Trump-Rauner a one-two punch for Illi­nois Repub­li­can Party al­ready on the ropes — but GOP not ready to throw in the towel

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - MARK BROWN mark­brown@sun­times.com | @MarkBrownC­ST

De­spite hav­ing a mem­ber of their own party in the White House, or partly be­cause of that fact, th­ese are tough times for Illi­nois Repub­li­cans, prob­a­bly the worst in mem­ory.

Com­ing up on two years since Bruce Rauner va­cated the gov­er­nor’s man­sion, tak­ing his money with him, the Illi­nois GOP has no statewide elected of­fi­cials, faces su­per-ma­jor­ity op­po­si­tion in both cham­bers of the Leg­is­la­ture and can claim only five of 18 mem­bers of Congress. Party cof­fers are ane­mic, if not quite bare.

To top it off, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is so un­pop­u­lar in the state, par­tic­u­larly among the Chicago subur­ban vot­ers who once gave Illi­nois Repub­li­cans an even chance, that no quick turn­around seems likely.

It’s so bad that Jim Edgar, the state’s last pop­u­lar Repub­li­can gov­er­nor, re­vealed Mon­day that he, too, is vot­ing for Joe Bi­den for pres­i­dent.

Yet as the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion con­venes this week to of­fi­cially nom­i­nate Trump for a sec­ond term, no­body is quite ready to throw Illi­nois into the same per­ma­nently out-of-reach cat­e­gory as Cal­i­for­nia and New York ei­ther.

And the cor­rup­tion scan­dals en­gulf­ing Illi­nois House Speaker

Mike Madi­gan and other prom­i­nent Democrats give them hope for the fu­ture.

“It’s al­ways dark­est be­fore the dawn. I do think it can turn on a dime,” said DuPage County Board Chair­man Dan Cronin, who none­the­less is con­cerned Repub­li­cans could lose their once unas­sail­able ma­jor­ity on the county board if lo­cal GOP can­di­dates are caught up in the anti-Trump sen­ti­ment re­vealed by subur­ban polling.

“It used to be all pol­i­tics are lo­cal. Now every­thing seems to be driven by na­tional pol­i­tics,” com­plained Cronin, who is ask­ing DuPage vot­ers to “look at what we’ve ac­com­plished” lo­cally with Repub­li­cans run­ning the county in­stead of be­ing swayed by na­tional is­sues.

House Repub­li­can Leader Jim

Durkin ad­mits Trump “poses a chal­lenge for us.”

“Pres­i­dent Trump is not value added in the sub­urbs,” Durkin said, al­though he be­lieves Trump’s pop­u­lar­ity down­state could trans­late into Repub­li­cans pick­ing up as many as four seats to pare down the Democrats’ ad­van­tage in the state House.

Trump is just part of the state GOP’s prob­lem.

The de­mo­graph­ics of Chicago’s sub­urbs have been chang­ing for sev­eral decades leav­ing fewer de­pend­able GOP loy­al­ists in the six-county re­gion.

Plus, some in­de­pen­dent vot­ers were turned off by Rauner and his dog­matic pur­suit of an agenda that led to a gov­ern­ment stale­mate.

An­other prob­lem cre­ated by Rauner is that he funded every­thing for Repub­li­cans while he was gov­er­nor, but didn’t do any­thing to strengthen the party for the long term. Now that he’s put away his check­book, the GOP fundrais­ing ap­pa­ra­tus is weak be­cause many of the business lead­ers who for­merly played that role are no longer in­volved. To top it off, Trump has in­vested no time or money to­ward re­claim­ing Illi­nois.

Durkin sees a solution in mak­ing sure vot­ers un­der­stand Democrats are at the root of the Com­mon­wealth Edi­son scan­dal and other cur­rent cor­rup­tion prose­cu­tions com­ing out of Chicago.

“They cre­ated it, and they’re go­ing to own it,” Durkin vowed. “The Demo­cratic Party, they are the def­i­ni­tion of a RICO or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

But mak­ing that rhetoric stick takes money, and Durkin said he has about $3 mil­lion to spend on his can­di­dates go­ing into the stretch drive of the cam­paign com­pared to $20 mil­lion for Madi­gan and House Democrats.

Edgar said Repub­li­cans need to re­claim the gov­er­nor’s of­fice to gain a foothold that would al­low them to sus­tain the party or­ga­ni­za­tion and re­store the brand of Re­pub­li­can­ism that once played well in Illi­nois.

That was within Rauner’s reach when he won the of­fice in 2014, Edgar be­lieves.

“If he’d have han­dled that job, he could have been re-elected,” said Edgar.

The for­mer gov­er­nor ar­gues the state party has moved too far to the right.

“That’s par­tic­u­larly dan­ger­ous in Illi­nois,” Edgar said.

Most Repub­li­cans credit state party chair­man Tim Sch­nei­der, a for­mer Cook County com­mis­sioner cho­sen for the party lead­er­ship post by Rauner, of do­ing a de­cent job of hold­ing the party to­gether at a dif­fi­cult time.

But the state party showed only $107,112 on hand at the end of June, which doesn’t put it in a po­si­tion to do much more than strafe Democrats with a daily bar­rage of press re­leases on ethics. Sch­nei­der’s re­ward for tak­ing the party po­si­tion was to be dumped from the County Board, leav­ing only one GOP com­mis­sioner.

Edgar thinks a mod­er­ate Repub­li­can would have a chance to win the gov­er­nor’s of­fice in 2022 — if Illi­nois vot­ers are un­happy at that point with Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

“It’s got to be the right can­di­date,” he says.

Cronin said the re­cent death of for­mer Illi­nois Gov. James R. Thomp­son pro­vided Repub­li­cans a “good re­minder of where we used to be and how we of­fered an al­ter­na­tive.”

For now, though, they’re the party of Trump, who seems to want noth­ing to do with them.

For­mer Gov. Bruce Rauner

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump

For­mer Illi­nois Gov. Jim Edgar

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