Well, there you go again. Ronald Reagan used to say this to the press and to political opponents. Today, he would say the same thing about the feckless Republican leadership in Wisconsin and the losing track record in recent years.
We are not losing because the Democrats have such an amazing message; clearly, they do not. We are not losing because the Dems have such hard-working candidates. Janet Protasiewicz didn’t even bother to campaign the final seven days because she was supposedly ‘sick.’
Instead of looking in the mirror, reflecting, and making needed changes, Conservatives are looking for easy ‘blame someone else’ answers and changing absolutely nothing.
On the heels of the disastrous Supreme Court race, the usual suspects are busy shielding themselves from any blame and deflecting attention from their failures by placing all blame on the candidate. Sound familiar?
Just like in November, when some demonized Tim Michels for his loss, some have felt it necessary to attack Michels again. Really?
Neither candidate was perfect, and they both made tactical missteps along the way. While important, the candidate is only part of the big picture. But let’s have a frank discussion about the dynamics in both races. Why? Because if we let ‘blaming the wrong reason’ continue, we are doomed to change nothing.
First, I supported the primary winner last year and did not support the primary winner this year; I supported both winners in the general election. This gives credibility to what I’m going to discuss here.
In Dan Kelly’s case, he was a rock-solid Conservative and loves the Constitution. He cares deeply for his family and his community. All this, coupled with a solid list of Supreme Court Rulings, proved he was an excellent jurist. His judicial track record was beyond contestation. Sadly, he needed to be a more skilled politician.
Sure, I was not a fan of Dan Kelly as a candidate, so I supported Jennifer Dorow in the primary. While it would be easy to blame everything on him, I understand the big picture. After the primary, I joined Dorow and the rest of her supporters and supported Kelly. Because of this, Dan Kelly enjoyed nearly unanimous support from Conservatives.
So, why did a ‘perfect Ideological Conservative’ like Dan Kelly lose?
A significant barrier was himself. As a self-proclaimed ‘Constitutional Nerd,’ he kept his rhetoric too academic and lost people at ‘the rule of law.’ This sort of educated elitist rhetoric appeared arrogant on the campaign trail. He failed to simplify his message to connect outside Conservative circles—simply too much time in front of the choir.
In Wisconsin, Conservative support only gets us to about 45%. He had zero cross-over appeal and failed to let people in to see his personal side. Add to it the anemic fundraising; this proved to be disastrous. That said, there were so many more factors to consider out of his control.
As I said, Dan Kelly had near unanimous base support; sadly, a unified base was a luxury Tim Michels did not enjoy last year.
Like Dan Kelly, ALL Conservatives should have been willing to support Tim Michels after the Primary.
Ideologically, he was rock solid on ideals like the Right to Life, Public Safety, Backing the Blue, Universal School Choice, Voter integrity, low taxes, etc. He was also a solid family man who campaigned with his wife and family by his side. And let’s not forget his military service and that he owns a company that employs thousands of people here in Wisconsin.
From the start, he rolled up his sleeves and busted his butt out there. He and his team went EVERYWHERE. Just look at the Michels for Governor Twitter account; there were at least 450 stops over the 90 days of the general election campaign cycle. And that’s just what made it onto Twitter. Some even tried to create the narrative that he was ‘not working hard.’ Obviously, he was.
In the campaign’s last weeks, Michels became much better at connecting with voters; he came a long way from ‘reading’ his speech at the convention. On top of that, he hit a home run in the televised debate with Tony Evers. Again, he did a great job of differentiating himself. Sadly, people at large do not watch Governor debates.
Tim Michels invested over $20 Million, which no Wisconsin candidate has ever done. Millions more than any other Republican would have brought to the table. It was a lot but not nearly enough to overcome Evers’ money machine advantage in the most expensive gubernatorial campaign in the nation.
There were some silver linings throughout the campaign. Michels dared to be different by changing the political dynamic a bit. He was the first Republican gubernatorial candidate since Tommy Thompson to invest time in areas now neglected by Republicans.
Just look at the City of Milwaukee. In November, voter turnout was significantly down because of those efforts. After meeting Michels, many Milwaukee voters stayed home. It was not yet enough to get them to trust Republicans, but it was a MAJOR step forward for the Republican brand.
He was not charismatic like Ronald Regan; heck no, there’s only one Reagan. Did he say everything right every time? No, he fumbled the ball a few times and sometimes struggled in interviews. So what? He was still the Conservative against Tony Evers.
