Hypocrisy. Mendacity. Moral double-speak. They’re as old as humanity, and yet somehow ever new.
Welcome to today’s GOP — no principles required.
Republican leaders — including Wisconsin’s own Paul Ryan, Ron Johnson, Scott Walker and Robin Vos — damn Donald Trump out of one side of their mouths while endorsing him with the other. They seek to eat their partisan cake while avoiding indigestion in the voting booth.
The duplicitous character of the state’s GOP leaders was reflected in a recent headline in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that proclaimed: “Walker, Johnson, Ryan skipping Trump event.” The event in question was a rally held Aug. 5 at the KI Convention Center in Green Bay. All three said they had previous engagements.
A principled stand against Trumpism? Think again.
Walker might have ditched the Green Bay rally, but his name appears prominently — as an honorary host, no less — on the invitation to a big-ticket fundraising reception for the Republican nominee to be held in Milwaukee on Aug. 16. Other honorary hosts include Wisconsin congressman Sean Duffy and Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, the latter for comic relief, perhaps.
Meanwhile, Johnson takes double-speak to new heights, “supporting” Trump but not “endorsing” him. Follow?
Supporting Trump is like playing Russian roulette with the nation’s future, and the majority of GOP leaders know it. Barack Obama called him “unfit to serve as President,” and a right-wing National Review correspondent — and certified Obama-hater — agreed: “Of course it is true.”
Trump’s ignorance is exceeded only by his narcissism. His psychosocial development is stuck at the same stage as infants whose only way of interacting with the world is standing in their cribs and screaming when they want something. If Trump got elected, White House staff would have to set up a high chair in the Oval Office.
Fortunately, there are a number of conscientious Republicans, including the state’s staunchest GOP business leaders, who care more about the nation than about partisan politics. The list of prominent anti-Trump Republicans is growing so fast that it will probably have doubled — at least — by the time this editorial is seen in print.
The anti-Trump list includes influential right-wing Wisconsin radio personality Charlie Sykes, former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and major Republican donors such as Meg Whitman, who’s contributing money to Hillary Clinton instead. Three prominent former members of George W. Bush’s administration — Richard Armitage, Henry Paulson, Brent Scowcroft — have also announced they’re supporting Clinton.
Although these apostatizing conservatives deserve a shout-out, it comes with a caveat: Republicans themselves paved the way for Trump’s ascension by decades of promoting divisiveness, fear, racism, economic inequality and anti-intellectualism. We hope the shock of reaping what they’ve sown will throw them on a better path.
The leadership shown by these Republican insurgents only magnifies our disgust with politicians like Ryan, Walker, Johnson and Sen. John McCain, who continue to support Trump despite their very public, very grave reservations. Their reputations are — and should be — diminishing by the minute.
“Love the sinner but hate the sin” has never made any sense, and it’s not a noble strategy for a presidential election.
Wisconsin Republicans struggling with accepting Donald Trump as the party’s presidential nominee gather this weekend for the annual state convention in Green Bay, where disparate reactions to the billionaire businessman will be on full display.
While some influential Republicans in the state have yet to publicly warm to Trump and others remain staunchly opposed, still other office holders and activists are slowly coming around and say more will follow.
“People need to be able to lick their wounds, regroup, and move into the next stage,” said Brian Westrate, an activist from Eau Claire who voted for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. “I do believe the party will coalesce.”
Westrate is one of the state’s 42 delegates to the national convention and will be among about 1,000 party faithful at the convention that begins Friday.
“I’m 100 percent moving forward,” Westrate said. “We are going to do everything possible to elect the conservative nominee.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. Ron Johnson and Gov. Scott Walker are among the state and federal elected officials who are slated to speak. Each represents a segment of where Republicans stand on Trump.
