Commentary Magazine


Topic: Reince Priebus

GOP’s in a Wisconsin State of Mind

When Newt Gingrich led the Republicans back to power on Capitol Hill during Bill Clinton’s first midterms, the revolutionaries came with a famous to-do list. But the most successful item on that list by far was almost certainly their ability to get welfare reform enacted with a Democratic president. Such congressional victories are rare; this one remains celebrated by both parties. So it was an odd feeling for former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson in 2007 when he ran for the GOP presidential nomination and seemed unable to get any traction with his reform credentials.

Gingrich may have passed welfare reform, and Clinton may have signed it, but Thompson enabled both. No one carried the ball farther down the field on welfare reform than Thompson did as governor of Wisconsin. He also wasted no time in reminding voters that he passed the nation’s first school vouchers program to include private schools. But if Thompson is far from the spotlight, even as these issues crop up once again, he can take solace in the fact that his state remains front and center in just about every major reform fight. In fact, when conservatives talk about states being “laboratories of democracy,” they seem to have Wisconsin in mind.

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When Newt Gingrich led the Republicans back to power on Capitol Hill during Bill Clinton’s first midterms, the revolutionaries came with a famous to-do list. But the most successful item on that list by far was almost certainly their ability to get welfare reform enacted with a Democratic president. Such congressional victories are rare; this one remains celebrated by both parties. So it was an odd feeling for former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson in 2007 when he ran for the GOP presidential nomination and seemed unable to get any traction with his reform credentials.

Gingrich may have passed welfare reform, and Clinton may have signed it, but Thompson enabled both. No one carried the ball farther down the field on welfare reform than Thompson did as governor of Wisconsin. He also wasted no time in reminding voters that he passed the nation’s first school vouchers program to include private schools. But if Thompson is far from the spotlight, even as these issues crop up once again, he can take solace in the fact that his state remains front and center in just about every major reform fight. In fact, when conservatives talk about states being “laboratories of democracy,” they seem to have Wisconsin in mind.

Paul Ryan has taken the reins on budget issues for the GOP, but his public persona is inextricably tied to his proposed entitlement reforms, especially Medicare. Ryan’s ideas became the Republican Party’s budget. He became a standard-bearer at a level usually reserved for presidential nominees. (When Gingrich slammed Ryan’s proposal as “right-wing social engineering,” he was practically booed and hissed out of the race.) Ryan’s reforms became their own litmus test to see if conservative presidential candidates were “serious” about the country’s fiscal future.

And no one will soon forget the liberal reaction to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s public union reforms–the deepest in the country. To avoid even voting on legislation, Democratic members of the state’s Senate fled Wisconsin to live in a hotel in Illinois. It didn’t exactly do wonders for the Democratic Party’s credibility, but neither did the DNC-organized protests; the nicest protesters compared Walker to Hosni Mubarak, the less generous compared him to–who else–Hitler. In fact, Walker’s reforms were tough but smart, and have provided a much-needed boost to the state’s economy. Fearing the effect of fiscal restraint on their taxpayer-financed largesse, the unions helped organize recall elections for state senators and Walker himself. The GOP survived, and so did the reforms.

And today at National Review Online, Katrina Trinko profiles Reince Priebus, the first-term Republican National Committee chair who has improved the party’s fundraising, kept a lower profile, and stayed more on-message than his predecessor. Priebus is also from Wisconsin.

So what is it about the Badger State? At first glance, Wisconsin might seem an unlikely laboratory for conservative reforms. It hasn’t thrown its electoral votes into the Republican column since 1984–though George W. Bush nearly nabbed the state in 2004. And though it has become more competitive in recent years, that should only make it less given to producing politicians willing to take the political risks Ryan and Walker have. Washington, D.C., isn’t exactly famous for political courage, so reformers take the risk of being demagogued into the ground–having their voters and their caucus scared off. But Wisconsin’s voters aren’t so easily bullied by unions either.

