Monday, November 24, 2008

Illinois Republicans: Slip, Slidin’ Away

The declining fortune of the Illinois Republican party continues apace -- it has dropped so low so fast one can only hope that the bitter experience will rescue the party from the incredible amount of self-destructiveness and blundering it has managed to exhibit in recent years.

As of after this month’s elections, both US Senators are Democrats, 12 of 19 US Representatives are Democrats, all six state-wide elected officials are Democrats, and Democrats control about 60% of both the state Senate and state House. In recent years, three historically majority-Republican US House districts have elected Democrats, including one earlier this month. In this last case, the incumbent Republican Rep. Weller resigned to go off with his recent bride – the daughter of a former dictator of Guatemala; his hand-picked successor, new to elective politics, won in the Republican primary but shortly thereafter decided not to run for the seat after all, leaving Republicans to name a replacement who had also never held elective office and entered the fall race without the name recognition at least a primary brings. I’m not making this up.

The root causes are many.

· Many lackluster candidates. Cases in point: Republican Speaker of the US House Denny Hastert retired from a strong Republican district (he won his last re-election race with 60% of the vote). In the Republican primary, wealthy perennial candidate Jim Oberweis knocked off a State Senator and proceeded to lose a special election last March to a Democrat political newcomer, and lost a second time earlier this month to the same man. In 2004, Republican Rep. Phil Crane, 73 years old, the longest-serving Republican in the US House at the time (he gained his seat when Donald Rumsfeld resigned to take a position in the Nixon Administration), and long felt to be disengaged, lost to a Democratic political newcomer in a Republican district G.W. Bush carried in 2000 with 56% of the vote.

· Public corruption – the governor before the current Democratic one (who seems at risk to be indicted any day now) was a Republican and is in jail for corruption. Just before he was indicted, he sought to curry favor with Democrats and the press (not to be redundant) with a “death-bed” conversion into an anti-death penalty zealot. He still wound up in jail.

· Ideological rigidity: For some Republican opinion leaders, abortion is a rigid litmus test, seemingly even in local races in socially “moderate” districts. The ruinous internecine warfare continues.

· Abandonment of the basic tenet of small-government-oriented fiscal control and responsibility -- all Republican governors within memory and many legislators have been tax-and spend types.

· Weak party leadership. Prime case in point: In 2004, a young, energetic, and engaging candidate named Jack Ryan won the Republican primary for the US Senate seat of retiring Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (a “maverick” who seemed to fight more with other Republicans than with Democrats -- hmmm, that sounds familiar -- and who was responsible for securing the appointment of crypto-Democrat Patrick Fitzgerald as federal prosecutor). On the Democratic side, the relatively unknown Barack Obama won the Democratic primary when his covert supporters in the media somehow got his main primary opponent’s sealed divorce records unsealed, revealing embarrassing information that caused the candidate to withdraw. Once he was the Democratic nominee, Obama and his team went to work again with the same tactic – they got Ryan’s supposedly sealed divorce records unsealed (Illinois had a rash of candidates with sealed divorce records), once again revealing an embarrassing item. But rather than rallying around their candidate and weathering the minor storm puffed up by the Democrat party and its media branch, Republican leaders promptly folded and forced Ryan to withdraw. That was bad enough, but the real lunacy was that they had no viable replacement candidate. These party leaders then declined to pick some young, up-and-coming Republican who would gain valuable experience and name recognition even in a losing effort; instead, they selected, astonishingly, Maryland resident and perennial candidate Alan Keyes to run against Obama (Keyes is black and was picked presumably for that reason). Keyes moved a suitcase of clothes into a hastily-rented apartment somewhere inside the state line and the farce was on. Needless to say, Obama won the Senate seat and the Illinois Republican party and its leadership looked ridiculous.

It’s a wonder things aren’t worse than they are.

John Michael Greco

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