Brownback 2016? Norquist Bets On Kansas Gov

by Betsy Woodruff

Sam Brownback might not be a household name yet, but Grover Norquist says that’s going to change in 2015.

The Kansas governor, who ran a short presidential bid in 2008 and served in the Senate for a decade and a half, has a big fan in the Americans for Tax Reform head. Norquist tells National Review Online that Brownback is strategically positioned for a 2016 presidential bid, and that he’ll be a competitive candidate . . . if he decides to run.

Brownback himself is keeping his powder dry. When Yahoo’s Chris Moody asked the governor about a 2016 bid at a brunch Saturday sponsored by ATR, Brownback said he was focused on getting reelected in Topeka. He wouldn’t comment on whether or not he’s ruled out another run for the White House.

Norquist says the urge to run for president is like malaria: Once you get it, it never really goes away.

“Because he’s done it once, it is credible that he may choose to do it again,” Norquist says. “He’s thought about it.”

One thing Norquist likes: Brownback’s politically aggressive governorship. When he won the governorship in 2010, Brownback inherited a state legislature composed of what Norquist calls a conservative House and a Republican-but-insufficiently-conservative Senate.

“On bedrock economic issues, they sucked,” said Norquist, author of ATR’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge and 2013 winner of the Improv and Comedy Club’s annual “D.C.’s Funniest Celebrity” award.

So Brownback took an unusual step: He worked to primary eleven senate Republicans who weren’t on board with his agenda — a politically risky move that paid off in spades. Nine of those eleven incumbent state senators lost their primaries. And all nine Brownback-backed primary winners went on to win their general elections.

What happened to the two survivors?

“One, I’m told, is shell-shocked and sits in the corner and doesn’t talk to anybody,” Norquist says. “And the other sort of came over and rejoined our team.”

That tough political move gave the governor a like-minded state house which, in turn, sets him up to enter 2015 with a slew of conservative accomplishments that could distinguish him from other red-state governors. While the agendas of GOP governors in other red states have been crippled by state legislatures dominated by less-than-conservative Republicans, Brownback can show a host of tax cuts as well as a state law protecting Kansans from infringements of their right to bear arms.

If Norquist’s enthusiasm turns out to be contagious, Brownback could be well-situated for a dark-horse bid.