Knives out in the big blame game!
The battle for leadership of Dane County’s Republican party is a microcosm of the civil war Republicans are waging nationally within itself. The attempt to purge popular chairman Scott Grabins, a citizen volunteer who teaches computer science in his day job, echoes the insurgency that played out in 15 roll call ballots before Kevin McCarthy could be elected Speaker of the House.
A closer analogy is the challenge to national Republican chairman Ronna Romney McDaniel, who campaigned alongside triumphant Ron Johnson here in Wisconsin. Republicans disappointed that the projected “Red Wave” yielded only a thin majority in the lower house of Congress are scapegoating McDaniel and not the former President who recruited losers like Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, Kari Lake in Arizona, or (for that matter) Tim Michels in Wisconsin.
Challenge to Grabins comes from three quarters:
1) Election deniers, who flatter themselves as “draining the swamp,” in their hero’s words. Many of them are convinced (however implausibly) that Nancy Pelosi is responsible for the January 6, 2021 assault on the Constitution.
Their fight is first with fellow Republicans. Party purists eager to purge dissenters for being “Republicans In Name Only” if they don’t buy into the Stolen Election Lie. Their bête noir is Robin Vos, the Republican Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, because he refused to throw Wisconsin’s electors to the loser of the 2020 Presidential election. Their hero is Timothy Ramthun, who hosted the My Pillow man at his state Republican convention hospitality room in May 2022.
It was Ramthun who took aim at Rebecca Kleefisch’s teenaged daughter for the unforgivable sin of attending her high school homecoming dance on the arm of the son of Brian Hagedorn. The latter was the deciding vote on the WI Supreme Court to deny Tr•mp’s bid to overturn the Wisconsin election. Tr•mp then vented about that imagined conspiracy in a face-to-face meeting after which he endorsed Michels. (More here.)
Clash of egos?
2) The other challenge comes from Tim Michels’ backers, who need their own scapegoat for their expensive crash and burn. “In some ways it was the Thompson era versus the Walker era,” Jim Piwowarczyk & Jessica McBride at Wisconsin Right Now concluded.
A small group of Republican insiders parachuted Michels into the gubernatorial primary at the last minute to blow up the two good conservatives already in the race, turning it into a money-draining bloodbath.
The people searching for a Rebecca Kleefisch alternative and pushing Michels early on included former RNC chair/attorney/Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus, lobbyist Bill McCoshen, lobbyist John Gard, and former Gov. Tommy Thompson. … They were concerned Kleefisch couldn’t win, but it’s not a gamble that makes sense now: She certainly wouldn’t have done worse.— “We warned you.” Wisconsin Right Now
Kleefisch was an Energizer Bunny of a campaigner and would have checked off some boxes as Wisconsin’s first female governor.
3) Republicans frustrated that Dane County drags down the statewide ticket by giving Democrats an increasingly large head of steam and think we can do better. Democrats have been rolling up ever-greater margins in Dane County while the Republican take has been shrinking as a percentage of the total vote.
|Dem v. Republican|
in Dane County
|Michels v Evers 2022||62,300||174,277||20.7%|
|R. Johnson v Barnes ’22||68,228||163,541||22.7%|
|Trump v Biden ’20||78,800||181,327||22.9%|
|Vukmir v Tammy B. ’18||65,515||162,535||22.3%|
|Walker v Evers ’18||69,206||150,846||23.5%|
|Bush v. Gore ‘00||75,790||66,527||32.6%|
Blame Dane County if you want but:
• Ron Johnson got 5,928 more votes in Dane County — against Mandela Barnes, progressive and black! — than Michels. (RoJo had an office in Dane County; Michels did not.)
• Michels lost votes in the WOW counties compared to Scott Walker in 2018.
• Michels under-performed victorious Sen. Johnson by 68,667 votes statewide.
• Dane County Democrats were smart. They put up advisory referenda on repealing the ban on abortion and for legalizing marijuana — both of which prevailed with 82% of the total vote.
• The Act 10 reform of government employee unions was good policy but (face it!) it salted the earth in a county where the biggest employer is government.
• Michels was endorsed by Tr•mp, who rallied in state for him, and was the darling of the election deniers, RINO-purgers, anti-vaxxers, and QAnon addicts. “Never Trumpers are at it again,” Michels cried during his unsuccessful and divisive campaign.
Blaska’s Bottom Line: Regrettably, this intra-party feud will fracture local Republicans.
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