Wisconsin, then, is a peculiar kind of potential swing state. Wisconsin’s conservatives are not only enacting serious reforms, but are encouraging the national party to follow suit. (Compare this with Florida, where politicians walk a very careful line with regard to entitlement reform in an election year.) Is creative conservative reform the path to a Wisconsinite’s heart? Perhaps its liberal leanings have helped. Thompson’s reforms came just as the state was beginning to vote Democratic in presidential elections, and voters seemed to seek some kind of balance–the state hasn’t gone Republican in a presidential election since Thompson became governor, but it has also only had one Democratic governor in that same time (Walker’s predecessor).

Whatever the reason, the success of Wisconsin’s reform-minded politicians suggests the country isn’t as resigned to a welfare state future as many fear. Even without a candidate in a presidential election year, the state remains at the center–and often sets the terms–of the debate.

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Democrats Outdo Themselves on Fake “War on Women”

The mock outrage and silly opportunism of the Democrat-manufactured “war on women” narrative reached comedic heights today, after some innocuous comments from Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus triggered a ridiculously disproportionate firestorm:

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus triggered a debate on caterpillars Thursday when dismissing the GOP’s so-called “women problem” as a “fiction.”

“If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and mainstream media outlets talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we have problems with caterpillars,” Priebus told Bloomberg TV in an episode of “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing Thursday night. …

The comment “shows how little regard leading Republicans, including Mitt Romney, have for women’s health,” said Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter in a statement. “Women are already abandoning the Republican Party in droves because of their antiquated positions on women’s health and out-of-touch policies on the middle class. Reince Priebus’ comments today only reinforce why women simply cannot trust Mitt Romney or other leading Republicans to stand up for them.”

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The mock outrage and silly opportunism of the Democrat-manufactured “war on women” narrative reached comedic heights today, after some innocuous comments from Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus triggered a ridiculously disproportionate firestorm:

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus triggered a debate on caterpillars Thursday when dismissing the GOP’s so-called “women problem” as a “fiction.”

“If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and mainstream media outlets talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we have problems with caterpillars,” Priebus told Bloomberg TV in an episode of “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing Thursday night. …

The comment “shows how little regard leading Republicans, including Mitt Romney, have for women’s health,” said Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter in a statement. “Women are already abandoning the Republican Party in droves because of their antiquated positions on women’s health and out-of-touch policies on the middle class. Reince Priebus’ comments today only reinforce why women simply cannot trust Mitt Romney or other leading Republicans to stand up for them.”

This is too obtuse to be unintentional. There is no way the Obama campaign or Democratic National Committee really thinks Reince Priebus was comparing women to caterpillars, right? Then again, The Atlantic seems to have bought in:

In this week’s Etch A Sketch moment, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said the GOP’s perceived “war on women” was as fictional as a war on caterpillars. Now, while it’s pretty fun to imagine politicians in suits doing battle with what we can only assume would be enormous, mutant caterpillars, it also reveals the problem with drawing such comparisons: trivializing people’s concerns isn’t the best way to get them to drop an issue.

So now if Republicans don’t admit that the “war on women” they are falsely being accused of waging is real, that’s taken as further evidence that they hate women and trivialize their concerns. That’s some logic.

The entire controversy is right out of that picnic scene from Whit Stillman’s great “Barcelona,” when Taylor Nichols tries to explain U.S. Cold War foreign policy to a group of anti-American pseudo-intellectuals by using an analogy about ants. “That’s clearly the most disgusting description of U.S. policy I have ever heard,” shoots back one artist. “The third-world is just a lot of ants to you.”

I can imagine that trying to explain the fallacy of the “war on women” narrative to Debbie Wasserman Schultz is about as futile as trying to explain the reasonableness of American foreign policy to anti-American Europeans. No matter what anybody says, she’ll just turn back to Priebus and exclaim, “So women are just a bunch of caterpillars to you?”

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Democrats at Risk

Jonathan Martin reports:

A tactic that would have seemed far-fetched a year ago, when the new president was sworn in with a 67 percent job approval rating, is now emerging as a key component of the GOP strategy: Tie Democratic opponents to Obama and make them answer for some of the unpopular policies associated with the chief executive.

