Read What’s the Matter with Kansas? recently. The book homed in on and answered a question that has been bugging me for a long time.

The way I see it, the Republican party doesn’t seem like it should hold together as a single party. There are the country-club conservatives, people interested in laissez-faire economic policies (or blatantly favorable economic policies) and not particularly interested in social issues. And there are the red-meat conservatives, who seem more populist, but are mostly interested in social issues. The way I’ve always perceived it, each pays lip-service to the interests of the other, but ultimately their interests don’t overlap, and may even clash.

Kansas responds to this directly, and essentially portrays the plebian red-meat conservatives as the willing dupes of the country-club conservatives, who push on hot-button issues to get them worked up, without ever really throwing them a bone. People always talk about banning abortion, but nobody ever does anything about it.

And this is where I find a point of disagreement: over the past few years, right-wing triumphalism has led to more actual action on those issues. South Dakota did outlaw abortion. Most states have constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.

And of course, over the past 6 years, a different wing of conservatism has achieved prominence, the neoconservatives, the foreign-intervention maximalists. Frank doesn’t really address this faction, but in the current political climate, it’s impossible to talk about politics without talking about that.

Still, these are isolated problems in what is otherwise an interesting and entertaining read. Frank does show how the embrace of laissez-faire principles has damaged Kansas, but those principles have become part of the red-meat faction’s holy crusade, even to the direct self-impoverishment of its members. And shows how the bizarre history of the state brought them 180° politically to where they are.