Politics

It's Getting Harder To Sort Out How Greg Orman Will Sort Himself

Independent candidate Greg Orman answers a question during a debate with Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., in Overland Park, Kan., Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Independent candidate Greg Orman answers a question during a debate with Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., in Overland Park, Kan., Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Now with the resolution of some thorny legal matters concerning whether or not Kansas Democrats were technically allowed to unilaterally withdraw from the state's U.S. Senate race, businessman and self-styled independent candidate Greg Orman could eventually emerge as the favorite in the race against incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts (R). With that come questions. Will he be a Republican or a Democrat? A spoiler or a savior? And is his whole game founded on insincere schtick, or does he have some sort of a plan?

Orman is essentially running as an anthropomorphic conundrum that has decided to subordinate himself to the fickle finger of Fate. A cursory glance at the "issues" page of his website reveals that he supports women's reproductive rights, that he would have been a reliable "yes" vote for the Manchin-Toomey bill on gun background checks, and that he supports a constitutional amendment to roll back the damages done by Citizens United. At the same time, his stance on corporate tax reform places him fairly solidly in GOP Rep. Dave Camp's ... uhm, camp. And as far as the Affordable Care Act goes, Orman says that "it's clear that with the Affordable Care Act the Congress simply expanded a broken system." (His solution to that? Currently, it is the null set, decorated with bromides.)

Beyond these hints, however, we have Orman's most notable campaign promise: If elected, he will caucus with whichever party wins the majority in the Senate. That essentially means that if Kansas voters elect Orman, they will have to wait for voters in Alaska and Arkansas and Louisiana and Georgia and North Carolina, among others, to have a sense of what the senator from Kansas is going to do.

According to the Washington Examiner's David Drucker, this all makes perfect sense to Orman's supporters:

Independent Senate candidate Greg Orman has been cagey about whether he'll caucus with Democrats or Republicans if elected.

His supporters think that's the whole point.

Some of the Kansas businessman's core supporters, including registered Republicans and independents, argue that his lack of a political party would grant him outsized influence on Capitol Hill.

But in multiple interviews this week at two Orman campaign volunteer organizing events, supporters referenced the candidate's IQ and business success as the basis for their belief that he can singularly end partisan gridlock and develop politically palatable solutions to the country's most intractable problems.

These are some particularly beautiful ideas, as far as gossamer dreams go, but this does not actually make sense. Many have made efforts over the past few years to "end partisan gridlock." There have been, as Drucker points out, "Gangs of [X]" galore. There have been committees and super committees. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) vowed to rustle up a posse of moderates to end the most recent government shutdown. All of these efforts have fallen short. Is it really possible that anyone believes that one guy, with one vote -- who requires the approval of one party or the other even to bring amendments to the floor or sit on a Senate committee -- is going to single-handedly fix the Senate with buzzwords and really deeply felt feelings?

Never mind that as a senator from a very Republican state, Orman will be on something of a short leash. Should he end up caucusing as a Democrat, managing his voting record is going to be like crossing that room full of lasers in "Entrapment" -- he's not representing a constituency that wants its senator to vote with Harry Reid all that often. And if he ends up caucusing with the Republicans, well, I'll let Vox's Dylan Matthews give you the two digestible scenarios:

Option one, he gets valuable committee assignments and gets to offer his amendments and gets to see his bills considered on the floor and gets support from other Republicans on issues of importance to Kansas and gets support from the party when he runs for reelection and, in general, gets to represent Kansas effectively, just like he promised he would. He also votes like a Republican on major bills, with maybe a few freebie defections here and there.

Option two, he gets frozen out of the good committees and watches Republicans bottle up his bills and ignore his amendments and generally make Kansas rue the day they elected Orman to represent them. Hell, maybe he even gets expelled from the caucus and has to run for reelection with Kansans knowing he couldn't even keep his promise to caucus with the majority.

"Orman will pick option one," Matthews predicts.

I'm with him on that, if only because bodies at rest in the Senate tend to want to get re-elected to the Senate. If Orman was coming to Washington to represent Vermont, he'd get a lot of slack from the GOP caucus. But the Republican Party understands that it can bring a solidly conservative senator out of Kansas in nine elections out of 10. It won't have any reason to countenance regular apostasy from Orman.

As Orman's Hamlet-act has drawn greater scrutiny, he's gamely attempted to offer some clarifications as to what he'll do should he get to Capitol Hill. But if anything, his latest statements only make things more confusing. According to an interview he gave NBC News, once he's picked a side, Orman's going to grant himself the option to un-pick that side:

"If four or five months goes by, and it's clear they're engaged in the same old partisan politics, we'll be able to change our allegiances and work with the other side," he said. "And I think that's a really strong and important tool, to hold the Senate accountable for actually getting something done."

At first blush, that's quite a bold statement. But if you start thinking through this scenario, you might well say to yourself, "Wait, what?"

Let's break this down. Say Greg Orman gets elected, and as promised, he joins the majority. As a member in good standing of said majority, Orman could have a hand in setting the agenda. That's ostensibly the whole point of his "will he or won't he caucus with somebody" act: Orman's belief that Kansans deserve to have their senator sit in the majority. As a member of the agenda-setting majority, he'd be in the driver's seat for "getting something done."

What, then, could impede this "getting something done"? What might bring back "the same old partisan politics"? Clearly it will be the actions of the minority party, which can use the filibuster and other sundry parliamentary procedures to gum up the works.

So in order to hold to account the people responsible for gridlock, Orman is prepared to ... switch to that side? This is just not logical.

I suppose a second scenario might exist, in which Orman determines that the agenda of the party he's joined is not something he can support, and he ultimately colors his distaste for that agenda with paeans to bipartisanship and ending dysfunction. In that scenario, switching sides makes more sense. It will raise an obvious question, however: "Why did you join that party in the first place?"

Ultimately, Orman's well-worn routine may boil down to the simple fact that this is what a guy like Orman has to do in order to get elected to the Senate from Kansas in the first place. And Kansas voters may simply be taking his promise to caucus with the majority in stride because they're of the mind that a GOP takeover of the Senate is a near-certainty.

Of course, most polling models (at the time of this writing, anyway) have control of the Senate looking less like a GOP lock and more like a coin flip. In that way, I guess it's fitting that one can't make heads or tails out of Greg Orman.

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