Social conservatives field Rauner opponent
by RUSS STEWART
"Marginalization" is a word coined by political pundits. It means on the edge, the periphery – a political faction or movement that is inconsequential, irrelevant and/ or ridiculously impotent.
Like Republicans in Illinois, who are on the edge of the state’s overwhelmingly Democratic majority, which grows with every passing election. Without Governor Bruce Rauner and his millions, there would be no Illinois Republican Party. He, and he alone, has made the party less marginalized that it would otherwise be. And he has done that by demonizing Mike Madigan, blaming the Democrats for Springfield gridlock, stalling an income tax increase for more than 2 years, focusing on budget, spending and right-to-work issues, and totally eschewing social issues.
Among hardcore Democrats, especially liberals, minorities, public sector unions and social-service providers, Rauner’s fiscal conservativism is roundly reviled. Among hardcore Republican social conservatives, whose focus is on such issues as abortion and gay rights, Rauner’s social liberalism is equally reviled.
Rauner, who dumped $50 million of his own money into his campaign account last summer, faces opposition in the March 20 Republican primary from state representative Jeanne Ives (R-42), from the Wheaton area. Ives and her socially conservative supporters, who are truly the "marginalized of the marginalized," deem Rauner to be a "RINO," which means Republican-In-Name-Only, and are convinced that Illinois’ voters are chomping at the bit to elect somebody even more conservative than Rauner. Get real. The Illinois Policy Institute tabbed the governor "Benedict Rauner" because he signed House Bill 40, which mandates that abortions will remain legal in the state even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. The bill also expands Medicaid coverage for abortions.
Conservative radio talk show host Dan Proft, who ran for governor in 2010, is pushing the Ives candidacy. She is utterly unknown, and needs money, like about $10 million, and some issues to run on. Attacking the governor as pro-choice would (1) ingratiate Rauner to a lot of socially liberal independents, and would (2) isolate her as a one-issue fringe candidate.
Rumors abound that mega-donor Dick Uihlien, who has given a lot of money to Republicans over the years, or even the Koch brothers, might fund Ives. But the Republican Governors Association will do everything possible to re-elect Rauner.
Consider a few facts. First, in statewide elections since 2002, encompassing eight cycles with 30 offices, including president, on the ballot, a Republican has won a total of five seats, or 15 percent. The only winners were Rauner (2014) for governor, after spending $75 million, Mark Kirk (2010) for senator, who then lost in 2016, and the late Judy Baar Topinka for treasurer (2002) and comptroller (2010 and 2014). None ran as a social conservative. And all won narrowly – Rauner by 31,834 votes, Kirk by 59,220 votes, and Topinka in 2014 by 139,390 votes.
Second, the last Republican presidential candidate to carry Illinois was George H. Bush in 1988. Donald Trump lost Illinois by 944,714 votes in 2016, Mitt Romney by 884,296 votes in 2012, John McCain by 1,388,169 votes in 2008, and George W. Bush by 545,604 votes in 2004 and 569,605 votes in 2000. For Republicans, Illinois is a write-off, as virtually every Democrat comes out of Cook County up by 500,000 votes.
And third, in Republican primaries since the 1980s, the base of social conservatives rarely exceeds a third. The exceptions were the 1996 and 1998 senatorial races. In 1996 Al Salvi upset establishment-backed Bob Kustra, then Jim Edgar’s lieutenant governor, was then labeled an "extremist," and lost to Dick Durbin (D) by 655,204 votes. In 1998 Fitzgerald upset the establishment-backed Loleta Didrickson, and went on to beat flawed incumbent Carol Moseley Braun (D) by 98,545 votes, but quit after one term, opening the seat for Barack Obama in 2004. It can be plausibly argued that, had either Kustra or Didrickson won, they would have kept their seat for several terms. In 2010, Bill Brady won a 7-candidate primary by 193 votes, getting 20.3 percent, and then ran an inept and under funded gubernatorial campaign, losing to Pat Quinn by 31,834 votes, or 45.9 percent. It can be plausibly argued that had establishment-backed Kirk Dillard beaten Brady, he would have been elected governor.
And fourth, only Rauner has the bucks to level the 2018 playing field, and even that is debatable – especially if it happens to be an anti-Trump, anti-Republican year. If J.B. Pritzker, who is worth $7 billion, wins the Democratic primary, he will spend close to $200 million of his own money to win. Right now, he’s spending $50,000-a day on staff, polling and media. If Pritzker is upset by Chris Kennedy or Dan Biss, they too will have wherewithal, but only Rauner can match Pritzker’s money.
