The post-mortems on statewide elections in Wisconsin continue to pile up. Some are better than others, but all seem to think that ‘candidate quality’ is the main problem. This is rubbish.
The real problem is voter quality.
To understand this, instead of asking the question “Why did Kelly and Michels lose?” ask the more pertinent question, “When did Kelly and Michels lose?”
Their losses were due largely to how college students and recent grads voted in Dane County. These people are the product of the education system in Wisconsin. In particular, the state university system.
When did Kelly and Michels lose? They lost when conservatives and Wisconsin Republicans ceded to progressives and Wisconsin Democrats the education of tens and tens of thousands of young people, at least 20-35 years ago.
Obviously, we must look to local communities and school boards for some of the responsibility on this, but the state universities are where the real damage is done. These answer to the legislature, which funds them, and they are administered by the executive branch.
For the period in question, the Republicans held considerable sway. From 1992 to 2002, there was a Republican governor. The House was held by the Republicans from 1995 through 2008. That is fourteen straight years of holding the purse strings. In two of these sessions, the Republicans held the Assembly, the Senate and the Governor’s office. This does not even count the eight Walker years, when the Republicans controlled all three branches.
During the same timeframe, the Left continued its “long march through the institutions” and made its control over the university system absolute, right underneath the nose, and on the watch, of Republicans.
I cannot understate how monumentally stupid and short-sighted this was. What did everyone think was going to happen?
There is plenty of nuance we can throw on to this, and present realities that undeniably had a bearing on the results of the recent statewide losses, but these pale in comparison to not just letting the Democrats grow their base at taxpayer expense, but actually facilitating it.
Republicans wring their hands about ‘candidate quality’ while the Democrats focus on ‘voter quality’—namely, changing the quality of the voters themselves, so that they are of the sort to resonate more with ‘progressive’ values than conservative ones.
Every two years, the Republicans ‘strategize’ about how to get moderates to vote for Republicans, seeing this as the only viable path to ‘win.’ Meanwhile, the Democrats have been working hard to make sure there are fewer moderates to get!
There is much to be said about this and I was tempted to say it, but this is the shortest line between two points.
Focusing on ‘candidate quality’ has an obvious benefit to the master ‘strategizers’ in the GOP: the ‘strategizers’ can wash their hands of the loss. It isn’t their fault, you see. If only we had listened to them, we would have won.
There is another ‘strategy’ available to us: make new Republican voters!
This is a much harder job and requires time and effort that lasts far beyond any single election cycle. It is a job that the Democrats are doing, and the Republicans are not. Even worse, the Republicans are watching the Democrats do that job, using the money of taxpaying Republicans. It is maddening. It is also the basic reason why Republicans have lost the last elections and will continue to do so, by increasingly larger margins.
A final word. An aside, if you will. I couldn’t help but notice that in most discussions about poor ‘candidate’ quality, Dan Kelly and Tim Michels are singled out for abuse. Did we all forget that Scott Walker lost before they did? Was he also an example of low ‘candidate quality’?
If so, then I suppose our ‘strategizers’ are going to tell us that what we really need to be doing is surfacing some David Souters and Susan Collins to be our candidates. Supposing they win, I guess we’ll have someone with an “R” after their name, but those are the kinds of ‘wins’ that get people like Donald Trump elected and starts Tea Parties. And nobody wants that, do they? That would be horrible.
But if Walker was not a poor candidate, then I submit we list all three names together (Walker, Kelly, and Michels) and dig deep for better explanations for their losses than that they were ‘poor candidates.’
In this essay, I have provided a better explanation.
Vice Chair of the Republican Party of Clark County