Goodbye Joe Scarborough . . . Hello, Kid Rock

Joe Scarborough is out and Kid Rock is in.

Joe made official his departure from the Republican Party this week, following in the footsteps of other pundits such as George Will and Bret Stephens. Good riddance. Meanwhile in Michigan, Kid Rock announced he would seek the Republican nomination to challenge incumbent do-nothing Democrat Debbie Stabenow.

Scarborough’s departure from the GOP the same week Kid Rock threw his trucker cap into the ring nicely illustrates the current political fault lines.

The 2016 election was about who rules in America. Will it be an aloof, self-interested class of patrician mandarins who attend the same schools, have the same accents, and repeat the same noxious pieties? Or will the American people rule themselves? Those were the stakes. Those continue to be the stakes.

Scarborough is a fitting avatar for the striving, elite careerist eager to demonstrate his moral and cultural superiority over average Americans while Kid Rock revels in redneck cool.  

The contrast between the two is striking.

Scarborough is at home in Washington. Kid Rock lives in Detroit.

Joe curries favor with coastal elites. Kid Rock is at home in the middle of the country. And it’s no wonder: He’s travelled the country by bus and minivan on more than 25 tours with legends like Lynyrd Skynyrd and David Allen Coe.

Kid Rock has the long, stringy hair of ’70s rock gods while Scarborough wears a Ken doll bouffant—a requirement for male TV anchors so hackneyed that it has become a stock punchline.

Perhaps most striking is the music. Kid Rock plays straightforward American rock and roll. Scarborough sings Britpop retreads steeped in the sort of hipster self-regard that is unbecoming in a 20-year-old student at a small liberal arts college let alone in a middle-aged man.

But it’s Trump’s party now and Michigan turned red last November. The state that gave us muscle cars, Motown, and groundbreaking rockers like the MC5 and Iggy Pop is ready to roar. While Washington obsesses on Russia and idolizes Scarborough (his low rated show is must-see TV in New York and D.C.) Detroit is focused on jobs, trade, and national security. And if he really runs, Republicans would likely nominate native son Kid Rock as their candidate for Senate. Debbie Stabenow might want to update her résumé. (“Chuck Schumer’s sock puppet seeks work. Relevant experience includes carrying water and speaking only when spoken to.”)

If his initial reception is any guide, the Powers-That-Be will take Kid Rock literally but not seriously. They did the same thing with Donald Trump. Voters got it; the political pros didn’t. And Michigan might very well see the same result.

This says something about Michigan but more about America. For decades California has been this country’s bellwether. Where California led, the nation followed. That’s one of the reasons Trump won. The Golden State, once the incarnation of the American Dream, is collapsing. The state’s defenders—there are a few—will say, “Hey, California is the world’s sixth-largest economy!” But behind that bit of boosterism lies illegal immigration, legal drugs, out-of-control state spending, massive unfunded pension liabilities resulting from years of the legislature paying off the public sector unions, crumbling infrastructure, and a gap between rich and poor that resembles nothing so much as the plantation states of Central America whose example California is eagerly following—a state divided between the monied gentry and the people who serve them.

California is now a vision of a potential American dystopian future. Michigan has tasted that future in Detroit and may have had enough. The state has a Republican governor but hasn’t had a Republican Senator since Spencer Abraham lost his re-election bid in 2000. Kid Rock could break that drought.

When Michigan native Mitt Romney (also the owner of a Ken doll bouffant) was the candidate, Republicans didn’t stand a chance. His home state remained the cornerstone of the Democrats vaunted “blue wall” that gave them a lock on the electoral college. Before Trump, no Republican presidential candidate had won the state in nearly 30 years. Romney lost it by nine points to Barack Obama.

Kid Rock supported both Romney and Trump and identifies himself with the more libertarian wing of the party. But being from Detroit and having a long-term business relationship with Chevrolet, one would probably be safe to assume that his libertarianism probably extends to free speech and skepticism of foreign military misadventures rather than to the free trade absolutism and open borders of think-tank libertarians. In other words, the common sense American libertarianism that says, “you mind your business and I’ll mind mine.” 

When they read the lyrics to some of Kid Rock’s early songs the pearl-clutchers will bemoan the lost virtue of the Republican Party (“Oh, the language!“), but voters just want someone who represents their interests and gets the job done. Less talk, more action. The return of rough around the edges citizen-politicians may offend the delicate sensibilities of our ruling class, but it’s what America’s Founders wanted and what the times demand.

The “decadent, lazy, spoiled” Americans who aren’t good enough for Bill Kristol and who ex-conservative Bret Stephens wants to deport and replace with cheap foreign imports, the small towns that National Review’s Kevin Williamson says deserve to die are fighting for their lives. They want their country back. And they have more in common with Kid Rock than with the Republican elites who have turned their backs on flyover America.

Kid Rock (real name: Robert James Ritchie) made it big in the early ’00s with a blue collar blend of hip hop and heavy metal. He made it bigger when he started playing a pop-friendly form of Southern rock that embraced the good, the bad, and the ugly in middle America in a big bear hug. And that probably gives ruling class Republicans the vapors. (“Not a true conservative!” “If this is the Republican Party, I’m out!” “Good heavens, we’re slouching towards Gomorrah.”)

Where the ruling class self-consciously affects the outward forms of those to the manor born, Kid Rock embraces white trash chic. He’ll be mocked for wearing wife-beater t-shirts, thick gold chains, and drinking PBR. You can bet he’s not “serious enough” for the dandies at National Review or The Weekly Standard. George Will would probably threaten to leave the Republican Party if Kid Rock were nominated, but you can only quit once. And don’t tell David French or he’ll have to take a weekend off to consider whether he should move to Michigan and run as an independent to save the unwashed masses from the towns that deserve to die from themselves.

On his Facebook Page, Kid Rock told his nearly 6 million fans that Stabenow “is better at playing politics than I am so I’ll keep doing what I do best, which is being a voice for tax paying, hardworking AMERICANS and letting politicians like her know that We the People are sick and tired of their bullshit!”

What Republican handwringers ominously call populist-nationalism (scare quotes optional) is just self-government and patriotism by another name. Kid Rock, like Donald Trump, is an interloper who threatens to upset the established pecking order. The old guard won’t like it. They never do. But resistance is futile. Rather than representing a degraded future, perhaps Kid Rock represents a return of upstart citizen legislators who are not beholden to institutional power structures but to the people alone. 

Take it from Kid Rock: It’s time to stop worrying and learn to love the American Bad Ass.


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About Chris Buskirk

Chris is publisher and editor of American Greatness and the host of The Chris Buskirk Show. He was a Publius Fellow at the Claremont Institute and received a fellowship from the Earhart Foundation. Chris is a serial entrepreneur who has built and sold businesses in financial services and digital marketing. He is a frequent guest on NPR's "Morning Edition." His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Hill, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter at @TheChrisBuskirk