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    HomePoliticsMcClellan: In today’s politics, can past be prologue? | Bill McClellan

    McClellan: In today’s politics, can past be prologue? | Bill McClellan

    My favorite thing about St. Louis is the way it operates on two levels. There is a “real” level for clear-eyed people, and there is is a level where the picture gets blurry because the past is still here, mingling with the present. I like that about us, although I understand that our critics say it’s hard to move forward when you’re so often looking backward.

    A couple of weeks ago, I looked backward and wrote about our Magical Kingdoms of half a century ago. I was commenting on a recent story about best places to work. The Magical Kingdoms I cited first were Anheuser-Busch and Ralston Purina.

    The two great houses are rising again. Or trying to.

    Former Sen. John Danforth of the Ralston Purina House is sponsoring an independent candidate, John Wood, in the U.S. Senate race.

    Trudy Busch Valentine, daughter of Gussie himself, filed — on the very last day! — in the Democratic primary.

    They both represent a return to the past.

    Well, heck yes, you say. Let’s have some of that past!

    I’m on board myself, but the question is: Is the rest of the state with us?

    We can’t count on Kansas City. Everything is up to date there. They don’t want whatever we’re selling.

    The rest of the state hates us. I mean, hates us. Out-state folks will get up early to vote against a St. Louisan.

    Still, the main problem our two candidates face is message. Candidates from the past are civil, even in disagreement, and they talk about competency and decency. Let’s work together and get things done, they say.

    That message does not resonate in today’s Missouri.

    We’re Trump country. Bright red. We’re about Jesus and guns and hating on liberals. Can those three things possibly go together? Yes.

    The candidates who understand this are out there shooting it up. They’re hunting RINOs. They’re taking a blowtorch to Joe Biden’s agenda. They’re talking trash about elites.

    Despite these facts, Danforth seems convinced that what the people really want is him. Not him exactly. A younger him. A right-leaning centrist in the Danforth tradition.

    There is something heroic about his quest. Heroic in the Don Quixote sense. I am not being snide. “Man of La Mancha” is one of my favorites.

    In this version of the Cervantes classic, Don Quixote has found his Sancho Panza in John Wood, and has promised to fund an effort to sell the past to present-day voters. I am reminded of the old men who used to play dominoes in a park on Calle Ocho in Miami’s Little Havana. They were convinced that the people of Cuba wanted to return to the old days and would welcome them back and happily return their big haciendas.

    By the way, the “centrist” who is being dispatched to Trumplandia has just come from a gig on the Jan. 6 committee. He was recruited to that position by Liz Cheney. He will be pilloried.

    Speaking off which, imagine what Valentine is in for. She is an heiress at a time when even Yale law grads scorn elitists. Admittedly, her dad would have had a certain appeal to today’s voters — he was all about rough edges — but Valentine gave that up years ago when she went to college. Even more troubling, she became a nurse. A helping profession. And her an heiress. What’s going on here? Does she think life is a movie?

    It’s not. Maybe it once was, but now it’s a reality show.

    Fast-moving and cruel. Trump was born for that genre. And how about a show in which every week the hero fires somebody? You might recall that in 2004, Trump tried to copyright the phrase, “You’re fired.” His application was denied on the grounds you cannot copyright a short phrase, especially if it’s already part of the lexicon.

    It is a strange populist who wants to copyright, “You’re fired.”

    But it is what it is. The Republican Party has been remade in Trump’s image. Gone or in hiding are the old Republicans who once denounced the candidacy of white supremacist David Duke, who was the leading Republican vote-getter in a 1990 senatorial primary in Louisiana. He was deemed too extreme for the GOP. Duke is today, as you might imagine, a big Trump fan. He’s prescient, too. In 2016, he suggested that Trump was making a mistake selecting Mike Pence as his running mate. Better to go with Tucker Carlson, the former Grand Wizard suggested. Carlson is almost certainly the journalist of choice in rural Missouri.

    If Sancho Panza is headed toward the hinterlands on a donkey, Trudy Busch Valentine is headed there on a polo pony.

    Her candidacy is a mystery. Why is she doing this? She doesn’t seem to enjoy campaigning. In fact, the major storyline of her campaign so far is there hasn’t been one.

    Meanwhile, her chief opponent, Lucas Kunce, has been working every room he can find in out-state Missouri. He is a tough-talking former Marine. Because he has a D after his name, he doesn’t have much of a chance, but who knows? I am told he curses a lot. He has described himself as a hand grenade ready to explode. Maybe he does have a chance.

    Then again, remember the gubernatorial race of 2016. The Democratic nominee was former Republican Chris Koster. He had been a county prosecutor before becoming the attorney general. People were executed under his watch. He had the endorsement of the NRA. He was a long way from liberal.

    He lost to Eric Greitens. The prison guard union — Missouri Corrections Officers Association — endorsed Greitens, who was in favor of Right to Work. Imagine that. A union endorsing an anti-union candidate. I asked one of the union officials about it. Koster is a Democrat, he said, and our membership is mostly rural.

    Can an heiress overcome that kind of thinking? Does she have a plan to overcome that kind of thinking?

    Perhaps she believes she can overcome it with sincerity. With being reasonable. With being firm in her convictions but treating everybody with respect.

    That will probably be Sancho Panza’s strategy, too.

    I hope they are right. The past has a definite allure to me. I like the notion that the descendants of the Magical Kingdoms are trying to lead us back into the past.

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