Sunday, August 18th, 2019

Rove poor choice for state party dinner speaker


Publication: Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date: May 13, 2010; Section: Opinion; Page: 10A

Republicans should drink some tea
Rove poor choice for state party dinner speaker

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

It seems like yesterday I started getting emails from people talking about a “tea party” in Chicago. Fifteen months ago, when CNBC’s Rick Santelli suggested everyone gather on the shores of Lake Michigan for a tea party protest in Chicago, nobody suspected the movement would have the staying power that it has had.

However, there are some in the Republican Party who don’t get the tea party movement. It’s one thing to sit around in small meetings and complain how the world is going to heck and congratulate themselves on how sophisticated they are. It’s another thing when the hoi polloi start marching and demanding Republicans actually do something to stop a government running amok. What? You want us to fight?

National Review’s Jonah Goldberg recently described the tea party movement as a delayed reaction to the excesses and failures of the Bush era. I think there’s something to that, and it explains why so many from the tea party movement may be voters who defected from supporting President Barack Obama. For the tea partiers, the last two elections were not so much about the Democratic agenda as they were about firing the Republicans.

Until recently, I thought Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, was starting to get it. When he spoke to the Americans for Prosperity conference in the Wisconsin Dells earlier this year, he seemed to understand the importance of reaching out to voters disappointed with the failure of Republicans to live up to their principles.

That is, until I saw that the Republican Party invited Karl Rove to be the featured speaker at the Chairman’s Banquet at the party’s state convention May 22.

Rove, the “architect” of the Bush administration, is probably a very good public speaker with much to say about the changing political conditions this year. You don’t mastermind two national election victories at a time when the country is evenly divided without gaining some insight into the body politic.

However, for many outside the party, Rove is the walking symbol of all that was wrong with the Bush administration.

While President Bush has seen his reputation grow since he left office, for so many conservatives and activists in the tea party, they see Bush as the one who set the course for “bailout nation” and the spending of the Obama administration. Bringing in the Dr. Strangelove of the Bush administration will hardly endear the Republican Party to what it hopes will be a new constituency in the tea party movement.

How ironic that at a time when President Barack Obama has nominated a crony of limited experience to be a Supreme Court Justice, the Republican Party of Wisconsin invites one of the authors of the Harriet Miers debacle. Maybe Rove can explain to those attending why it was so important to smash the conservative coalition to nominate a friend of Bush and how it relates to the Elena Kagan nomination.

Maybe Rove can take a moment and remind those assembled of Bush’s support for assimilation of the nation’s illegal immigrants and how unpopular that was with the grass roots, even as Rove explains his own opposition to the new immigration enforcement law in Arizona. That ought to go over well with the tea partiers.

Conveniently, while Rove is here, he’ll be stopping off in Mequon to do a book signing. Maybe the Republican Party was able to get him cheap.

If Priebus had called to ask me whom I would suggest, why not Mark Steyn? He’s funny, intelligent, and a regular fill-in for Rush Limbaugh. (He also has a book he’s pushing, so maybe a stop-over for him would have been cheap, too.)

If not Steyn, at least somebody like him to reach out to the newest members of the conservative movement and make them feel welcome to the Republican Party.

Instead, Priebus has chosen to look back in a nostalgia moment at the reason so many tea party activists became angry with the Republican Party in the first place.

It’s not worth raising a protest, but it’s worth lamenting the lost opportunity to demonstrate that the Grand Old Party has changed.


Note: After this first appeared on my Facebook page yesterday (exclusive for my Facebook friends), the state party Chairman Reince Priebus called to let me know that either today or tomorrow they will be announcing Rove will be paired with Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann as the dinner speaker. Fine, and that’s great for people in the Tea Party movement that like her. However, they could have invited her without inviting Rove, too.

The Democrats are going to do all they can to tie the current group of Republican candidates to George W. Bush in the next five months. Why would it make sense to anyone to reinforce that image by inviting Bush’s top political operative to speak? I’m not calling for a boycott, or even that the invitation should be rescinded. But I am suggesting the Republicans still have a ways to go to understand the new political environment.

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