by James Wigderson | August 4, 2016 6:29 pm
Waukesha Freeman 8/4/16 Page A6 Opinion
Can Paul Nehlen unseat House Speaker Paul Ryan? Rarely has such a local election, the Republican primary in Wisconsin’s First Congressional District, had such importance. We’re not expecting a large turnout, but the impact could be enormous.
The odds favor Ryan. He has never been unpopular in his district, especially among Republicans. In the last Marquette Law School poll, Ryan’s favorable-unfavorable score among Wisconsin’s likely Republican voters was 85-8. That’s a hard number to overcome for any challenger.
And it shows in the Nehlen campaign. The campaign is not attracting endorsements or support locally. Instead, they have to import national pundits and rely on Breitbart “news” to fluff up the campaign. By the way, if the late Andrew Breitbart saw what was happening in his name he’d probably rise up from the grave and vote for Ryan himself.
As long as the odds are for Nehlen, the race does show a real difference between the conservative movement and the hostile takeover forces of Trumpism.
This weekend, the Nehlen campaign is bringing in the odious Ann Coulter. She infamously declared that her support for Donald Trump is so strong she would support him even if he allowed abortions to be performed in the White House. There is not one ethnic group that Coulter has not offended, and her racist and anti-Semitic comments should have barred her from every decent newspaper in the country.
Let’s contrast that with Ryan, who actually believes that a conservative Republican Party should reach out to everyone regardless of their background. The ideas of economic growth, the free market, and lifting people out of poverty should appeal to everyone regardless of their socioeconomic background. Conservatism, which is about reducing the size of government, controlling entitlement spending and reforming education, is not a whites-only club.
But it’s more than Nehlen’s embrace of Coulter, and more than his attempts to stoke racial fears by distorting Ryan’s efforts to solve our illegal immigration problem. Nehlen is opposed to the free-market principles of the Republican Party and is opposed to the free trade agreements that have benefited Wisconsin’s economy. It’s a blatant, shameful appeal to nativist sentiment that is not grounded in economics but in bigotry and paranoia.
Not surprisingly, Nehlen has gone full-tilt Trump groupie in a district that voted for Cruz in the presidential primary. Such is the state of politics in 2016 that Nehlen is actually accusing Ryan of “sabotaging Trump” by posting a picture with the speaker holding a copy of the Constitution.
The campaign also took a sick turn when Nehlen recently accused Ryan, in an interview with Breitbart news, of not having a soul. This is the kind of rhetoric we should expect from Madison lefty protesters, not from a Republican candidate for Congress.
Of course, Nehlen started his campaign by making an appeal to Democrats by appearing on Madison liberal talk radio. He’s counting on Democratic voters to cross over in Tuesday’s primary. With the expected low turnout, if enough Democrats and Trump die-hards turn out Ryan could (in theory) lose.
That’s what makes Trump’s ginning up an endorsement controversy so frustrating for Republicans. Ryan didn’t even ask Trump for an endorsement, yet Trump told the Washington Post otherwise and said he won’t endorse the House speaker. This is after Ryan endorsed Trump even though the Republican candidate for president and the House speaker are so very different on just about everything.
By the way, let’s all thank Wisconsin’s Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman, for giving us Donald Trump when he could have let Trump run as an independent. How is that party loyalty pledge working out now?
Wisconsin Republicans, including those in the First Congressional District, resisted Trumpism during the presidential primary here. They cannot allow an even more base version of Trumpism to succeed in Tuesday’s election. While it’s unlikely Ryan will lose, Republicans need to show up and save the party from its worst elements.
(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)
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