It’s convention season again, and for the first time I can remember the convention will be held in my congressional district, the Sixth, on May 17 and 18 in Oshkosh. With it is all the fun of the convention: seeing old friends, meeting new people, hospitably suites, meetings, and of course the actual work of the convention on Saturday.
This convention will likely have a strange feeling to it. As I wrote back in November for RightWisconsin in an article titled “End of the Wisconsin Era,” because of our losses in the 2018 elections this will be the first time in eight years the headlines of the convention will not be the rising political stars of Governor Scott Walker, Speaker Paul Ryan, or former RNC head and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. With them goes much of the media attention and millions of dollars they raised.
The headlines will likely be reaction to the Republican Party of Wisconsin’s 2018 review, 20/20 for 2020, as there’ll be some soul searching as we rehash what went wrong in 2018 and how we prepare for 2020.
Something new and exciting for the 2019 RPW convention: the Sixth Congressional District Republican Party where I serve on the Executive Committee,and is well led by Chairman Darryl Carlson, is sponsoring an event that’s bringing in conservative firebrand Candace Owens. Owens is a well known commentator who’s launched a #BLEXIT campaign to encourage black voters to walk away from the Democrat Party. It should be interesting and entertaining, especially if outrage and anger for media attention is your thing.
Future of the Republican Party of Wisconsin
If you listen to talk radio, you’ve heard a call to all but blow up the Republican Party of Wisconsin, demands to move the headquarters out of Madison, clean house at the upper levels, and to fire all those damned consulates that cost us multiple elections in 2018. The good news is change is happening as we prepare for 2020, but it’s important that we not overact.
We should remember Scott Walker received more votes for governor in 2016 than he did in 2010 and 2014, but he came up 40,505 votes shy of his total in 2012’s recall election. (Had we repeated 2012’s numbers, Walker would have eked out a win.) Republicans increased their majority in the state Senate while losing only one Assembly seat, a seat that the GOP will likely win back in 2020.
So what went wrong?
In the state-wide elections we were not able to overcome the huge turnout in liberal Dane and Milwaukee Counties, along with a slight softening of GOP support in suburban areas. This is likely attributed to liberal backlash to President Donald Trump. The Left despises him and will crawl through hot coals and broken glass to vote against him, and suburban white woman seem disgusted by him.
At the ground level
One of the complaints heard the most is that the party lost touch with the grass roots, that it became a top down operation, that volunteers didn’t feel appreciated, RPW missed payments, the mobile app sucked, that staff was bossy and rude, there was a lack of energy, and that the field offices were understaffed and boring. That’s all true.
As a county chairman I had a difficult time recruiting volunteers. Many felt there was no way Walker could lose, things were too good. Others said the polls were wrong, “remember Trump was supposed to lose?” Some even believed Rush Limbaugh and thought Trump was so popular we were on the cusp of a big Republican win. Whatever the reasons, people just didn’t want to help the way they had in the past, especially during the recall, when Republican enthusiasm was off the charts!
The volunteers I did have were mostly older, and they yearned for the days gone by of stuffing envelopes and making phone calls. I get it.
Today’s victory centers are quiet as all the attention is focused toward knocking on doors. Doors! Doors! Doors! Studies show that knocking on someone’s door is much more effective than a phone call or mailing, but it’s work most volunteers don’t want to do. A challenge we’ll face moving forward is finding a way to have volunteers help in a meaningful way.
The 2020 election is anything but a slam dunk for Trump. Even with a booming economy and relative peace throughout the world, his approval rating in Wisconsin struggles to get to 50 percent. The Marquette University Law School Poll shows half of Wisconsin voters can’t wait to vote against him, and he doesn’t help himself with endless tweeting and cabinet turnover.
It’s also a fact that Trump actually received 2,866 FEWER votes in 2016 than Romney received in 2012, and the Democrats are super energized. But what we saw in April’s Spring Elections is what the grassroots of this party are capable of accomplishing. The grass roots turned around what was an all but dead-in-the-water campaign and helped boost Brian Hadgerdorn to a come-from-behind win in the race for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
That enthusiasm from every active Republican is what’ll take to propel Trump to a win in Wisconsin.
So, as we head into RPW2019, we have to get up off the mat, look at what went wrong, what went right, make appropriate adjustments, dust ourselves off and get to work. The 2020 election won’t be easy, but neither were the recalls. Wisconsin Republicans are battled tested, and we can do this!
Enjoy the convention!
Rohn Bishop is Chairman of the Republican Party of Fond du Lac County.