It is with great disappointment that we have learned of the efforts of some conservatives on the national level to try to dictate to Wisconsin conservatives their choice for the United States Senate seat being vacated by Democratic Senator Herb Kohl. This is a tremendous opportunity for Wisconsinites to elect a second conservative senator worthy of holding the office, and one that Wisconsin conservatives will take very seriously. This is not only a choice of ideology but of character, and it is our responsibility to bring Mark Neumann’s lack of character to your attention. While we do not question Neumann’s past contributions to conservatism while he was a Congressman, his actions during last year’s campaign are completely unbecoming of a conservative candidate.
We respectfully request the national conservative groups and individuals to take a second look at their endorsement of Neumann. We ask that since many of them missed the opportunity to come to Wisconsin during the recent battles over collective bargaining for state employees and the recall elections, they come to Wisconsin now to talk to true Wisconsin conservatives to find out what they think of Neumann before attempting to foist their choice upon Wisconsin. …
If the past election in Wisconsin has shown national conservatives anything, it is to trust in the faith of Badger State conservative activists. We had the foresight to supply the movement with current leaders and rock stars like Janesville Congressman Paul Ryan, Ashland Congressman Sean Duffy, Green Bay Congressman Reid Ribble, Governor Scott Walker, U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, and even Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.
That is just in the past two years, and we assure you, there are plenty more where they came from.
The blogs — Boots and Sabers, Lakeshore Laments, Wigderson Library & Pub, No Runny Eggs, Badger Blogger, UseYourGrayMatter.com and BenFroland.com — sit in disagreement with, as far as I know, one conservative blogger, Fairly Conservative, who is a fan of Neumann and is not a fan of former Gov. Tommy Thompson:
Yes, I know, he’s really conservative. Neumann is not just Tea Party conservative; he’s Mark Neumann conservative. …
Now when it comes to the final round, I’d have to say Mark Neumann is as right of center as Tammy Baldwin is left. There’s no need for a middle-of-the-road candidate. If you put those two up to the voters, Neumann wins. This state is still reeling from the damage the left created over the last few years. It’s a chance to get another genuine Tea Party conservative into the U.S. Senate.
Several things are going on here, beginning with a demonstration that national conservatives and a state’s Republican Party are not the same thing, for those who assume that the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy is a giant monolith. Neumann made few new friends and made some enemies in the state GOP for the way his gubernatorial campaign broke Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment, “Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican,” erasing much of the goodwill generated by his two terms in Congress and his record therein.
The Club for Growth has the right to endorse, or not, whomever it wants. And as a self-described economic conservative and social libertarian, I am quite sympathetic to the Club for Growth’s goals, “getting more and more pro-growth, pro-market policies enacted by our government by truly supporting pro-growth candidates.” (Of course, one would have to look hard to find an anti-growth conservative; that cannot be said about liberals.)
There is, however, a delicate balance between ideological purity and electability. The Club for Growth has been criticizing Thompson for his John Kerry-like zigzag on ObamaCare. As secretary of Health and Human Services, Thompson helped lead the way for the vast expansion of the “homeland security” (a term I despise, by the way) federal apparatus in the days and years after 9/11. Thompson’s record as governor does not particularly fit the definition of “fiscal conservative,” even though few people cared around election time.
Elected officials in legislative bodies have the luxury of being able to vote with consequences only to their own reelection. (See Obama, Barack, “present” votes.) Elected officials who have executive roles have to make decisions and deals to get things accomplished, realizing the axiom that the perfect is the enemy of the good. When Thompson took office in 1987, Democrats controlled both houses of the Legislature; all he had was the nation’s most powerful gubernatorial veto, a recovering economy, and the legislator’s traditional fear of becoming an ex-legislator. Thompson wasn’t the governor for 14 years by accident.
Neumann, meanwhile, is 0 for 2 in statewide races, having lost the 1998 U.S. Senate race to Sen. Russ Feingold the same year Thompson was elected to his fourth term in office. (Which means that the same charges that Thompson is yesterday’s political news could be applied to Neumann too.) Neumann lost two 1st Congressional District races before squeaking in in 1994 and narrowly getting reelected in 1996, which suggests at least likability concerns if not electability concerns. Neumann had plenty of opportunity to run for Senate or governor in the intervening 12 years; he had the right to not run, but it does make one wonder why he didn’t try to take on Feingold or Kohl before now.
The Democratic alternative appears to be either socialist U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D–Madison) or former U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen (D–Appleton), which for non-Democrats may be like the Iran–Iraq War or a Bears–Vikings game in that one wishes both could lose. It is possible that the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate may not be entirely to the liking of conservatives generally or the Club for Growth specifically. It is guaranteed that Baldwin or Kagen or any other Democrat won’t be to their liking. In order to accomplish what you want to accomplish, you must first win.
Thompson isn’t my first choice for the Senate nomination (and truth be told, I don’t have a first choice at the moment). If Thompson gets the nomination, however, I would probably vote for him. I’m not sure I can say the same thing about Neumann. Neumann might turn what should be a sure thing — against either as left-wing a politician as exists in this state, or the doctor with the two-digit IQ and an allergy to the truth — into an upset loss, which would negatively affect the Republicans’ ability to capture the U.S. Senate. And the Democratic leadership of the Senate is a good reason to vote Republican next November.