Ryan said last week that he couldn’t support Trump yet, but the two men said after a meeting Thursday they’re committed to working together. Johnson, who is in a tough re-election battle with Democrat Russ Feingold, is standing by his pledge to back whoever becomes the nominee. And Walker, who endorsed Cruz and campaigned hard for him in Wisconsin, is sticking by Trump for the general election.
Others aren’t yet on board. Prominent conservative Milwaukee talk radio host Charlie Sykes, who embarrassed Trump in an interview days before Wisconsin’s primary, remains outspoken against him. And Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, who warned that Trump as the nominee would “destroy” other GOP candidates’ chances elsewhere on the ballot, refuses to endorse him.
State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald called last week for Republicans to get behind Trump. But Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says he’s still looking for Trump to offer a “Republican vision that people can rally toward.”
That’s a feeling echoed by many other Republicans.
Bill Jaeck, a longtime Republican activist and fellow delegate to the national convention from Yorkville, said he was in “discover mode” with Trump. Jaeck said it would help if Trump would say who would be in his cabinet, and who he would nominate for any U.S. Supreme Court vacancies.
Patty Reiman, a Republican activist from Whitefish Bay and a delegate to the national convention, did not support Trump but is taking another look at him out of “due diligence.”
“I am a true Republican so I do have some concerns with his stands on some of the issues,” she said.
Reiman, like many Republicans, said she was worried about how having Trump as the presidential candidate could affect other races. But she said she thinks the party would ultimately support Trump.
“I believe we will because it’s important that we do not have a Democrat in office,” Reiman said. “If our candidate is Donald Trump, he will also align himself with good people who are good conservatives. I’m confident this will all come together.”
Trump clearly has ground to make up among Republicans in Wisconsin, a state where he lost to Cruz just five weeks ago by 13 points.
In a Marquette University Law School poll taken a week before Wisconsin’s primary, 55 percent said they were uncomfortable with the idea of Trump as president — the highest negatives for any candidate. Even among Republican primary voters, 23 percent said they were uncomfortable with Trump — higher than either Cruz or Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
That same poll showed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton defeating Trump by 10 points in Wisconsin.
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Donald Trump recently hiredf Rick Wiley, the longtime GOP political strategist who managed Gov. Scott Walker’s short-lived presidential campaign, to serve as his political director.
“Rick is a seasoned political expert with a very successful career in winning elections,” Trump said in a statement. “He brings decades of experience, and his deep ties to political leaders and activists across the country will be a tremendous asset as we enter the final phase of securing the nomination.”
Wisconsin Republicans held Wiley responsible for the Walker campaign’s failure. Donors complained about Wiley’s extravagant operations, which employed 90 staffers, including a full-time photographer and costly consultants.
Shortly before Walker shut down his campaign due to lack of funding, he was spending $90,000 a day.
Walker’s chief apologist, right-wing talk radio star Charlie Sykes, lambasted Wiley for mishandling the governor.
“If the world was either fair or rational, Rick Wiley would never again work in politics,” Sykes wrote in a column, adding, “But, trust me, he will.”
And, he is.
Ironically, Sykes’ dislike of Trump helped doom the candidate in Wisconsin. Sykes raked him across the coals in a scathing radio interview that was replayed all over the nation via the internet.
Political observers see Trump’s hiring of Wiley as an attempt to establish the kind of field operations needed to identify and turn out GOP voters. The lack of such conventional operations contributed to Trump’s recent lopsided loss in Wisconsin, as well as his disappointing results in Colorado and Louisiana, where Ted Cruz’s more experienced campaign wrangled delegates away from Trump.
Although Trump has responded by attacking the Republican nominating process as inherently unfair, at the same time he’s been working to pull together a more seasoned crew who can save him from the pratfalls he’s taken repeatedly due to lack of experience.
Wiley is also well connected to the GOP establishment, which has shunned Trump. Wiley formerly served as political director for the Republican National Committee and worked on Mitt Romney’s campaign and George W. Bush’s re-election bid.
