There are some major shifts happening within the Wisconsin Republican base. First, there is deep frustration with the Republican elected leadership. The Republican base turned decidedly more conservative starting around 2004. The first real sign of it was when then assemblyman Glenn Grothman challenged incumbent Republican Senate Majority Leader Mary Panzer in a primary and defeated her with 79% of the vote. Grothman staked out a very conservative position to Panzer’s more moderate approach. Grothman’s victory signaled that the Republican base had shifted more conservative and it continued to move that way for the next decade.
By 2010, when conservative Scott Walker won the governorship with a solidly conservative Legislature, the conservative movement in Wisconsin was at its apex. Over the next four years, Wisconsin enacted more conservative legislation than any time in its history — perhaps in any state’s history.
By 2016, the base of the Republican Party was getting frustrated. The base was as conservative as ever, but the elected Republicans in Madison seemed to have lost their drive. Few conservative initiatives were being passed and the elected leaders seemed to be getting too comfortable in Madison. The Republican base’s frustration led to Walker’s defeat by Evers as some conservatives sat home. Wisconsin’s elected Republicans still aren’t listening and have lost 11 of the last 12 statewide elections.
2016 also saw the dramatic change in the Republican base with a wave of populism ushered in by President Donald Trump. Here was a new brand of Republican. While very similar to the conservative wing in terms of philosophy, they are very different in terms of priorities and style. They tended to be more socially liberal, less fiscally conservative, more willing to challenge orthodoxy, less willing to tolerate bull, and more aggressive in style.
The Republican populists rose out of a deep frustration with the establishment, and the elites in our state and nation are not only failing to represent and respect the people, but they are actively working against the people’s interests. Recent history has proven them right in many respects. While more traditional conservatives seek to advance change through existing institutions and power structures, populists seek to tear down those structures and replace them with something better.
The Republican primary for governor is a contest between all these various forces. Conservative versus populist. Establishment versus outsider. Madison Republicanism versus W.O.W. Republicanism.
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