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Thursday Hot Read – Ed Morrissey’s “Sore Loser Party”

by @ 11:45 on September 16, 2010. Filed under Politics - National, Politics - Wisconsin, Tea Party Movement.

Normally, I don’t comment extensively on the Hot Reads. However, Ed Morrissey’s column in today’s Washington Times serves both as something that needs to be taken to heart and as a launching point:

Clearly, though, that public show of support for primaries hides a scorn for the actual idea of voters selecting a candidate for themselves, a scorn exposed by the Tea Party in this cycle. One reason for the growth of Tea Party activism is precisely the kind of disconnected, elitist and condescending attitude toward voters in the Republican Party that results in the selection of candidates like Mike Castle in Delaware. In a midterm cycle where both liberals and establishment figures have as much attraction as big-government proposals like cap-and-trade, the national Republican establishment prompted the liberal Mr. Castle to abandon his safe House seat and run for the open Senate seat left vacant by Joe Biden’s election as vice president. Not only did they hand-select Mr. Castle, whose support of cap-and-trade and the DISCLOSE Act made him particularly suspect, the party then attacked a Republican who dared to challenge him for the seat.

Ed continues over at Hot Air:

The GOP has made the “rules” of primaries clear. The primaries are the manner in which voters hold candidates accountable for their records. After the voters make their choice, though, the debate is supposed to be over. The GOP has demanded loyalty from various constituencies at the end of the process, in which incumbents or anointed candidates such as Castle almost invariably win.

Suddenly, though, those rules don’t apply to the GOP establishment — or at least the establishment seemed ready to reject them yesterday. That’s precisely the same kind of elitist attitude that Americans get from Washington DC, and why the Tea Party exists in the first place. A day later, at least a few Republicans seemed to grasp that, including Senator John Cornyn and Michael Steele. If the rest don’t learn the lesson that DocZero gives in today’s post about bottom-up change instead of top-down diktats, the GOP establishment may be positioning itself for irrelevance in the long run.

So, why was Wisconsin so “different” than Delaware, and Alaska, and Nevada, and Utah? Simple; we already had the Conservative-versus-“Establishment” war in Wisconsin over the last 8 years, and at a significant, if incomplete level, the conservatives and the Republican Party of Wisconsin have figured out that they are by necessity complimentary. Still, both the article and the actions on the ground should serve as a stark warning against a return to the bad old days here in Wisconsin.

For the benefit of those who didn’t live through that 8-year war, allow me to walk back through that history, with the first stop at the very-brief Scott McCallum era. McCallum took a look at the direction of state finances and realized that the gravy train of state spending was headed off the tracks. His proposed reforms, which included ending shared revenue with localities (which allows municipalities and counties to spend wildly while claiming to be holding the line on property taxes) and a property tax freeze so riled up the bipartisan members of the Party-In-Government that even the supposedly-fiscally-conservative Republican majority in the state Assembly ran away from it.

At the same time, news of an unconscionable pension grab by the Milwaukee County leadership at the time, including 6- and 7-figure lump-sum payments on top of per-annum payments that essentially equalled the last-year salary broke. It was anger over that which propelled Scott Walker from his Assembly seat to the County Executive office on a pledge to fix the damage from the pension mess and other damage done by the free-spending government without raising taxes from the previous year.

While the sudden entry of Ed Thompson, the brother of former governor Tommy Thompson, whose appointment to head the federal Health and Human Services gave McCallum the governorship, may or may not have been a calculated move by the old-guard RPW leadership to take out McCallum, it had the effect of doing so, and that saddled us with Jim “Craps” Doyle (WEAC/HoChunk-For Sale) as governor.

Discontent over taxation didn’t go away, however, and in a special election in the 21st Assembly District (full disclosure; that is my Assembly district) in 2003, Republican Mark Hondael used that discontent to win a seat that had been held by the Democrats for 80 years. Meanwhile, some in the Assembly got it through their minds that something along the lines of Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights needed to get into the state Constitution. That died a rather noisy death in the Senate in the spring of 2004 when “Republican” Majority Leader Mary Panzer refused to take it up. She suddenly found herself in a primary against one of the Assembly sponsors of the amendment, Glenn Grothman, which ended in an 80%-20% removal of the sitting Senate Majority Leader.

In the same election cycle, staunch conservative Tim Michels upset the establishment candidate, moderate car dealer Russ Darrow, for the right to face Russ Feingold. The support from both the state party and the NRSC that had been promised to their establishment candidate immediately evaporated to the point Michels was “encouraged” to not appear at any multi-“Repubican”-candidate appearances, and we were saddled with another 6 years of Feingold.

