Last week, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s campaign fund
transferred $4.45 million to the Illinois Republican Party to bankroll a new
effort to focus voters’ attention on House Speaker Michael J. Madigan.
The state party unveiled its “2018 Madigan Retirement
Plan,” which it claimed was designed to “specifically target members
of the Illinois House and Senate who empower their political boss, Mike
Madigan.” The party said the governor’s money would supply
“unprecedented support to local GOP organizations by providing innovative
grassroots tools, enhanced digital and data integration, and targeted support
for local Republican candidates in an effort to defeat Democrats at every level
who empower their party leader, Mike Madigan.”
A few things are going on here. First,
“Blame Madigan” has been Rauner’s main theme song since the 2014
campaign. This is a continuation of that effort. It has
worked in the past, so they’re betting it’ll work again.
Second, talking about Madigan means he can deflect attention
from his own problems.
And that brings us to the third reason. The governor is
being criticized loudly and harshly by members of his own party for signing
HB40 into law, which legalized taxpayer-funded abortions. Shoveling some
cash out the door, or at the very least holding the cash out there as a
potential carrot, might help calm some tempers. Running it through the
state party means there are no direct Rauner fingerprints on the money, so
accepting it gives Republican candidates and organizations some
deniability. Not much, but some. They can just say the new cash in
their accounts is all about defeating that bad ol’ Madigan.
The governor’s campaign operation long ago successfully
injected the “Madigan Question” into just about every significant
political race. Pretty much all Democratic candidates and incumbents are
now asked how they plan to remain independent of the House Speaker, or if they
support term limiting him out of office. And they are asked that question
just about everywhere they go. It’s inescapable, and botching the answer
can have serious consequences.
But a new candidate question has emerged since Rauner signed
HB40. Republicans are now being asked whether they’re supporting Gov.
When Christian County Republican Party Chairman Seth
McMillan announced he would run against Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) last
week, he was asked where he stood on the intra-party schism. According to
the Decatur Herald & Review, McMillan said he would support whoever won the
primary and stated, “Right now, I support the governor’s
OK, so he’s with the governor, which is good news for Rauner,
but those questions wouldn’t even have been asked before the HB40 explosion.
Rep. Dan Brady (R-Bloomington) was asked during a local
radio talk show last week whether he was endorsing Rauner’s reelection.
“Asking me, ‘Would I still support the governor?’ I’d
have to know who’s running,” Brady said, later clarifying that the
governor hadn’t yet asked for his endorsement.
As the numerous Republican legislative primaries start
heating up between incumbents and others supported by the establishment and those
backed by conservative activist Dan Proft and his cohorts the Rauner questions
will naturally become more frequent.
And if Gov. Rauner winds up facing state Rep. Jeanne Ives
(R-Wheaton) or somebody else in the Republican primary, questions about where folks
stand will be everywhere, constant and inescapable.
And that means some Republicans are going to be put into a
trick bag. Most Republicans with far-right primary opponents can’t embrace
the governor, for obvious reasons. And if they embrace Rauner’s primary
opponent they could risk losing out on the so-called “Retire Madigan”
money. Attempting to remain neutral comes with its own likely risks.
The Democrats barely used Rauner as an issue in targeted
legislative races last year. But that likely won’t be repeated next year
as Rauner’s polling numbers continue to slide ever downward.
As I’ve told you before, once it became clear to the
Democrats that there could be no budget deal with the governor, the plan was to
drag him down to a point where he was almost as unpopular as Speaker
Madigan. That would put Rauner’s reelection in peril as well as harm
Republican legislative incumbents and the Democrats’ GOP challengers.
So, Republicans will undoubtedly be put on the spot with
questions next fall about whether they can remain independent of an unpopular
governor with a reputation as a control freak who backs that up with a fat
What goes around comes around, I suppose.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political
newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.
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