To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Friday, July 19, 2024

Observercast

Karma For Cole

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Paul Bondar’s quixotic quest to unseat 11-term U.S. Rep. Tom Cole would be comical were it not emblematic of the decline of our democratic republic, generally, and the Oklahoma Republican Party, specifically.

Bondar, as you undoubtedly know from a tsunami of mud-slinging TV ads, is the Texas carpetbagger whose primary electoral qualifications are … what, exactly?

Deep pockets? A quiver-full of MAGA slogans?

In normal times, a Bondar-esque candidacy would be summarily dismissed as little more than a gnat flitting about an elephant’s derriere. These are not normal times.

Turnout in tomorrow’s GOP primary is likely to be low. There’s little suspense, save a few battles for open statehouse seats.

Cole-Bondar? An incumbent with deep roots in the district who was recently elevated to one of Congress’ most powerful positions – chair of the House Appropriations Committee – opposed by an interloping political novice? Yawn.

Even though Cole should win handily, the results are worth watching because of what they will say about the 21st century Oklahoma Republican Party.

Is the party of iconic statesmen like Henry Bellmon truly dead and buried? Or has its hard-right zealotry – animated by Christian nationalism, authoritarianism and patriarchy – peaked?

One primary election doth not a trend establish. But when considered in context, it could offer clues of where Oklahoma is headed politically.

Are voters satisfied with two decades of GOP legislative dominance that has done precious little to solve the state’s most pressing problems? Or a governor constantly feuding with arguably the state’s best partners, its tribal nations? Or a state superintendent who’s used precious time and tax dollars to promote himself nationally rather than elevate our schools?

What if the wholly unqualified Bondar keeps it close? Does that suggest most Republicans in the district couldn’t be bothered to vote? Or that current GOP leadership, preoccupied with culture wars, remains ascendant – putting the likes of Cole onto the political endangered species list?

The irony is, Cole was the mastermind of today’s Oklahoma GOP that over last half-century shed its traditional playbook prioritizing pro-business, fiscal conservatism and individual conscience on such matters as reproductive rights and separation of church-state.

As a political consultant, Cole exploited the hard-right’s anti-immigrant, anti-reproductive rights, anti-anything-but-white-dominated-Christian-patriarchy to assemble an army of committed voters that helped erase a century of Democratic dominance and replace it with GOP supermajorities in the Legislature as well as an all-Republican lineup in statewide offices and the D.C. delegation.

Now, Cole is a target of the loons.

Of course, Oklahoma’s hard-right political climate cannot alone explain Bondar’s candidacy. It also was made possible courtesy of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC ruling that opened the floodgates on campaign spending.

Individuals like Bondar always could self-finance their campaigns, of course, but the Dark Money era significantly changed political dynamics by intensifying nasty performance politics. The era of scorched-Earth campaigning pushed hard-core voters into partisan silos and turned off more casual voters.

The result: fewer candidates and fewer contested elections – with many races now decided in primaries, courtesy of gerrymandered districts that cater to one major party or the other. It creates opportunity for fat-cat ideologues like Bondar, who’s clearly guzzled the Trump Kool-Aid.

Interestingly, Bondar’s candidacy seems to have unified some Republicans who typically would differ over their party’s direction. It’s startling to see Republicans as moderate as Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt and as uber-conservative as Muskogee blogger Jamison Faught effectively singing the same anti-Bondar chorus on social media.

As Faught wrote on X: “I’m no Tom Cole fan; believe me, I’d love to see him replaced by a conservative with backbone. But is a carpetbagger from Texas the best we can do?”

Naturally, state Superintendent Ryan Walters, who never met a pot he didn’t want to stir, jumped into the intra-party dust-up by endorsing Bondar over his party’s godfather. Political suicide for someone interested in climbing the statehouse ladder to the governorship?

Arch-conservative, former state Sen. Kyle Loveless thinks so, as evidenced by his shot across Walters’ and Bondar’s bows:

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Arnold Hamilton, Editor
Arnold Hamilton, Editor
Arnold Hamilton became editor of The Observer in September 2006. Previously, he served nearly two decades as the Dallas Morning News’ Oklahoma Bureau chief. He also covered government and politics for the San Jose Mercury News, the Dallas Times Herald, the Tulsa Tribune and the Oklahoma Journal.