To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Observercast

Lankford’s Dilemma

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U.S. Sen. James Lankford is getting a very public education in the reality of modern American politics. The lessons he’s learned remain to be seen.

As you recall, the state’s senior U.S. senator stepped into the national spotlight recently when he helped craft a bipartisan immigration package that most of his Republican colleagues supported … until they didn’t.

In the political equivalent of a nanosecond, they abandoned Lankford, throwing him under the bus politically in service of the GOP’s 2024 presidential nominee, former President Donald Trump, who clearly feared a deal would adversely impact his bid to regain the White House.

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“This is a very bad bill for his career,” Trump told conservative radio host Dan Bongino. “This is crazy. This is lunacy, this bill. And you know what it is? It’s a gift to Democrats.”

Lankford not only ended up suffering a dispiriting defeat in an honorable attempt to solve an actual problem, but also the humiliation of subsequently being unofficially censured by a state Republican Party faction – members of the MAGA cult that respond to Trump’s every command.

Even worse, when President Biden used his State of the Union address to detail the measure’s benefits, network television cameras cut to forlorn Lankford, nodding and saying, “That’s true.” That prompted a near unanimous Oklahoma County GOP convention to officially censure Lankford the weekend after.

“They are trying to hold him accountable,” Chairman Ken Warner told KOCO. “It’s all about the border bill. At least, that’s what I think. They are not happy with how he has worked with both sides of the aisle.”

Oh, the humanity! Daring to work “with both sides of the aisle.”

Though Lankford did the right thing, it was a huge risk given today’s hyperpolarized, hyperpartisan politics. Censure-mania may not blow over by 2028, when he next faces the voters.

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Hopefully, Lankford learns one important lesson from this very public moment of anguish: He will never satisfy his party’s zealots. Moreover, if he works overtime to do so, he will end up offending those voters [and congressional colleagues] who cheered his courage and quest to solve the problem.

What would be the result? He would be Oklahoma’s equivalent of sycophantic Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a political windsock whose top priority is maintaining his Senate seat and steady bookings on national TV where he can preen and bloviate.

Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, Lankford’s first reaction was to relitigate why what he negotiated was worthwhile and the best way forward, while also taking shots at Biden, clearly hoping it would help lower the temperature in MAGA-land.

In an online video and in an e-letter to constituents, Lankford conceded “the facts” Biden recited from the border security proposal “were true,” but added, “While the president was acting like, ‘I’m helpless; you’ve got to pass this bill, or I can do nothing,’ that’s not true. There’s a lot of things that he could do, right now, to dramatically slow the flow of the border. But there are issues that we do need to pass law on to be able to make it even better.”

It’s unlikely, however, most Oklahomans will remember anything but the video of him nodding and saying, “That’s true.” It is powerful imagery. But while he frets it could hurt him among diehard Republicans, it’s a better bet he bolsters his overall standing with Oklahomans by overall by remaining true to his convictions.

The fact is, trying to thread the needle rarely works. It usually just ends up making everybody mad. Worse, it fuels cynicism about our system and its ability to solve real problems.

It’s your call, senator.

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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.
Mark Krawczyk
Mark Krawczyk
March 9, 2023
Exceptional reporting about goings on in my home state as well as informative opinion pieces that makes people think about issues of the day...........get a SUBSCRIPTION FOLKS!!!!!!!
Brette Pruitt
Brette Pruitt
September 5, 2022
The Observer carries on the "give 'em hell" tradition of its founder, the late Frosty Troy. I read it from cover to cover. A progressive wouldn't be able to live in a red state without it.