In addition to hiring Wiley, Trump has stepped up the role of his convention manager Paul Manafort. It’s unclear what role campaign manager Corey Lewandowski will play in the future of Trump’s presidential bid.
Lewandowski hurt Trump’s campaign when he was arrested for battery concerning an alleged assault on former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields. The assault was captured on a surveillance camera and widely viewed on the web.
Once it would have seemed unlikely to read Trump’s and Walker’s names in the same sentence.
When Walker withdrew from the GOP presidential race last September, he urged other GOP candidates to follow suit in order to give the party a chance to coalesce around a suitable candidate other than Trump.
During a rally in Janesville just two weeks ago, Trump blasted Walker’s poor handling of Wisconsin’s economy, which lags the rest of the region.
Walker endorsed Ted Cruz shortly before the Wisconsin presidential primary election. Cruz won that race
But Trump recently told USA Today that he would consider Walker as a possible running mate.
“I like Walker actually in a lot of ways,” Trump told the newspaper. “I hit him very hard. … But I’ve always liked him. There are people I like, but I don’t think they like me because I have hit them hard.”
Walker said he was “shocked” by the article, but he declined to rule out the possibility of running as Trump’s vice president.
Walker has not ruled out a possible run as Cruz’s vice president either.
A war of words erupted recently between Madison Mayor Paul Soglin and the editor of Charlie Sykes’ website over the regulation of Airbnb.
Airbnb is an increasingly popular San Francisco website where people list their homes for short-term rentals and find similar homes listed by others.
Like the ride-service companies Uber Technology Inc. and Lyft, Airbnb’s “peer to peer” structure is seen by some as a threat to conventional businesses. Concerns have also been raised about public safety issues and lack of regulation concerning Airbnb. For instance, there’s an ongoing debate about whether Airbnb rental providers must comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race and religion.
In 2010 the State of New York made it illegal to rent out residential space for fewer than 30 days. Quebec may soon follow suit.
Last year, San Francisco enacted bans on listing multiple homes on Airbnb and allowing hosts to turn private homes into illegal hotels. Critics there accuse Airbnb and other short-term rental sites of worsening the area’s housing shortage by giving property owners a financial motive to convert homes into lodging for out-of-town visitors rather than residents.
Soglin’s concern is over how to tax an industry that’s nearly invisible. Earlier this year, a bill was proposed in the Legislature to gut ordinances regulating such rentals in the state, including one adopted by Madison in 2013. The bill failed to pass, but it remained a threat on March 14, when Soglin announced in a press conference that he was interested in creating a new city position to track down and collect unreported room tax revenues. The City of Madison levies a room tax of 9 percent. Dane County does not levy a room tax.
That idea incensed the political right.
“Soglin is once again defending the status quo against an innovative new way for citizens to make a little extra money on the side,” wrote Kevin Binversie in a column posted in March on RightWisconsin.com, Sykes’ website. “Soglin seems hell-bent on trampling not just on the free market, but his citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights — all in the name of tax collection.”
Soglin replied that Binversie’s column was “clearly the work of some right-wing libertarian.”
Responding again to Soglin, Binversie, who’s RightWisconsin.com’s web editor, posted a column criticizing the mayor at length.
“Soglin believes the captured tax revenue would allow the new position to pay for itself (how wonderful!),” he wrote. “How Madison city government plans on tracking down these locations — Airbnb doesn’t publicly list addresses of rentals, only pictures, since all interactions are done via email — is anyone’s guess.”
He asked, “Will this staffer wander the streets of Madison, going door-to-door trying to match up addresses with pictures from online listings?”
“As San Francisco learned, unregulated use of housing leads to elimination of availability of affordable housing, as properties are purchased by speculators,” Soglin replied. “This also leads to the closing of schools if enrollments continue to decline. The author should go back to defending banks charging $30 for overdrafts and $5 to use an ATM to get our own money.”
“I’m not opposed to regulation,” Binversie told the Gazette. “History has shown us that for cars and cell phones, for example, technology requires government restrictions. It’s a question of whether the city is fighting the free market.”
