artist's conception of 2012 GOP convention site?

Mitt Romney is scared, and his choice of Paul Ryan to be his VP proves it.

What scares him isn’t Obama or Obamacare or higher taxes. What scares him isn’t Harry Reid’s comments about him not having paid taxes over the last decade (that’s more embarrassing than frightening). What scares him isn’t unions or liberal SuperPacs or progressive think tanks who will run ads against him.

What scares him is Kansas. And it scares him a lot.

In 2010, Sam Brownback traded his seat in the US Senate for the governor’s mansion in Topeka, and the same election that swept him into office also brought a huge wave of conservatives into the Kansas state legislature and Kris “Be afraid! Immigrants! Voter fraud!” Kobach as the secretary of state. Brownback had a solid majority lined up in both the Kansas House and Senate, and could hardly wait to get his solidly conservative slashing and burning of the state budget going.

But in the state Senate, Brownback got a rude surprise. The senate president and a handful of GOP moderates (moderate by Kansas standards, that is) refused to get on board with some of the harshest cuts and policies, and joined with the Senate Democrats to force Brownback to dial the worst of the proposals back. Brownback was furious, and as Emma Sullivan and her high school principal discovered, Brownback doesn’t deal well with folks who cross him.

Last Tuesday, Brownback and the conservatives of the Kansas GOP got their revenge. They ran primary challenges against all these moderates, as well as some others who voted *with* Brownback, and tossed almost all of them to the curb. Hard. Then they danced on their bodies, and broke with tradition by refusing to hold a “unity breakfast” on the day after the primary to bring the party together behind the winners. It was an ugly and vicious campaign, captured well by Steve Rose in the KC Star:

If you are not a true believer, a blood-oath member of the tribe, then there is no place for you in the party. According to those who throw around RINO as a pejorative, if you aren’t one of them, you are not a true Republican. Rather, you are, by their definition, a Democrat disguised as a Republican.

This is the opposite of the “big tent” party. It is a “pup tent” party. Those who do not fit inside the pup tent are considered the enemy.

So, I am a RINO, according to many of the responses I have received from recent columns when I took exception to the agenda of the radical wing of the Republican Party. . . .

To follow the lemmings over the cliff, in order to be considered a real Republican, I have to accept certain premises.

I have to believe that the lowest taxes possible drive all other priorities, even if it tramples on public education. I disagree, vehemently. Without high quality public education, there cannot be economic growth, no matter what the tax rates are. The single most important function of state government is to provide high quality education. It is the bedrock of the future of our state… and our country.

The other major part of the litmus test, as to whether you are a real Republican, has to do with your views on the social issues — abortion, evolution, embryonic stem cell research, even global warming.

There is absolutely no room for compromise on these issues. If you vary by an inch, it might as well be light years apart.

[This matches Tbogg's take on the campaign, though as you might imagine, Tbogg's version is a bit more . . . ahem . . . colorful.]

No one (to my knowledge) woke up with a bloody horse’s head in his or her bed, but the message was sent just as effectively. The conservatives in Kansas taught a lesson to so-called moderates in the GOP: you better get in line. Or else.

Mitt Romney learned the lesson.

Mitt has been laboring hard to tell conservatives that he’s a real conservative all through the primary season (as well as all through his earlier stab at getting the nomination in 2008), but it hasn’t worked. “What can I do?” he’s been asking himself, over and over and over again, and after last Tuesday, the answer was clear: Paul Ryan for VP.

You see, before his election to the House in 1998, Paul Ryan’s last job was legislative director for . . . wait for it . . . Senator Sam Brownback. The harsh policies that Brownback is pushing on Kansas? Think “Paul Ryan’s budget at the state level“.

To borrow again from The Godfather, respect must be paid, and Romney’s paying it to Don Sam Brownback and the ultraconservatives of Brownbackistan. (Maybe the “Join me in welcoming the next president of the United States, Paul Ryan!” announcement wasn’t as much a mistake as adding a little more respect . . .)

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Photo h/t to Andy Arthur