The new junior senator from Kansas is already serving his purpose

Roger Marshall greets supporters at the GOP watch party on election night in Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Let’s go ahead and thank Roger Marshall.

By announcing on Saturday that he would be among those objecting to Joe Biden’s victory when the Electoral College makes it official on Jan. 6, the state’s new junior senator spared us from wasting any time or mental energy hoping he wouldn’t be a doofus.

 

Some Kansans might have expected that Jr. Sen. Doc Marshall would rise to the statesmanly standards set by his supporter Bob Dole, based on Marshall’s November promise to “end the division and … end the fighting between parties that doesn’t lead to progress. We’re going fight to find a path forward that all Americans can walk together.”

By the end of the weekend he’d been joined by a trio of the state’s House members — U.S. Reps. Ron Estes, Tracey Mann and Jake LaTurner — inspired, perhaps, by Marshall’s leadership.

In fact, Marshall’s announcement on Saturday placed him in an odd sort of contention that played out over 48 hours of newsmaking. At first, on Friday, it looked as if the nation’s newest dubious export from Kansas might be soon-to-be ex-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, or Just Mike as he’ll now be known, whose Jan. 1 tweetstorm read like the introduction to his forthcoming book. A six-figure publishing deal for SWAGGER is certain to be announced any day now.

 

Marshall’s and Pompeo’s dual jockeying crystallized something we’ve observed for a long time, now, but may deserve its own official theory. Kansas apparently has some deep existential need to make sure one of our own is always embarrassing us on the national stage.

Consider this timeline — it’s admittedly rough, with some national embarrassments overlapping each other — but basically:

Marshall’s victory in the U.S. Senate primary last August might have put a stake in the political heart of Kris Kobach (it’s too soon to know for sure), whose status as our national embarrassment rose for many years before peaking with that famous 2016 photo of him groveling for a role in the Trump administration and possibly ending when a federal judge sentenced him to refresher classes on evidence and civil procedure after the epic failure of his voter fraud lawsuit in 2018.

For a year or two, Kobach had eclipsed Sam Brownback, who left in July 2017 for his job as the “ambassador at large” for religious freedom in Pompeo’s State Department. By then, the nation had watched for five years as his Kansas tax experiment became Exhibit A in what not to do as governor, a failure so dramatic that even conservative Republicans had turned against him.

Brownback’s exile adventures have taken him so far afield that on Election Day in the United States, he was tweeting from Kazakhstan, making no mention of the democratic process underway back home:

In any event, Brownback’s tenure as most embarrassing Kansan was preceded by the dozen-year reign of Fred Phelps, who earned worldwide derision beginning with his protest at Matthew Shepard’s funeral in 1998 (he’d already been terrorizing Topeka for years).

While this is a uniquely Kansas cast of characters, Kansas is not unique in the national embarrassment department — we have stiff competition from Texas and Alabama, of course and at least. And my theory begins to wobble in the mid-1990s, when Dole failed honorably (if massively) at his admirable pursuit of the presidency.

Clearly my theory needs vetting — or better yet refutation — by historians, political scientists, sociologists, anthropologists and philosophers. Perhaps they can explain what happened in the mid-20th century, during what appear to be the relatively national-embarrassment-free decades between Dole and Doc Brinkley.

Doc Marshall, meanwhile, has an important role to fill in the collective experience of Kansans, who supported his ascension by a decisive and apparently enthusiastic majority. For the 53% who voted for him, Marshall represents the best and brightest of the current Republican Party, and/or the one who’ll help Sen. Jerry Moran look reasonable enough to get re-elected.

Everyone else might as well embrace him. Without a Brownback or Kobach, after all, too many Kansans were inclined to dismiss Phelps as an aberration rather than a natural manifestation of some quintessential darkness in the Kansas soul. Kansans seem to need constant reminders of who we really are, so we’ll work harder to transcend the more difficult aspects of our state psyche. So let’s all just welcome Doc Marshall, the worthy heir to an ignoble line, the fertilizer for our fields, the ass in our per aspera.