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Bill Straub: There’s Trump and his ‘Mini-Me’ Bevin — but one of them benefits from distance

WASHINGTON – Unlike Superman and Clark Kent, President Trump (good golly!) and Kentucky Gov. Matt “Yosemite Sam’’ Bevin have been seen together in a room, so one can assume they are not one and the same person.

But that’s about the only way to tell the two of them apart. By personality, attitude and politics there is no apparent separation between The Donald and the man who seems to be constantly auditioning for the role of Trump’s Mini-Me as the two prepare for re-election campaigns.

Trump and Bevin are extremely wealthy businessmen and political dilettantes serving their first terms in high governmental offices, though on substantially different scales. Both are firmly entrenched on the conservative side of the aisle. But the most striking similarities come by way of style.

Neither Trump nor Bevin appears concerned about representing all of their constituents. In fact, they are extremely dismissive of those who question their actions and motivations. They don’t accept the oversight duties of the legislatures they are forced to deal with or, more particularly, the press, which Trump has famously characterized as “the enemy of the people” and Bevin has pointedly compared to “cicadas’’ because “they make a lot of noise.”

Each man is absolutely convinced that he is the smartest person in the room, which should make for interesting interaction when they get together. Neither can stomach the idea that he may have possibly made a mistake – to them it’s a veritable impossibility – and they are so thin-skinned that it’s a wonder their internal organs don’t come tumbling out avalanche-style.

Bill Straub

They are not shy about displaying fierce tempers and will brook no criticism – both respond to the smallest slight with insults and often infantile verbal assaults. As a recent example, Bevin sneered at University of Louisville women’s basketball coach Jeff Walz for losing in the Elite Eight this year after Walz chided the governor for failing to publicly recognize the Cardinals made the NCAA tournament.

But what both Bevin and Trump have going for them is unlimited egos that surpass all bounds of sanity. Neither man can conceive of the possibility that he doesn’t have all the answers. Anyone who questions their acumen is a fool. In reality, of course, they are often wrong but never in doubt.

Pressed to come up with something that differentiates the pair, it could be noted that Trump is the more accomplished grifter, a con man par excellence who, as Jerry Garcia once sang, will “steal your face right off your head.” On this score, Bevin is a rank amateur, although the details of his home purchase in Anchorage, and the resulting property tax bill, shows the boy at least has great potential.

But there is one other big difference between the two that is hard to assess.
Trump remains tremendously popular in Kentucky. He attracted a phenomenal 62.5 percent of the Commonwealth vote against Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election and will almost certainly carry the state again in 2020. According to Morning Consult, as of March 1, 56 percent of commonwealth voters approve of his job performance.

Bevin? Not too much. Mad Matt beat Human Cardboard Cutout, Democrat Jeff Conway, in the 2015 governor’s race with 52.5 percent of the vote in what was considered an upset. Since then his popularity has slid substantially to the point where he is considered the least favorite governor in the 50 states. Morning Consult, the same outfit that placed Trump’s approval at 56 percent in Kentucky, determined that Bevin, ol’ Yosemite Sam, is supported by only 33 percent of those queried while 52 percent give him a thumbs down.

This despite a fairly decent economy by Kentucky standards, which Trump no doubt benefits from, while exhibiting a carbon copy of the president’s style.

So what gives? Several things.

Bevin has done a poor job of picking his fights, which are too numerous to mention. In addition to the unnecessary contretemps with Walz, he has remained consistently at odds with the state’s teachers, who retain some respect within their respective communities, essentially accusing them of manslaughter when hundreds participated in a sick-out protesting proposed changes to the state’s pension system. A seven-year-old child, who remained home as a result of the protest, was shot and killed when she would have otherwise been in school, Bevin said.

“Because they were somewhere that they weren’t intended and because a parent didn’t have any option,  put them in a situation so that they could go to work, it left these kids in a compromised situation where they encountered a gun and there was not enough awareness,’’ Bevin said.

Wrong and politically stupid. He also engaged in running battles with various Republican legislators, including former House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, whom he called on to resign after the lawmaker was accused of sexual harassment.

Bevin is not particularly popular with the Republican majority in both the Kentucky House and Senate and a lot of that has to do with his bumbling over the state pension program, which is underfunded by billions of dollars. His solutions have proved unpopular and unhelpful and he added to the miseries by calling for a special legislative session to begin four hours after his announcement – without prior notice to the lawmakers, some of whom couldn’t make it in time. Disaster ensued.

It should also be noted that Bevin is an interloper, which frankly isn’t his fault but is an issue in a parochial state nonetheless. He was born in Denver but grew up in New Hampshire, which is to Kentucky what brown shoes are to a tuxedo, to cop an old line from George Goebel. Mad Matt didn’t arrive in the Commonwealth until 1999 when he took a job with National Asset Management.

It’s rare to find a Kentucky governor born and raised out of state. The most recent example before Bevin was Brereton Jones, a Democrat who served from 1991 to 1995. He was born in Gallipolis, OH, but raised in West Virginia, which is Kentucky’s kissing cousin. He also had the good sense to involve himself in one of the Commonwealth’s most beloved institutions upon his arrival – he ran and continues to run Airdrie Stud in Woodford County.

Before Jones you have to go way back to Simeon Willis, a Republican, who served from 1943-47. While he was born in Aid Township, OH, his family moved to Greenup County while he was still in knee pants.

To some, it’s certainly possible that Bevin is here to civilize the hillbillies. And then there are others who don’t want to be considered hillbillies. Regardless, with his attitude and recklessness, Bevin has introduced cultural change, and it doesn’t seem to be going over all that well, even though he should be favored to win re-election in conservative-Republican Kentucky.

It’s also true, as Proverbs notes, that familiarity breeds contempt, which perhaps is why Trump continues to flourish. Bevin is just around the corner every day and the state’s citizens get a ringside seat of a man who doesn’t exactly radiate competence or offer a likeable demeanor. Neither does Trump, but he’s hundreds of miles away attacking bureaucrats and liberals in Washington, not their next-door neighbors.

Kentucky has long exhibited a split personality when it came to national and state politics. Only one Republican, Louie Nunn, from 1967 to 1971, served as governor from 1947 to 2003, a space of 56 years. Yet during that time Kentuckians frequently sent Republicans to the U.S. Senate, folks like John Sherman Cooper, Thruston Morton, Marlow Cook and Mitch McConnell. Kentucky has voted Republican in 10 of the past 13 presidential elections.

Trump benefits from the distance. Bevin doesn’t.

KyForward’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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