Stay tuned for the next round.
An influential Wisconsin conservative is calling on Gov. Scott Walker to step aside and allow Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch to write the state’s 2017–19 biennial budget. Walker’s term ends in 2019.
An opinion piece appearing in Right Wisconsin, an e-newsletter produced by influential right-wing political observer Charlie Sykes, argues that Walker is unlikely to run for a third term in 2018, while state Republicans who do run will have to contend with the 2017–19 budget hanging over their heads. The article underscores lingering internal divisions created by Walker’s battle with GOP lawmakers in creating the 2015–17 budget.
Preparing the next budget would be a “huge boost for Kleefisch in preparing for a possible GOP primary in 2018,” writes George Mitchell. “It would allow Kleefisch to work with Republican legislators in setting an agenda” that “could still exploit the important successes of Walker’s term without being weighed down by the baggage of more recent events.”
Mitchell, a leading advocate for voucher schools in Wisconsin, has been a substantial contributor to Walker’s campaigns since 2009.
“To put it mildly, Gov. Walker’s standing in Wisconsin politics is far removed from the heady days of June 2012 or even November 2014,” Mitchell observes. “Barring a stunning turn of events, a lame duck budget coming from his desk in early 2017 could become a free-for-all. The big loser would be Republicans running for election in 2018, starting at the top of the ticket.”
During Walker’s presidential run, Kleefisch has become increasingly more visible, often acting as an effective stand-in for the governor when he’s out of state. Once dismissed by Walker as a political lightweight, Kleefisch has emerged as a promising political contender.
Mitchell’s article goes so far as to suggest that the governor “could resign next year, either because he is the Republican presidential nominee or because he concludes that his days of political effectiveness in Wisconsin are over. “
Mitchell’s proposal comes at a time when Walker’s approval rating in the state has fallen below 40 percent for the first time and his presidential campaign has proven lackluster at best, embarrassing at worst.
Numerous flip-flops and gaffes, along with shallow debate performances, have toppled Walker’s standing by 15 points in Iowa, which holds the nation’s first political caucuses on Feb. 1, 2016. The surprising popularity of reality TV celebrity and real-estate tycoon Donald Trump has also been a major force in sucking the air out of Walker’s campaign and those of his competitors.
Winning Wisconsin’s neighboring state is essential to Walker’s campaign strategy.
Walker dismissed the importance of polls this early in the election cycle, noting that Ronald Reagan was “something like eight points (behind) six days before the (1980) presidential election” on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
“So for us, polls are going to go up, they’re gonna go down,” he said.
But maybe Walker can take heart from recent indicators indicating that Trump appears to have peaked. On a political prediction market run by CNN and Pivit, Trump’s odds of becoming the GOP presidential nominee tanked from 20 percent to 12 percent between the Sept. 16 debate’s start and its end, according to Politico.
Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke is a hot mess. If he performed in female drag rather than country-western, he’d be known as the Miss Mess of Milwaukee politics.
Clarke’s public tirades have become another kind of drag. In recent months, he’s suggested that Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele suffers from penis envy and uses heroin. He’s urged Milwaukee County citizens to become armed vigilantes and help his deputies enforce the law.
He tried arresting House of Correction superintendent Michael Hafemann for not following his orders, even though Hafemann had broken no law and doesn’t even report to Clarke.
Yes, Clarke’s giving Toronto Mayor Rob Ford a run for his money.
We have right-wing hate radio frauds Charlie Sykes and Mark Belling to thank for enabling the narcissistic Clarke’s madness by rewarding it with airtime. Clarke’s a favored guest on Sykes’ daily Scott Walker infomercial. Clarke is a living Sykes’ wet dream in color — an African-American, closeted Republican in a 10-galloon hat who was named sheriff of the year by the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. That’s a group that says sheriffs have a constitutional duty to protect citizens from the federal government.
