Commentary

Running away from the GOP

It’s scary to be a Republican these days

August 2, 2021 6:00 am
Friday the 13th still

Jason Voorheen Friday the 13th | Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0 CC BY-ND 2.0 CC BY-ND 2.0

The head of the Republican Party of Wisconsin quietly stepped down last week. According to Wispolitics it was during a recent summer vacation with his young children that it suddenly occurred to GOP state chair Andrew Hitt that he ought to quit.

Can you blame him?

Hitt took the job in 2018, right after Republicans lost every single statewide race and has presided, ever since, over an era of Republican sour grapes. It started with the lame duck power grab, when legislative leaders, with the help of defeated Gov. Scott Walker, rushed around seizing every power they could get their hands on from the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general. Then came the pandemic spring election, in which Republicans tried (unsuccessfully) to hold onto conservative Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly’s seat by forcing voters to go to the polls in person during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak. That strategy backfired and Justice Jill Karofsky won —  thanks to intrepid voters in Milwaukee who waited in line for hours at the handful of polling places that remained open, and the poll workers who risked their lives to help them vote.

Finally, of course, there was the sourest grape of all: Donald Trump and his 2020 presidential campaign. Trump is still trying to claim he won in Wisconsin, against the evidence of the courts, multiple recounts and reports by the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission. GOP legislative leaders continue to pump up the phoney fraud allegations with ever more expensive investigations, as if they might prove that President Joe Biden should be ejected from office. It’s embarrassing.

As if all that were not enough, it was during Hitt’s tenure as party chair that the GOP decided to define itself as the party of resistance to protecting the public from COVID-19. Now, as the new, super-contagious delta variant of the virus pushes infections and hospitalizations back up, a GOP-led Senate and Assembly rules committee is voting Tuesday on a proposal to block UW System schools from making their own policies to require masks, vaccines or COVID tests, just in time to exacerbate a new surge as classes start in the fall.

It’s downright perverse how the party of limited government morphed into the party of actively blocking simple public health measures even if it means more people get sick and die.

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The same goes for rejecting federal money to expand Medicaid and the recent — failed — effort by the Legislature to cut off supplemental unemployment insurance prematurely, before it expires in September anyway.

Hitt and GOP legislative leaders were blessed with a $5.3 billion windfall in healthier than expected state revenue projections and savings, but they could not bring themselves to invest any of it in schools, infrastructure, health care or improving the lives of Wisconsinistes.

I would have a hard time explaining all that to my kids, too, if I were in charge of the GOP. Why are Republicans so mean? 

It all goes back to sour grapes. Republicans in the Legislature wouldn’t let Gov. Tony Evers make much-needed investments in schools because they want him to look bad heading into his 2022 re-election campaign. Preventing him from being successful — even if that success would benefit Wisconsinites — is their only real aim. On the federal level, it drives Republicans crazy that Biden is getting things done, and getting credit for it. That includes a bipartisan infrastructure deal that even Sen. Ron Johnson admitted is pretty good — right before he voted against it.

I was walking my dog the other day when I bumped into a neighbor who happens to be a Republican operative. “Your dog could beat Ron Johnson,” he told me, apropos of nothing. State Republicans are dying to run a more presentable candidate than Johnson for Senate, as an ever-expanding field of eager Democratic challengers chomps at the bit. 

But Johnson won’t let them. He insists there’s no reason anyone else in his party should get a head start on fundraising or building statewide name recognition. Not willing to make up his mind, he just goes on making news every week, calling climate change B.S., warning people about the dangers of getting the COVID vaccine and voting to deny Wisconsinites infrastructure funds and needed pandemic relief.

So, really, you can hardly blame Hitt for calling it quits.

Were it not for the gerrymandered political map they drew for themselves in a backroom while Walker was still governor, the Republicans would have lost their grip on the Legislature in addition to statewide offices. Lucky for them, the map is still rigged in their favor — for now. But even that is in doubt for the next round of elections, with the new census data arriving any day and a Democdratic governor and Democrats in Congress fighting for fair maps. 

Perhaps worst for the state GOP is the news, last month, that the Democratic Party has six times more cash in the bank than the Republicans have. The GOP ended June with $1.2 million in its accounts. That’s all thanks to Hitt, who, along with a bunch of sour grapes, found himself contending with a giant hole just before the November election last year because the Party of Fiscal Responsibility accidentally lost $2.3 million to hackers who drained their accounts. Hitt managed to claw back about $1 million of that. So don’t say he never accomplished anything. He’s almost got the state GOP back to where they were in 2018, right after they started taking all those big losses.

Hitt has said he’ll hang around until his replacement is named, and the next GOP statewide meeting is on the auspicious date of Sept. 11. But, sounding hopeful, he pointed out to WisPolitics that the party can meet any time with only 10 days’ notice.

How about Friday the 13th?

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Ruth Conniff
Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine where she worked for many years from both Madison and Washington, DC. Shortly after Donald Trump took office she moved with her family to Oaxaca, Mexico, and covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Trump. Conniff is a frequent guest on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, CNN, Fox News and many other radio and television outlets. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. She graduated from Yale University in 1990, where she ran track and edited the campus magazine The New Journal. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and three daughters.

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