Updated 11:45 p.m. March 5 -HANNIBAL, Mo. - Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, the likely Democratic nominee for governor, has launched his sharpest public attacks yet against his former GOP brethren when he accused Republican leaders nationally and in Missouri of embracing irresponsible and “economically stupid’’ actions because of their hatred of President Barack Obama.
Koster – who left the Republican Party in 2007 -- implied Saturday that such GOP attitudes have led to the rise of divisive figures like Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Koster called Trump “a modern-day P.T. Barnum’’ who embraces the philosophy of “a sucker born every minute.”
Referring to the last raucous GOP televised presidential debate, Koster observed, “The Republican Party untethered itself from the planet Earth.”
“The inability of Republican leaders to stand up to extremists is exactly why that party has stopped functioning properly,’’ he said.
Koster’s audience consisted of hundreds of Democratic allies gathered in Hannibal, Mo., this weekend for the annual Democrat Days, a regional event that’s long been the traditional spot for Democratic campaign kickoffs.
Koster headlined Saturday’s brunch, as he did the previous two years, as part of his longstanding effort to assuage some Democratic concerns about his swift rise to become one of their party’s major state leaders.
But Koster also appeared eager to define his four Republican rivals – John Brunner, Eric Greitens, Catherine Hanaway and Peter Kinder – who he contended exhibited the same lack of courage as their party leaders.
All four, Koster noted, have declared they’ll back any of the GOP presidential contenders, including Trump.
Trump, said Koster, “has belittled a veteran, openly mocked the physically disabled and made outright sexism a talking point in his stump speech.”
Reaffirms support for Medicaid expansion
Later, Koster blasted all four Republican rivals for declaring their opposition to the expansion of Medicaid, even though the federal government was willing to pay all the costs for the first three years and at least 90 percent thereafter.
He asserted that his rivals are -- like their party leaders -- unwilling to take on the extremists in the GOP, who he said oppose Medicaid expansion primarily because Obama proposed it.
The message that Republicans are sending to the poor and disabled, said Koster, is that they cannot have health care because “we hate your president.”
“That’s not a good enough reason to deny health care to your fellow Missourians,’’ he said.
Missouri Republican legislative leaders, Koster continued, “squandered $6 billion in federal money over the last three years’’ that was available to expand Medicaid.
Refusing the money was “economically stupid,’’ Koster said, and represented “the best darn economic development opportunity that this state has seen in 25 years.”
He noted that the GOP-leaning Missouri Chamber of Commerce has backed Medicaid expansion, as has former Gov. Christopher “Kit” Bond, R-Mo.
Koster said the problem was that Republican leaders in Jefferson City “know only how to turn ‘right,’ time after time, which will ultimately drive this state in circles.”
In contrast, as a "conservative Democrat,'' Koster said he's able to turn right or left, depending on what's best for the state and the public.
He also repeated his longstanding assertion that the Republican Party shouldn't be an elephant, but "an ostrich...because their head is always in the sand."
Kander targets Congress as out of step and uncaring
Later, at the closing Saturday night banquet, Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander – now challenging U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. – kept up the pressure on Washington Republicans.
Without mentioning Blunt or Trump by name, Kander said he took issue with the GOP mantra that it’s time to “make America great again.”
“I know the greatness of this country,” Kander said. “America is already great, and if Washington would just get out of the way, we would be unstoppable.”
He asserted that congressional Republicans were causing many of the nation’s problems by ignoring the middle-class and paying lip service to veterans.
Kander accused Republicans of embracing the philosophy that “if you just reward the richest people, then the rest will take care of itself.”
It’s that mindset, he said, that has prompted Republicans to offer bailouts and tax cuts to companies “that ship jobs overseas,’’ while doing nothing to encourage the creation of good-paying jobs at home, and to make college more affordable.
In 1965, he said, a college student could pay for a year’s worth of tuition with a minimum-wage job during the summer. Now, he said, tuition is so high that a typical student would need to work 60 hours a week, all year round, to pay for college and modest housing.
But what really rankles him, said Kander, are “when I hear Washington politicians who have never worn a uniform say, ‘Our military is soft’ or ‘the millennial generation is lazy.’ "
Kander, an Army veteran, asserted that “these politicians do not have a clue about what they’re talking about.”
Such attitudes in Washington will change, he said, only if there’s a change of who’s in Congress.