Clarke’s latest bout of madness appears to have manifest in a sting operation targeting gay men in Milwaukee parks. The Milwaukee Ddistrict Aattorney’s office is currently reviewing seven cases of men who’ve been arrested for soliciting sex from plainclothes deputies in the parks.
We strongly disapprove of people using public facilities to engage in sexual activities, especially since we’ve fought so hard to achieve the right to integrate those activities respectfully into our lives. Once upon a time, gay men had reasons for seeking out anonymous public sex. They were forced to live in the shadows out of fear of discovery.
But today two men can get a room together in a respectable hotel. They can go home together without fear of being seen by neighbors and generating gossip that could ruin their careers. One-third of American gays live in jurisdictions where they can get legally hitched.
We fear this current rash of arrests is the result of entrapment, not people being caught having sex in public. It’s an age-old form of anti-gay harassment, a holdover from the pre-Stonewall Era: Plainclothes officers pretend to be interested in gay men cruising around parks and then arrest them for taking the bait. Or not even taking the bait. After all, it’s the officer’s word against the gay’s, and the officer might have a quota to fill.
We’ve requested information from the Sheriff’s office to help determine what’s going on in the parks. We’ll report the facts surrounding these incidents as they emerge, and we’ll take whatever steps are necessary if Clarke’s office refuses to provide the information we’ve requested.
If it turns out that the sheriff, who’s been wailing that funding cuts to his office have compromised public safety, is throwing taxpayer dollars into a lurid program to sexually ensnare gay men, then he’ll be exposed for indecency.
Remember the “Fairness Doctrine”? It was an FCC regulation that required broadcasters to showcase opposing views on controversial issues. If a television host featured a guest speaking against LGBT equality, for instance, a pro-equality guest would have been required to balance the conversation.
The FCC stopped enforcing the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 and officially removed it from the books in 2011. The policy’s demise helped pave the way for Rush Limbaugh, Fox News and the rest of the right-wing echo chamber.
On talk radio especially, opinion has replaced facts and spin has become the standard style of reporting. The impact has been particularly profound in the Milwaukee radio market, says Christopher Terry, who worked in local radio for many years and now lectures about it in UWM’s Journalism, Media and Advertising Department.
Milwaukee talk radio differs from that of other cities in two key respects, Terry says. For one thing, Milwaukee is not only dominated by right-wing talk radio, but also lacks any countervailing progressive voice.
Milwaukee talk radio is also unique in that the city has its own homegrown right-wing talk stars. Elsewhere, canned, syndicated programs imported from outside the market dominate the airwaves. But Milwaukee has produced its own hateful luminaries, including Jeff Wagner, Charlie Sykes and Mark Belling, who’s subbed for no less than Limbaugh himself. This year Wagner’s name appeared as No. 96 on Talkers Magazine’s 2013 “Heavy Hundred” list of the 100 most important radio talk show hosts in America (the heaviest, pardon the pun, was Limbaugh.)
Despite Wagner’s vaunted rating, it’s Belling (WISN) and Wagner’s mentor Sykes (WTMJ) whom racists in Washington County are most likely to quote to their families over their evening six packs. Sykes has the vein-popping, eardrum-shredding “angry white man” rant down so pat that he makes it look easy — as if any garden-variety bloviator off the street with enough teeth to form consonants could do it.
Syke’s special area of reporting is people of color receiving public assistance. Besides his radio program, Sykes hosts the TV talk show “Sunday Insight with Charlie Sykes,” offers the subscription website RightWisconsin and has written seven books, including “A Nation of Moochers.” The fundamental message he disseminates is that the reader, listener or watcher would be rich today if not for welfare queens in northwest Milwaukee taking all their hard-earned tax money and spending it on crack.
Although facts hold no sway in Sykes’ world, it’s worth noting that welfare is actually a right-wing bogeyman that makes only a slight real-world dent in the economy. About 12 percent of the federal budget goes to support the broad category of “income security,” which includes programs that recipients actually help to pay for themselves, such as general retirement and disability insurance, federal employee retirement and disability, and unemployment compensation.
