The election isn’t just about the presidency

George Will writes about the Wisconsin Senate race:

In 49 states, when you order breakfast in a restaurant you might be asked if you would like pancakes or an omelet. In Wisconsin, you are asked if you would like pancakes with your omelet. Ron Johnson would, thank you. This Republican U.S. senator, who is burning prodigious amounts of calories campaigning for a second and final term, really does represent the hearty eaters who were fueling up at a Perkins Restaurant here on a recent Sunday morning.
In 2010, Johnson left his plastics manufacturing company that made him wealthy enough to try, against his preference for the private sector and against his wife’s adamant disapproval, to become the only manufacturer in the Senate. He surfed into that chamber on the Republican wave raised by two things that annoyed Johnson enough to propel him into politics — the Obama administration’s stimulus that did not stimulate and Obamacare, which six years later is in intensive care.

Johnson defeated a three-term incumbent, Russ Feingold, who this year is again Johnson’s opponent. Being devoted environmentalists, Democrats believe in recycling even their candidates: In Indiana, too, a former senator, Evan Bayh, is in a tight race trying to return to Washington.

In a season supposedly inimical to insiders, Feingold, 63, is more of this detested breed than is Johnson. Feingold first won elective office at age 29 and his involuntary six-year sojourn in the private sector has been an aberration he is eager to end. Johnson, 61, said when seeking his first term that he would never seek a third.

In contrast, Johnson’s opponent ran four times, and, having unaccountably (in his own mind) failed to have been elected six years ago, thinks he should be a senator yet again.

Johnson says he has traveled 130,000 miles — “that’s with me behind the wheel” — to ask audiences: How many of you think the government is efficient and effective? When no hands are raised, he asks: Why, then, would you want it enlarged?

Johnson was considered so vulnerable this year that the national party essentially wrote him off — indeed, it virtually announced as much by its parsimonious support. Ten months ago he trailed Feingold by double digits. He is attempting to become the first Wisconsin Republican since 1980 to win a Senate election in a presidential year. In that year, Ronald Reagan’s coattails pulled 16 freshmen Republicans into the Senate.

This year, Johnson faces headwinds beyond the fact that the unhinged spectacle at the top of the Republican ticket lost the Wisconsin primary to Ted Cruz by 13 points. Wisconsin last voted for a Republican presidential candidate in 1984 and is much more congenial to Republicans in nonpresidential years, when turnout is lower. In 2010, the total vote for Senate candidates was 2,171,331. In the presidential year 2012, when Democrat Tammy Baldwin defeated former governor Tommy Thompson for the state’s other Senate seat, the total vote surged to 3,009,411.

Nevertheless, although Hilary Clinton is expected to win Wisconsin handily, Johnson still could be the unlikely savior of Republicans’ Senate control: Two recent public polls show Johnson behind by less than the polls’ margins of error. This is partly because, in a year of unrelieved political ugliness, he has done something eccentric: He has run television ads that make people smile rather than wince. One concerns his support for a faith-based program teaching unemployed inner-city residents the modalities of job-seeking (interviews, etc.); the other highlights Johnson helping a Wisconsin couple bring their adopted child home from Congo.

This year of the counterintuitive has reached an appropriate culmination: Republican retention of Senate control might depend on weakness at the top of the ticket starting immediately. If Donald Trump’s chances of winning are soon seen to be, as they actually are, vanishingly small, Republican Senate candidates can explicitly encourage tactical voting: They can acknowledge that Trump is toast and can urge voters to send Republicans to Washington as a check on a President Hillary Clinton.

In 22 of the 36 election cycles — presidential and off-year — in the 70 years since World War II, voters have produced divided government, giving at least one house of Congress to the party not holding the presidency. This wholesome American instinct for checks and balances is particularly pertinent now because Clinton will take office as an unprecedentedly unpopular new president.

For conservatives, this autumn has been about simultaneously stopping Trump and preserving Republicans’ Senate control to stymie Clinton. Johnson will return either to the Senate and the invigorating business of preventing progressives’ mischief, or to private life. Come what may, he says, “I’ll be the calmest guy on election night.”

Kevin Binversie has questions about Johnson’s opponent, the phony maverick, that the Wisconsin media hasn’t asked and Feingold hasn’t answered:

Health Care

  • Earlier this week, former President and potential “First Gentleman” Bill Clinton described the Affordable Care Act – which you voted for and once bragged about having ‘read every word of it’ – as a “crazy system,” is “killing small businesses,” “doesn’t work” or “doesn’t make any sense.” Do you agree with this assessment, if so, why have you not publicly said something similar in the past? If not, why and how is Clinton wrong exactly?
  • An analysis by the New York Times find that residents in four Wisconsin counties (Menominee, Pierce, Polk, and St. Croix) will only have one insurance option available to them via Healthcare.Gov. What do you say to those Wisconsinites (they’re listening) who believed that your vote on the Affordable Care Act would mean more consumer choice, more affordable options, and access to doctors they know and trust when the exact opposite has happened?

Transparency

  • In a world where the finances of candidates and the college transcripts of candidates are often released for public consumption, why has there never been any release of your course syllabus and reading list from your time teaching at Stanford Law School? Yes, there is a course description available online , but it comes off as rather vague. Also, would you be willing to release student evaluations made of you during your time there?
  • Is there any particular reason why your campaign has not published its “Cash on Hand” for the just completed fund raising period?
  • In 2010, your campaign was found to be using paid Labor Union staffers and activists as stand ins for “Average Wisconsinites” in your political advertising. Did you learn your lesson for 2016, or did you repeat that move?
  • If you have nothing to hide from your emails during your time as a Special Envoy in the State Department, why not just openly call for their release?

Economics

  • Could you please provide the definition of “Creative Destruction” as it is defined in most Economics textbooks?
  • This week the International Monetary Fund downgraded its expectation for growth in the U.S. economy for the rest of the year. Isn’t that a stinging indictment of the Obama economic record? If so, why do you believe the American people essentially deserve a “more of the same” approach as being suggest by Hillary Clinton (infrastructure spending, “Green Jobs,” etc.), if it didn’t make the economy go “Gangbusters” in the first place?

We’ll see if any reporter does indeed run with these suggestions.

I have even simpler questions for the senator:

  • Why did voters fire you in 2010? What did you learn about losing?
  • Name one political position you have that cannot be described as “liberal” or “leftist.”
  • Name one non-liberal position you have taken as a result of input from your “listening sessions.”
  • If you are elected Nov. 8, given that Wisconsin already has a left-wing U.S. senator, how will you represent the people who didn’t vote for you and didn’t vote for Wisconsin’s other U.S. senator?

 

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