Ives had $8,488 in her account as of Sept. 30. It is often said strategically that the "enemy of my enemy is my friend." But that’s not how socially conservative Republicans think. Any Republican who disagrees with them is a "RINO." They want to purify the party, restrict it to only like-thinkers, and purge Rauner for his apostasies, even if it means have somebody like Pritzker as governor. "If Rauner is nominated," said Dan Patlak, a Cook County Board of Review commissioner and leading social conservative, "we will not support him." I guess that makes Ives, Patlak and their allies the Democrats’ new best friend.
Given social conservatives’ dismal past performance in Illinois’ Republican primaries, Rauner need not worry.
1988: In the battle to succeed conservative icon Ronald Reagan, the top two finishers were George H. Bush and Bob Dole, with 635,219 and 484,233 votes, respectively. In a turnout of 899,153, evangelist Pat Robertson got 59,087 votes, or 6.9 percent.
1990: With Jim Thompson retiring, the contestants for governor were Secretary of State Jim Edgar and conservative activist Steve Baer. Edgar won 482,441-256,889, with Baer getting a surprising 33.5 percent.
1992: Despite "winning" the Gulf War, Bush was a less-than-inspirational president. Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan challenged him. In the primary, Bush beat him 634,588-186,915, with Buchanan getting 22.5 percent.
1994: Like Thompson, who raised state income taxes twice, Edgar imposed a "temporary surcharge." Conservative businessman and donor Jack Roeser ran against him, losing 521,590-173,742, getting 24.9 percent.
1996: Bob Dole was the establishment’s choice and he topped Buchanan 532,467-186,177, who got 22.8 percent, the same number of votes as in 1992. The major news was Salvi’s 377,141-342,935 upset of Kustra, the Edgar-Thompson candidate. Salvi’s pro-life, pro-gun views marginalized him, and he lost to Durbin by 655,204 votes.
1998: The outgoing Edgar and party establishment backed Didrickson, but she lost the primary 372,916-346,606, with Fitzgerald getting 51.8 percent of the vote,
2002: Jim Oberweis, a conservative burst on the scene, running for senator, and getting 259,515 votes, or 31.5 percent, to the party-slated Jim Durkin, who had 378,010 votes. Oberweis, now a state senator, was the movement’s new Poster Boy. In the governor primary, held in the shadow the George Ryan’s burgeoning scandal, featured the establishment Jim Ryan, the, the lieutenant governor; the attorney general, social conservative Pat O’Malley, a state senator, and liberal Corrine Wood. The vote, respectively, was 416,074-260,880-246,825 or 44.7-28.4-26.9 percent.
2004: With Fitzgerald retiring, an 8-candidate Republican field emerged, and Oberweis was back for a second crack. He and Steve Rauschenberger split the right-wing vote, amassing a total of 288,449 votes, or 43.6 percent, allowing the establishment Jack Ryan to win the senate nomination with 35.5 percent. Oberweis was second, with 31.8 percent. A trend was beginning, favoring the right.
Ryan thereafter resigned after a sex scandal, and Democrat Barack Obama won the seat by 2,205,449 votes, or 70 percent.
2006: Oberweis was back again, this time for governor. Then establishment choice was Topinka, then state treasurer. Oberweis got 233,576 votes, or 31.8 percent and Bill Brady, a state senator, 135,370 votes, for a combined social conservative 50.2 percent. Topinka was first with 280,701 votes, just 38.2 percent.
2010: In the wake of Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment, the Republican governor field was seven, with the frontrunners being 2010 loser Brady and Kirk Dillard, both state senators. The outcome was both geographic and ideological, with Brady being the sole Downstater. Because 2002 loser Ryan and Dillard were both from DuPage County, they split the collar county vote, and even through Proft got 56,919 votes, Brady beat Dillard by 193 votes. The social conservative vote was 315,225 and the establishment vote was 413,478.
2014: This was a sea change. Brady and Dillard were back, as was state treasurer Dan Rutherford. The latter two were establishment, and Brady the social conservative. Wealthy investment banker Rauner, who began the race with no name recognition, was neither. Rauner’s message was simple: Republicans should pursue victory, not purity. Republicans should beat Democrats, not squabble with each other. Buoyed by $25 million in "Shake Up Springfield" TV ads, Rauner won the primary 328,934-305,120 over Dillard, with Brady third at 123,708, or 15 percent.
2018: Looking at the aforesaid 11 primaries, the social conservative vote averaged about 31 percent. That’s marginalization. Rauner’s 2018 message is also simple: If you want to totally turn over the state to the Democrats, vote for Ives. The governor will have to spend $15 million, but he will be renominated with 70 percent.