This is, of course, the mirror image of what occurred in 2006, when Democrats ran against George W. Bush. Martin adds: “The challenge will be to link Democrats with the administration on such issues as spending, bailouts, healthcare and cap-and-trade while not personally attacking Obama, who remains personally well-liked even as his standing erodes.” It’s not much of a challenge, really; all Republicans need to do is look at the campaigns of Bob McDonnell and Scott Brown, who ran against Obama policies but made no personal attacks on the president.

Frankly, in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts, Obama showed himself not much of an aid in motivating his own troops. The Left has become peeved with the underachieving president, who has been unable to deliver much of consequence on their policy wish list. So it’s not surprising that Republicans are starting to cheer Obama appearances in their state.  Martin explains of Colorado and Wisconsin, two states previously thought to be securely Democratic:

It was [in Colorado] where Democrats enjoyed resurgence in recent years, resulting in scores of stories about the Rocky Mountain West turning, if not blue, at least purple. But now, with the appointed Bennet facing the threat of a primary and a tough GOP challenge, an incumbent governor whose numbers were so poor he couldn’t even run for re-election and at least two Democratic-held House seats potentially imperiled, those analyses look premature.

Republicans in the Badger State think two long-time Democrats could pay a price for backing much of Obama’s agenda.

“Democrats in Wisconsin like [Rep.] Dave Obey and [Sen.] Russ Feingold will be especially vulnerable because these two men have voluntarily marched off the cliff with Obama by not only supporting the president’s failed policies but fighting to pass them as well,” said state GOP Chairman Reince Priebus.

We’ll see how long Obama’s downward slide continues and whether unemployment remains high. If Obama doesn’t dash for the Center, and if the economy limps along for the remainder of the year, Colorado and Wisconsin will join a long list of states that are no longer definitely, no-questions-asked safe bets for the Democrats. In the Obama era, no seat is safe for the Democrats, it seems.

Jonathan Martin reports:

A tactic that would have seemed far-fetched a year ago, when the new president was sworn in with a 67 percent job approval rating, is now emerging as a key component of the GOP strategy: Tie Democratic opponents to Obama and make them answer for some of the unpopular policies associated with the chief executive.

This is, of course, the mirror image of what occurred in 2006, when Democrats ran against George W. Bush. Martin adds: “The challenge will be to link Democrats with the administration on such issues as spending, bailouts, healthcare and cap-and-trade while not personally attacking Obama, who remains personally well-liked even as his standing erodes.” It’s not much of a challenge, really; all Republicans need to do is look at the campaigns of Bob McDonnell and Scott Brown, who ran against Obama policies but made no personal attacks on the president.

Frankly, in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts, Obama showed himself not much of an aid in motivating his own troops. The Left has become peeved with the underachieving president, who has been unable to deliver much of consequence on their policy wish list. So it’s not surprising that Republicans are starting to cheer Obama appearances in their state.  Martin explains of Colorado and Wisconsin, two states previously thought to be securely Democratic:

It was [in Colorado] where Democrats enjoyed resurgence in recent years, resulting in scores of stories about the Rocky Mountain West turning, if not blue, at least purple. But now, with the appointed Bennet facing the threat of a primary and a tough GOP challenge, an incumbent governor whose numbers were so poor he couldn’t even run for re-election and at least two Democratic-held House seats potentially imperiled, those analyses look premature.

Republicans in the Badger State think two long-time Democrats could pay a price for backing much of Obama’s agenda.

“Democrats in Wisconsin like [Rep.] Dave Obey and [Sen.] Russ Feingold will be especially vulnerable because these two men have voluntarily marched off the cliff with Obama by not only supporting the president’s failed policies but fighting to pass them as well,” said state GOP Chairman Reince Priebus.

We’ll see how long Obama’s downward slide continues and whether unemployment remains high. If Obama doesn’t dash for the Center, and if the economy limps along for the remainder of the year, Colorado and Wisconsin will join a long list of states that are no longer definitely, no-questions-asked safe bets for the Democrats. In the Obama era, no seat is safe for the Democrats, it seems.

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