Two-thirds of the people who receive food assistance are white, and 40 percent of them work at jobs that don’t pay enough to feed their families. And despite Sykes’ belief that entitlement programs represent everything that’s wrong with America, his first ex-wife was forced to go on welfare for a few months in 1980 when he fell behind on child support payments.
In the noble tradition of other conservative leaders, Sykes has divorced two wives to marry his mistresses, which perhaps explains why he tends to avoid bedroom politics. In 2006, he expressed skepticism over amending the state’s Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, saying, “Gays who wish to marry don’t want to tear down marriage. They want in on it.”
Sykes’ primary objective seems to be re-making Wisconsin into a sort of libertarian tax haven where rich white oligarchs control — and profit from — the state’s resources and its limited activities.
Belling, on the other hand, has a conservative social agenda that derives from his devout right-wing Roman Catholicism. UWM’s Terry, who worked as a producer at WISN for 15 years, says he got the impression that Belling is the more earnest conservative of the two.
While Sykes is generally neutral on LGBT issues, Belling is staunchly anti-gay and aggressively promotes Christian fundamentalism. In 2012, he played a major role in pressuring the Department of Natural Resources to yank a permit to perform a popular, innocuous farce loosely based on the Bible from appearing in Lapham Peak State Park in Delafeld.
“The Bible: Complete Word of God (Abridged)” is one of a set of “abridged” plays that in recent years have taken on classics in a spirit of good fun. But Belling failed to see the humor, condemning the G-rated work as an attack on Christianity.
Issues related to sexual morality are often on Belling’s list of topics. He defended Limbaugh for calling Sandra Fluke a “slut” after she was scheduled to testify before Congress in favor of requiring insurance plans to cover birth control. Belling told listeners that legalizing gay marriage would “create a law that gives (gays) special treatment.”
The good news about Belling and Sykes, according to Terry, is that neither they nor others of their ilk actually influence anyone or change anyone’s mind. People don’t tune in to learn the news or to acquire new ideas, Terry says. Studies have shown that right-wing talk listeners merely enjoy hearing their beliefs reinforced, he explains.
“This is emotional programming at its core,” Terry says. “Facts are inconvenient. Emotional appeals are much more powerful.”
And since talk radio’s bigest audience is older white men, it’s essentially an echo chamber of old white men telling other old white men what they already believe.
Arbitron ratings complete the picture. The top-rated station in the Milwaukee market is a country format, while the second most popular station plays oldies. The right-wing talk of WISN and WTMJ round out the top four stations, all of which specialize in content that appeals to older white men.
Says Terry: “The problem isn’t Belling and Sykes, and the problem isn’t Fox News. The speech isn’t the problem. The characters involved in delivering that speech aren’t the problem. The problem in First Amendment terms is that people tend to consume only one kind of media. People get locked in or zoned into only one kind of outlet. They get locked into one stream of information.
“With all the ways we have to communicate in our society, people still gravitate toward speech that already reflects their views. They aren’t willing to do what the First Amendment (intends for them) to do, which is expose themselves to alternative ideas.”
Ties that bind
A problem of special concern to Wisconsin is the umbilical cord that exists between Gov. Scott Walker’s administration and Milwaukee’s right-wing talk radio stars. It’s not clear whether Sykes and Belling get their marching orders from the governor’s mansion or it’s the other way around. But what is crystal clear is that they’re working every bit as in tandem as the Chinese synchronized women’s swimming team — delivering the same message points with the same rhetoric at the same hour of the clock on a daily basis.
The dissemination of partisan message points from the halls of power to the public through independent broadcast media is the virtual equivalent of propaganda — or at least free political advertising. But no one has yet found a smoking gun demonstrating an illegal connection between the two that would be actionable.
Not yet, that is.