Sizing Up the Dems

The Wisconsin Democrats are holding their virtual convention this weekend. Let’s take a look at how they’re doing.

Let’s start with the reasons for optimism.

1. They’re printing money. In the last cycle Wisconsin Democrats out raised the other guys $23 million to $9 million. That’s a huge reversal of fortune from the days, not so long ago, when the GOP had the big advantage.

2. They’re on a winning streak. Democrats have won 10 of the last 11 statewide races and, not counting the technically nonpartisan Supreme Court, they hold all of the statewide offices, except Ron Johnson’s Senate seat.

3. They have the best air and ground games they’ve ever had. Party Chair Ben Wikler is really good. Really, really good. In fact, it’s likely that the only reason that he hasn’t been picked off by the national party is their recognition of the importance of what he’s doing right here.

The Democrats’ top fundraiser.

Still, they face some pretty strong headwinds.

1. Next year is an off year. Since WW II, the party out of power has picked up about two-dozen seats in Congress. So, it’s entirely possible that, not only will the Republicans retain Johnson’s seat, but they could pick up Ron Kind’s House seat as well. Kind barely scraped by even in 2020, which might lead him to take a chance on running for the Senate, making his an open seat in Congress. The overall environment of an off year bodes ill for Gov. Tony Evers also.

2. The maps might not get any better. It’s no better than a 50-50 chance that the Republicans won’t put a stranglehold on their legislative majorities for another decade. It will come down to which court gets to decide. If the inevitable lawsuit over redistricting ends up in Federal court, the Democrats have a chance for big gains in 2022. If it gets decided by the state Supreme Court, it all comes down to Justice Brian Hagedorn. He’s been unpredictable, but I wouldn’t count on him.

3. The hard-left in the party is pressing deeply unpopular social issues. In a recent piece, the respected New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall quoted a source, “Wokeness is kryptonite for the Democrats. Most people hate it, other than the progressive activists.” If the Democrats are seen as the party of jobs, infrastructure and health care, they’ll have a chance. If they’re seen as the party of socialism, defunding the police, Critical Race Theory, and ever more fluid sexual identity, they’re doomed. Simple as that.

So, there you have three reasons for optimism and three reasons to be not so happy. But I’ve left out the biggest pro-Democratic factor of all, their not-so-secret weapon: Donald Trump.

There’s no question that it’s Trump who fires up the Democratic base and who has been the greatest Democratic fundraiser of all time. And here’s the good news (if you can call it that): the guy’s not going away. While social media may ban him at least through the next elections, he’s still got plenty of ways to get his message out. Plus, he’s sounding more and more like he’ll run again in 2024, which puts the responsible press in the position of needing to cover him, whether they want to our not.

And the legislative Republicans and Ron Johnson are doing all they can to amplify the basic Trump messages about election fraud, Qanon conspiracies and all manner of just bat-shit crazy stuff. I don’t see the real threat or the political motivation behind Trumpism dissipating much, if at all, in 2022. Talk about your mixed blessings.

Put it all together and what do you get? Too early to tell. A lot will depend on three factors. Who gets to decide what the new maps look like? What will Ron Johnson and Ron Kind decide to do? And, maybe most significantly, can the party tamp down its hard-left activists?


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

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