TOPEKA — Kansas Republican rebels disgruntled with the status quo in the nation’s capital — the same crowd rallying on behalf of billionaire entrepreneur Donald Trump — are pounding the keys of social media sites to urge tea party upstart Milton Wolf to run again for U.S. Senate.
Instead of working to topple Sen. Pat Roberts, who narrowly defeated Wolf in the 2014 primary, the Johnson County radiologist’s GOP target would be Sen. Jerry Moran. The senator will be seeking a second term after surviving the brutal primary in 2010 against fellow U.S. House member Todd Tiahrt and coasting to general-election victory.
“Somebody needs to unseat this yahoo,” Brad Bennett declared in a Facebook post. “If Dr. Wolf runs against him, I’m there.”
Lorie Medina issued an anti-establishment warning: “Milton lives to fight another day. Just you watch.”
Wolf, a distant cousin to President Barack Obama who fell short 48 percent to 41 percent against Roberts in the GOP primary, has done nothing to dissuade his fan base that another campaign might be on the horizon.
He said in a statement a majority of Republican voters across America were inclined to reject “career politicians in favor of real-world achievers.”
“Political insiders like Jerry Moran make lots of promises — lower taxes, less spending, defund Planned Parenthood, stop Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, anything to get a vote. But after Moran’s two decades in Washington, we’re still moving in exactly the wrong direction,” Wolf said.
In a bizarre August spectacle, Wolf confronted Moran at a town hall in Wamego. He used the event to accuse Moran, Roberts, Gov. Sam Brownback and other Republicans of a conspiracy — “laws have been broken” — to discredit him.
Meanwhile, Moran quietly goes about the perfunctory business of organizing a re-election campaign. He is securing cash and commitments, while comfortable with the knowledge he doesn’t possess some of Roberts’ vulnerabilities.
Roberts was accurately portrayed as a 50-year veteran of the inner circle in Washington. He was accused, perhaps unfairly, of having lost a viable connection with Kansas’ interests because he spent more time at home in Virginia than at home in Dodge City.
Moran, who declined to comment about a potential challenge by Wolf, isn’t a four-term senator like Roberts and has obsessively returned to Kansas on weekends throughout his tenure in the U.S. House and Senate.
Wolf, an avid poster to Facebook and Twitter, was damaged in early 2014 when news reports detailed his posting to social media of horrific X-rays of dead or injured people that were accompanied by morbid commentary. The material inspired an inquiry by the Kansas Board of Healing Arts, which licenses the state’s medical professionals.
In August, Wolf declared the state board cleared him of wrongdoing. His announcement might have been designed to publicize lack of a medical disciplinary case against him or to stir the embers for another Senate campaign.
Bob Beatty, a political science professor at Washburn University, said human nature dictated first-time candidates who come close to winning a race for federal office look for second-chance opportunities.
“When you come as close as Wolf did to winning a Senate race, the normal reaction in politics is not to say, ‘I gave it my best shot, on to other things,’ ” Beatty said. “It’s perfectly reasonable he should be thinking about running again.”
Beatty also said Kansas was ready for outsider-type candidates because anti-establishment fervor exists among conservatives irritated by politics of Washington. However, he said, it isn’t clear Wolf is the right candidate for the moment.
“If you took away the Facebook part, wow. I think you’d see Wolf looking good. The Facebook stuff makes it difficult. In pure political terms, he’s a flawed candidate,” Beatty said.
Burdette Loomis, who teaches political science at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, said Wolf’s showing against Roberts, viewed skeptically by an important segment of Kansas voters, was unlikely to translate easily to a successful primary run against Moran.
“Milton Wolf should not confuse coming close to knocking off Pat Roberts with the idea that he is a strong candidate,” Loomis said.
Loomis said the influence of social media — Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram — would be part of the political toolbox exploited by candidates in the upcoming election cycle. These platforms offer political figures an inexpensive link to potential voters eager to consume their performances in text and image, he said.
A recent push by Wolf on social media illustrated the point as he sought to publicize the “D” grade given Moran by Conservative Review. The same voting record yardstick gave Roberts an “F” while awarding to others in the Kansas delegation a range of marks. Rep. Tim Huelskamp topped the class with an “A” while Reps. Lynn Jenkins and Kevin Yoder received a “D” and Rep. Mike Pompeo a “C.”
“Why are Republican voters fleeing the GOP establishment and flocking to non-politicians like Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina?” Wolf posted. “Simple. They’re sick of politicians who talk a good game but think they live under a different set of rules, even right here in Kansas.”
A review of Facebook pages maintained by Wolf and Moran reveal a different approach to sharing information.
Both offered notations about events in their personal lives, with Moran highlighting the wedding of a daughter and Wolf documenting vacations, sporting events or walks through a park.
They shared sharp-tongued observations about politics over the years, but Wolf did reduce in 2014 and 2015 the volume of crass commentary on subjects Moran has strategically avoided like the plague. There is a dullness to Moran’s posts to Facebook that Wolf seems compelled not to duplicate.
In the past week, Moran grew so frustrated with the Senate’s inability to stop Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran that he was expressing willingness to ditch the rule requiring a 60-vote consensus to move legislation in the chamber. He celebrated Constitution Day on Thursday by declaring Americans were “blessed to live in a nation that is safe, free and prosperous.”
His Facebook pages contain a photograph of him playing a board game with his father in 1964 with grip-and-grin shots of him with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — all candidates for the GOP presidential nomination.
Moran repeatedly denounced Obama in 2011 by criticizing the Affordable Care Act as well as “heavy-handed labor and environmental regulations” that served to take a “tinder-dry economy and struck a match to it.”
After he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010, Moran endorsed a moratorium of federal budget earmarks because “Kansans expect government to spend less and spend wiser and this ban will help change the way Washington does business.”
In the past six years, Wolf regularly relied on Facebook to promote his radio and television appearances and share his latest blog contribution to the Washington Times. There are numerous conversations about national politics.
In 2009, Wolf also wrote on Facebook about Chuck Norris’ testicles and the search of Kansas City-area men for “100-pound boobs.” He appeared amused in 2010 by a boy who came to the emergency room after jumping off a dresser onto an upturned pencil, “and, of course, I got pictures. I’ll post them later.” That same year, he was critical of a man injured in an explosion and left in a vegetative state for several months before dying. “Nice use of tax money,” he said.
Wolf referred during 2011 and 2012 to Occupy Wall Street areas as “Nazi-endorsed rap camps,” posted a link to the collection of “great foreign body X-rays” that featured bullets, knives and other objects embedded in brains and downplayed U.S. Rep. Todd Akin’s remarks about “legitimate rape” and pregnancy.
In 2013 and 2014, Wolf’s energy on Facebook showed devotion to his U.S. Senate campaign against Roberts. As pages of the calendar turned to 2015, Wolf paid greater attention to Moran on social media.
“The reality is our country is in big trouble and the career politicians in both parties have failed us,” Wolf shared two years ago. “They’re the ones that created this mess. They’re never going to be the ones who get us out of it.”
Wolf declared support for a national sales tax to replace the income tax, denounced the $1.2 billion National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility under construction in Manhattan, concluded a “gun free zone” was the equivalent of “target-rich killing zone” and appeared to offer support for the sale of body parts for transplants to alleviate the national shortage.
“I certainly agree that the long-term solution, that could be deployed immediately, is to use market powers to increase the organ supply. Until we increase the supply, it’s a cruel game of musical chairs,” Wolf said.