

      • 1mime says:

        Bobo – “Right now, national-level Dems only have to state they are not crazy, which is not much of a political philosophy.”

        I am not a blind to mistakes Dems have made, but I don’t think it’s accurate or fair to portray them only as the less crazy party. Given the mess that W left for the incoming Dem President Obama, and the insane, orchestrated obstruction he has faced at every step, he and Dems have been holding the place together. Budget deficit, halved; no attacks on American soil; no full scale wars on foreign soil; unemployment halved with months of 200K + jobs added; womens’ rights improved with Lilly Ledbetter; Don’t ask don’t tell – gone; America’s economy leading the world; NY Stock Exchange – long bull run; disciplined, co-coherent Fed Policy (can anyone here tell me they ever understood what Greenspan was saying?); health care reform implemented (however poorly – still an accomplishment to get millions more Americans health coverage); Consumer Protection Bureau established; U.S. dollar at its strongest level in years; no inflation; low gasoline prices (a mixed bag for the industry but for individuals and businesses, a benefit; and the best gross national product growth in the OECD countries.

        All of this had to be fought for and it needs to be acknowledged. IN spite of all the difficulties, Dems have hung tough and for that they need to be thought of as more than just the less crazy party. I’m ready to give Democrats the opportunity to win back the Senate majority and the Presidency. They’ve earned it.

      • Bobo Amerigo says:

        1mime, I agree that the Dems did those good things, despite great opposition from the Rs.

        But it is called? Does it have a name, as in “Because we believe in _________________, we did those things.”

        The Rs are very effective at messaging, as in being ‘personally accountable’ for getting to that ‘city on the the hill’, despite the efforts of ‘feminazis’ and the ‘gay agenda.’ (And since none of them are scientists — a unified message, I point out — we don’t have worry about the climate when we get there.)

        I think the national Dems have been fairly effective at dealing with the complexities that define our world. But they don’t have a good way to talk about it.

        Personally, I wish they would adapt some version of Elizabeth Warren’s level playing field philosophy and show how their domestic accomplishments plus voters’ good citizenship will create that level playing field.

        When it comes to foreign policy, it’s difficult to know if the complications in the middle east can be succinctly communicated: we’re in nuclear containment discussions with Iran while a Iranian general is successfully fighting ISIS in Syria.

        Those 47 senators who think they know what exactly to do at any given time in the middle east are simply idiotic. That kind of belief in one’s own infallibility is why our kids were sent to war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    • vikinghou says:


      I assume you mean the Sensible Repubs would form a third party. It’s all hypothetical, but I wonder if they would be able to siphon off some moderate Dems to join them.

  11. Bobo Amerigo says:

    asthmatic fat kind = asthmatic fat kid?

    I’m sorry for your disappointment. But I like that you can identify so clearly your expectations and how your guy didn’t address them. Clearly, you are in the minority because you are an informed voter.

    I also like viking’s question. And look forward to your response.

  12. vikinghou says:

    “It isn’t clear yet who will challenge him in 2016, but it doesn’t matter. I won’t support him.”

    The next question is…

    If Kirk is on the ballot for the Senate in 2016, will you vote for him or his Democratic opponent?

    • goplifer says:

      Unless the Democrats nominate someone particularly heinous, I’ll be voting for his opponent. Given that this is one of the most attractive potential new seats for the Dems next year, it is reasonable to expect that someone solid will be the nominee.

      • I voted for Obama. But I still remember watching the video of John McCain speaking at a town hall style forum and putting that CRAZY woman back in her place when she accused Obama of being “an Arab.” John McCain told her she was wrong and that Obama was a decent man who just had a different opinion on America’s policies. And when I saw that clip of McCain, I thought to myself, “He could win. If he kept doing that.” Back then, McCain was a strong supporter of a Cap and Trade system to contain the climate crisis. Back then he was a moderate Republican. And back then, he was willing to stand up to the bullies in his party. I don’t think there are any more John McCains left in the GOP. Not even John McCain himself.

      • way2gosassy says:

        Were it not for Sarah Palin I might have voted for McCain. That seems to have been the last time he said anything honorable about Obama.

      • A few points for today:

        While it would be good for the nation to have two sane parties, I think the Republicans need a California-style walk in the wilderness in order to regroup. Life, an invitation to join us Dems as a Blue Dog Dem. There are conservative dems who share your values and social justice as well.

        As for messaging, the elephant in the room is the near-total Republican control over the airwaves. It’s hard to send out a message when you can’t even get on the air in most places. In addition, the demand for Dems in office to ‘send a message” is inept. The Republicans outsourced their message to full-time message makers decades ago, and so the legislators only have to go along. We Dems haven’t done that-buy radio stations-or even internet radio stations. It’s up to a relatively small number of blogs, about or 2 liberal radio hosts, and the internet to spread the word.

        Those who wonder why black people vote exclusively Democrat only need to listen to Rush Limbaugh and his radio partners every day. Regardless of what individual black people may feel about a certain issue. until the party stops embracing neo-Confederates, there’s little chance thAt more than a smidgen of black Americans will embrace the Republican party.

      • 1mime says:

        Carol….Republican near dominance of airwaves. Boy have you got that right! I have been complaining about this forever. As BoBo indicated, the GOP has the messaging part down. Control of airwaves…buying up major newspapers….gerrymandering at state level to secure House seats and legislate social issues/labor issues that are tough to achieve at federal level….ALEC researching/forming talking points. Pretty smart packaging even if the message sucks.

        What they’re missing? Soul, tolerance, inclusion, ration, respect, pragmatism, humility. Dems have those things in spades but airwaves bought and paid for by GOP.

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