He was not the pillar of perfection; biblically speaking, only one could walk on water. Even if Tim Michels was not your ‘ideal’ candidate, at the very least, he should have been ‘good enough’ against Evers. He was much better than ‘good enough,’ there was no coherent reason for a Conservative not to vote for him, none. Well, except for some.
Throughout the campaign, Michels had much of the party apparatus working against him, and primary bitterness significantly contributed to his loss. Instead of coming together, Rebecca Kleefisch and many of her supporters refused to participate post-primary; most of her team simply disappeared. As a result, Tim did not have a needed unified base.
On election day, some bragged and posted ballot pictures showing they wrote in another candidate or left the Governor’s field empty.
Behind the scenes, many ‘powerful’ Republicans were strongarming donors to avoid donating to Michels. There was nearly ZERO support from the RNC at the national level, and there was no sign of a ‘Victory 2022’ push in Wisconsin. Deliberate? Who knows?
In the end, he and his campaign team did the best they could, having to win not only against Democrats but also against fellow Republicans who were deliberately trying to derail him.
On Election night, Tony Evers was the top vote-getter. Even if Michels matched Ron Johnson’s numbers by getting 68k more votes, it would not have been enough, but the deficit showed the impact of sour grapes. Johnson had the advantage of incumbency and a lousy opponent; the most hated Republican, other than Scott Walker, would have lost to a better candidate.
Aside from all the intra-party wrangling, there are factors out of anyone’s control, and this affected not only Tim Michels and Dan Kelly but NEARLY cost us, Ron Johnson.
The issues at the top? ABORTION and TRUMP!
Both issues caused the ‘red wave’ to fizzle. Conservatives wanted to end Roe so badly that they failed to consider how to function in a post-Roe America. Add to that the Trump factor; the Democrats were able to control the narrative completely.
What’s more, NOBODY predicted, and EVERYONE underestimated, the impact of the Roe decision and Trump on both elections.
Tim Michels and Dan Kelly alike are pro-life, but the Democrats labeled them both as ‘extremists’ because of the existing abortion law, and they were able to saddle Trump with both candidates. Republicans need to find a way to neutralize both issues quickly.
Still, while important, there is so much more to consider.
In the end, Tim Michels did lose, but just like Dan Kelly, focusing entirely on the candidate is COMPLETELY IGNORING THE BIG PICTURE. Collectively, we are failing and have been failing for a long time.
Let’s get to the root, Wisconsin Democrats are consistently outworking the Republicans. Democrats get results, and all our side does is complain about it.
Michels got more votes than Scott Walker’s win in 2014, but it’s no longer enough. Since the Democrats have built upon their numbers, they have been winning ever since. Republicans have failed to move the needle whatsoever; the numbers consistently show we have remained flat.
Today’s Democrats focus entirely on getting ballots above all else. Most Democrats vote early, and the party uses public data to see who has not voted yet. Their highly paid ‘volunteers’ are harvesting ballots everywhere, from colleges to nursing homes. Where are we?
The Democrats want it more, plain and simple. Unfortunately, it hasn’t gotten bad enough for the Republicans to want it. The Republican ground game is reactive at best, and we are always running from behind.
Republican fundraising has been anemic while Liberals have enjoyed a substantial third-party money advantage because of the so-called ‘Walker Loophole.’ Unfortunately, lack of foresight on this ‘loophole’ will continue to haunt us; unintended consequences under the guise of ‘good intentions.’
The Democrats control the narrative. Project Democracy PAC announced that voters viewed its digital ad during the Supreme Court election more than 2.8 million times in 2 1/2 weeks, and it was viewed to completion by over 74% of those who watched it.
What did Republicans have to counter this? Anything? Clearly we have a failure to communicate.
Conservatives in Wisconsin have lost nearly everything since 2018. So rather than exclusively hyper-focusing on the candidate’s faults, it’s time to take that proverbial look in the mirror. Collectively we are failing, and for what? To satisfy some hurt egos?
Face it, Ronald Reagan or Antonin Scalia could have been the candidates, and we would have still snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
This losing trend will continue unless things change drastically and quickly. Remember Einstein’s definition of insanity? As of right now, the Democrats WILL WIN in 2024. So let’s learn from the past, focus on the future, and dare to do things differently so we can change this.