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Al Cross: As political earthquake shakes Washington, how will it tilt Kentucky’s political landscape?

A political earthquake is shaking Washington. How will it tilt Kentucky’s political landscape?

The quick and easy answer – and for now, probably the right one – is that the impending impeachment of President Trump will rally his Kentucky supporters and help re-elect unpopular Gov. Matt Bevin.

As soon as the Democrat-controlled U.S. House announced its impeachment inquiry, the Kentucky Republican Party tried to draw out Democratic nominee Andy Beshear, saying he should “stop hiding” and say whether Trump should be impeached.

The attorney general wisely wouldn’t go there. He told The Associated Press, “As Kentucky’s top prosecutor, I make my decisions based on facts and evidence. And all I have right now are news stories.”

Actually, no. We have a whistleblower’s complaint about, and a curiously incomplete transcript of, the phone call in which Trump and Ukraine’s president talked about military aid Trump had held up – and in which Trump repeatedly asked for an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and the Biden son who was in a Ukranian firm.

Beshear added that the impeachment process should be non-partisan and “focused on getting to the truth and evidence, and not scoring political points.” But political points will be at a premium in Kentucky until Nov. 5, when voters will decide whether they want four more years of Bevin or a return to Beshear government, in the mold of the attorney general’s father, Steve Beshear, governor in 2007-2015.

Kentucky is one of Trump’s best states, with a clear majority approving his work. Bevin, whose ratings are pretty much the reverse, has hitched his wagon to the president and his core issue, immigration. That isn’t a big issue in Kentucky, as Bevin acknowledges, but he must see that a lot of people who think it is aren’t for him; the same goes for opponents of abortion, the other issue his advertising stresses.

A lot of Republicans aren’t for Bevin because they dislike him personally, largely because of his disparagement of teachers. So, he and his allies want to focus attention on national issues, and associate Beshear with national Democrats who are going after Trump. This strategy may also make pro-Trump, anti-Bevin voters in both parties see the governor as a Kentucky version of the president, “a political outsider” who “ruffled feathers,” as Bevin’s ads put it.

But if Trump keeps going unhinged, as he did in a press conference Wednesday, showing he doesn’t have the temperament a president needs, this strategy will only go so far. At some point, the crazier Trump acts, the less he will help Bevin.

That may not happen before Nov. 5, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who will be on Kentucky’s ballot a year later, knows that point is out there somewhere.

McConnell also knows that despite GOP senators’ public support of the president, they’re sick and tired of sacrificing their political independence for fear that Trump might turn his base against any Republican who strays.
They also know that the Trump onion is not fully peeled, and it could get pretty pungent, if not putrid. They also know that there are known unknowns – things they know they don’t know – and unknown unknowns, things they don’t even know that they don’t know. (Hat tip to Donald Rumsfeld.)

At some other point, after some of those unknowns are known, some Republicans may see Trump becoming a political liability, not an asset.

This is not a prediction, just a possibility. And McConnell, who is already running a full-scale re-election campaign for next year, is usually prepared for any possibility. That’s probably why you haven’t seen him running point on the defense of Trump.

McConnell said he had seen the “summary” of Trump’s call, and it was “laughable to think this is anywhere close to an impeachable offense.” But he allowed the Senate to take up, and pass, a Democratic resolution urging the White House to let Congress see the whistleblower’s complaint, and announced that he had pressed the Trump administration for months to release the military aid that Congress had appropriated for Ukraine.

McConnell has tied himself closely to Trump for much the same reason Bevin has: his own unpopularity. Impeachment raises the stakes for him; he would be the main manager of any Senate trial of impeachment charges from the House, though Chief Justice John Roberts would preside.

Many Kentuckians may not think Trump’s Ukraine gambit is an impeachable offense, because they’re accustomed to public officials treating their offices as private possessions, and they like Trump’s outsider approach. But there is a lot more to dislike about the president, and voters will be reminded of that more and more. That poses risks for Matt Bevin now and Mitch McConnell later. In the Trump era, just about anything can happen.

Al Cross (Twitter @ruralj) is a professor in the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media and director of its Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. His opinions are his own, not UK’s. He was the longest-serving political writer for the Louisville Courier Journal (1989-2004) and national president of the Society of Professional Journalists in 2001-02. He joined the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame in 2010.

NKyTribune and KyForward are the anchor home for Al Cross’ column. We offer it to other publications throughout the Commonwealth, with appropriate attribution.

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  1. Delbert KentonWells says:

    The “earthquake” in Washington began I think when President Donald Trump was first elected in November 2016. As far as I am concerned Matt Bevins is the better governor to achieve school choice, increase our pro life achievements and religious freedoms. I can’t help remembering what the Democrat’s party platforms stand for. They are for abortion, restricting our religious freedoms and attacking traditional marriage.

  2. Birch teddy says:

    The top democratic focus initiatives are this: (and literally this, just watch one of there debates)
    – America is a horrible place full of horrible people, so we shouldn’t have borders and let anyone who chooses to enter the country, those people don’t have to pay taxes and we give them free stuff
    -the definition of a “right” is now completely re-written to include anything under the sun you want for “free”
    – “free” also have a new definition, you’re not allowed to talk about where the money will actually come from, all you’re allowed to say is “free”, end of discussion.
    – it is legal to kill babies.
    – if your Caucasian and god forbid a straight male, it is allowed to be sexist and racist towards you with no repercussion.
    – laws only apply when their convenient to Democrats.
    – it is okay to blantantly lie lie and lie, and no one is allowed to question you
    – facts, logic, and history are no longer important at all, and if you try to use them your a racist. Feelings and emotions are now the new logic.
    – if you work in a for profit industry producing necessary goods and services to enable society to function, then your a greedy insensitive capitalist that should quit there jobs, work at a non profit or social services, or community organizer place and live off government assistance to show your compassion to the world.
    – climate change. Obama just bought a $40,000,000 mansion 10 feet above sea level (even further he made like $800,000 his presidency and before that make $50k a year being a community organizer.) no further explanation needed.
    This folks, is why Trump will win big time. The democrats went so far left, they don’t even know where they are.

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