Somehow, even though President Bush lost Wisconsin to John Kerry, there were still enough coattails to keep both houses of the Legislature in Republican hands and actually extend the margins. A majority of the 19 Senate “Republicans”, in a clear sign they were unwilling to change their P-I-G ways, chose Dale Schultz (“R”-“There’s no talk radio around here”) as their leader. The 60 Assembly Republicans, left looking for a speaker after Scott Jensen went down in the caucus “scandal”, chose a moderate from northeast Wisconsin, John Gard. At the end of the session, the Assembly chose to whip together a weak-tea version of what was renamed the Taxpayer Protection Amendment as they rejected a strong version that resembled the previous Taxpayer Bill of Rights. The Senate once again refused to even take it up.

Meanwhile, the establishment made it crystal clear that then-Congressman Mark Green (out of Green Bay) was the anointed candidate for governor because they thought that, like previous candidates who built up sizable federal campaign war chests, he would be able to transfer that entire amount to a state campaign fund. The message was sent so strongly, Scott Walker put away the campaign stuff and didn’t circulate nomination papers. Unfortunately, Doyle used a Democrat/Libertarian majority on the former State Elections Board to neuter that strategy. Predictably, the Senate fell to the Democrats in 2006, flipping from a 19-14 R advantage to a 18-15 D one, Doyle picked up another term, and the Assembly Republicans saw their majority drop from 60-39 to 52-47. The ugliest part was the tale of Senator Tom Reynolds, a staunch conservative opposed by both the general tax-and-spenders and specifically the road-builders for his vendetta against pork. Both the Democrats and the Schultz wing of the GOP targeted him for destruction, and they succeeded.

After that, the Senate Republicans started to wise up and ousted Schultz as their leader, replacing him with Scott Fitzgerald. To a person (and yes, even Schultz), they voted against both the Senate Democrat-drafted version of the 2007 DemoBudget, which included a state takeover of the health-insurance industry, and the final Joint Finance Committee/Doyle-negotiated version. On the Assembly side, since Gard had left in an unsuccessful attempt to succeed Green in Congress, they chose Mike Huebsch as speaker, another moderate who, like Schultz, came from an area devoid of talk radio. The leadership joined virtually every Democrat in voting for the final version of the 2007 DemoBudget.

Meanwhile, the state party underwent a bit of a rebellion, as Rick Graber departed the chairman’s seat and Reince Priebus became chairman. In 2008, while the Republicans lost the Assembly, they held their ground in the Senate.

Priebus recognized early on that there was something to the Tea Party Movement. The RPW provided shuttle buses between Madison’s Alliant Energy Center and the Capitol for the 2009 Tax Day Tea Party (never mind there were far more people than anybody anticipated, and those buses were still bringing people in halfway through the event). Over in the Assembly, Republicans tossed Huebsch out of his leadership role and completed the Brothers of Fitzgerald tag-team in Legislative leadership by picking Jeff Fitzgerald (yes, they are brothers). Meanwhile, Walker began his gubernatorial campaign in earnest, courting both the Tea Party and the party grassroots with his proven-conservative-beacon-in-the-liberal-wilderness message.

When Mark Neumann finally decided to enter the campaign the middle of 2009, it wasn’t as a Tea Party candidate. In fact, his major backers were those who last publicly wielded power a decade earlier. It wasn’t until the nationally-focused Tea Party Express rolled into town that he even began to seriously reach out to elements of the Tea Party movement.

That is not to say that there is a complete convergence between the RPW and the Tea Party movement. Despite a lack of an endorsement in the lieutenant governor’s race at the 2010 RPW Convention (or even a majority on the 4th and last ballot), many elected Republicans, including those who honestly should have known better, endorsed Brett Davis. Don’t get me wrong; Davis isn’t a bad guy, and like every major Republican candidate, he reached out to the Tea Party, but his record in the Assembly wasn’t exactly conservative.

Even in that instance where there was a serious divergence, with Rebecca Kleefisch ultimately winning the lieutenant governor’s race going away, there was a recognition that once the primary battle was fought, it was time to get behind the winner. WisPolitics interviewed him after he conceded:

“I’m proud of the campaign I ran,” said Davis shortly after conceding. “Rebecca Kleefisch ran a teriffic campaign, and we’re very close friends. Joel and I have been close friends and will continue to be.”

“The most important thing tonight is we unify tonight in the common purpose of November,” Davis said.

The bottom line is that the Democrats must be defeated, and with the primary season over, the only way to do that is to unify against the winner. I wish I could remember which Hot Air commenter first voiced this thought yesterday so I could give the person proper credit and a full quoting – If at this point you’re not going to back the winner of the Republican primary, you’re not a RINO; you’re a Democrat regardless of the designation behind your name.

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