Wisconsin was one of three improbable state victories that propelled Donald Trump to the White House in 2016. But without immediate Republican Party course corrections, the state’s conservative revolution could screech to a halt after the November elections, or even be reversed in some areas.
That’s according to two Republican insiders, whose job it is to win elections, who spoke with Media Trackers in separate interviews last week. Both agreed to be interviewed on the condition that they not be named. Neither believes a GOP bloodbath is inevitable. Yet both feel it is likely if state Republicans don’t accept the gravity of the situation now.
As Insider #1 put it: “If you’re a Wisconsin Republican and you don’t see the headwind that you’re facing then you’re blind and you deserve to lose.” Insider #2 agreed that the current situation is dire, but not irreversible: “I do not think this is a sky is falling moment. This a ready the warplanes moment. We’re looking up and we see the trouble coming. It’s not time for Chicken Little.”
Both were responding to this question posed by Media Trackers: “do you get the sense there is concern among Republicans in Madison that they could see the party suffer heavy losses in November?” We later specifically asked about control of the State Senate and the governor’s office. Both sources agreed Republicans could lose both if the party continues to be in denial about the magnitude of the challenge it faces. Both sources identified similar problems and solutions. Both agree that anti-Trump fervor is generating off the charts enthusiasm among Democrats and that running from President Donald Trump isn’t the Republican solution.
Insider #1 is advising Republicans to ignore Washington D.C. and focus on the conservative victories achieved in Wisconsin since 2011:
Distancing yourself from a president in your party, I don’t know if you can do that, I don’t know how you can do that. I think going out of your way to say “hey I’m not him,” I don’t know how that’s going to work and that just gets the media talking about Donald Trump. We’re investing in education like we’ve never done before, we’re cutting taxes like we’ve never done before. I think ignoring him is hard to do, but I don’t know what’s to gain by debating where you stand on the president. That’s a rabbit hole you don’t want to go down because its fraught with peril. I’m not saying it’s easy, it’s hard. I think it’s the best play for Wisconsin Republicans (talking up accomplishments and ignoring Trump). Our state’s in a really good spot under Republican leadership.
Insider #2 agrees:
Campaigning against the president is not necessarily the answer. Wisconsin conservatives are getting results. Give a stark contrast to Democrats who have been nothing but obstructionists and hold us back.
Provide a contrast to Washington. We have a record of results to run on, more achievements in the future to run on. There is deep concern among those who have a clear understanding of the voters right now, that what we need to run on a record of results and that isn’t happening. And unify to get more results before the election, instead of carping at each other on process stuff instead and making it more difficult to get things done.
Insider # 2, on that last point, referred to a rift between Assembly and Senate leadership:
Democrats are so inconsequential you forget they can come roaring back; Republicans can be victims of their own success. They (Democrats) can take this state and turn it in the other direction. It’s easy when you’re in Madison looking around at inconsequential Democrats and feud with Republicans with whom you disagree and have these pissing matches. But if you listen to the electorate and find out what people need, our conservative reforms can connect with these people. They want to see the results.
As the Wisconsin State Journal reported last week, the two houses continue to be at odds over a number of issues:
In the waning days of the state legislative session, two key proposals championed by Gov. Scott Walker — to shutter the state’s youth prison and to give tax cuts to families — are jeopardized by disagreement between Republicans leaders in the Assembly and Senate.
Scores of other once high-profile bills appear dead after having been excluded from an upcoming Senate session or faltering in the Assembly.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos have been engaged in a game of legislative chicken. Vos concluded his chamber’s business on Feb. 22, signaling to the Senate that it should pass bills previously approved by the Assembly, or else risk them not passing.
So, if Republicans remain on their current course, how vulnerable is Governor Scott Walker? Insider #2:
I think we should presume that the governor’s race is going to be incredibly tight and Wisconsin is going to be a battleground. I think Governor Walker can and will win. I think we need to throw everything we got at it, just as the left is. The energy on the left is very, very high right now. Democrats can roll out of bed and have a better get out the vote effort than in the past.
Wisconsin Republicans have won in years when the environment has favored them and won in years when everything was thrown against them. We can win in the fall. It requires once again that we unify, run on results, be the party of results. I’m not confident right now that Wisconsin conservatives have their heads in the fight.
In the governor’s race, so much will depend on who the opponent is and right now nobody has any idea who is opponent could be. You could make the argument for at least five (being legitimate contenders), maybe more. Yes, Scott Walker is facing a headwind for the first time and that’s a significant thing to consider.
Neither source felt that the upcoming State Supreme Court race will be much of an indicator has to what will happen in the fall. But insider #1 says the apparent Democrat victory last week in a deep red Pennsylvania congressional district is all the barometer you need:
It’s tough to answer that question in March(fall prospects) , but I DEFINITELY think that Pennsylvania is another piece that indicates that things are not looking good for Republicans in November.
We have seen there is massive Democratic enthusiasm that should scare every Republican on the ballot this fall. It’s not a foregone conclusion that Republicans are going to lose everything. But the way things are setting up it’s going to be very difficult for Republicans, the likes of which they have not seen since 2006 and 2008.
The key will be for Republicans will be what they can do to hold on.
I disagree that the (enthusiasm) gap has closed. If you look at history, the party out of power is pissed off. Pissed off people are always more motivated than happy people. The question is how bad is it. Is it landslide bad, or is just bad.
I lean toward landslide bad, but there is a chance it could be normal bad (for the out of power party in the mid-term elections).
Insider #2 isn’t convinced that the possibilities for Republicans are limited to bad and worse. But both agree that accepting just how bad the situation is right now is an important first step for the GOP in Wisconsin.