Steven Walters
The State of Politics

8 Reasons Wisconsin Has National GOP Clout

Few states have such power in Republican presidential politics.

By - Nov 16th, 2015 11:11 am
Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan

The Urban Dictionary has two definitions for the boxing phrase “punching above your weight”: First: “To be in a situation that requires powers or abilities that one does not possess.” Second: “To be (temporarily) successful in such a situation.”

Maybe this could be a third definition: Wisconsin Republicans in this presidential election cycle.

Americans cast 129.08 million votes for president in 2012 and Wisconsin provided just 2.3 percent of those votes. Wisconsin will cast only 10 of the 530 votes when the Electoral College officially certifies the November 2016 presidential election. And no Republican candidate for President has carried Wisconsin since 1984.

Yet, for months leading up to last week’s debates by 12 presidential candidates in Milwaukee, Wisconsin Republicans have played dominant roles in the national party fight over who will be its nominee for President.

Why? There are at least eight reasons why Wisconsin Republicans “punch above their weight” nationally:

*Two-term Gov. Scott Walker: He got national GOP attention when he all but eliminated collective bargaining by public workers in 2011, became the only governor to survive a recall vote in 2012, traveled the nation collecting large donations from conservatives and ran for President this summer.

Although Walker’s campaign for President lasted only nine weeks, it put him – and Wisconsin – on the presidential map.

*1st District Congressman Paul Ryan: The Janesville native’s political star has been ascending since 2012, when presidential candidate Mitt Romney picked Ryan as his running mate. He then became chair of the most powerful U.S. House committee, Ways and Means. And, only weeks ago, Ryan was was elected Speaker of the U.S. House, which makes him third in presidential succession. Not to mention, Ryan’s got a compelling personal narrative: Policy and fitness wonk becomes U.S. House speaker after not wanting that job. Sleeps in a cot in his Congressional office when not at home in Janesville with wife and young family.

*National Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus: In 2004, Priebus got 47 percent of the vote when he ran for Kenosha County’s state Senate seat. All election losers should rebound as well as Priebus. If he had been elected a senator, he probably would not have gone on to become Wisconsin Republican Party chairman, chief lawyer for the Republican National Committee (RNC) and, in 2011, winner of a seven-ballot election to become national party chairman.

*Bradley Foundation CEO Mike Grebe: The former legal counsel for the RNC has been senior adviser for national and state GOP politicians for decades and chaired Walker’s presidential campaign. But, as a Journal Sentinel reporter noted when Grebe announced his 2016 retirement, besides mentoring GOP pols, with all the grants by the foundation he has overseen, he “helped make Milwaukee the intellectual epicenter of the conservative movement.”

*5th District Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner: Over his 36 years in the U.S. House, Sensenbrenner has been in the middle of immigration and judicial fights. When Republicans control Wisconsin’s Capitol, he personally draws new boundaries for the state’s eight Congressional districts. The gruff, outspoken Sensenbrenner is the Godfather of the state’s five Republican congressmen, and he’s mentored hundreds of new House Republicans who are grateful for the advice.

*RNC National Committee Members Mary Buestrin and Steve King: These two RNC veterans used their national contacts to help Priebus get elected national chairman and then helped him survive the finger pointing and demands for a leadership purge after Romney lost to President Obama in 2012.

*Former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson: Thompson has focused on full-time consulting and making money after losing his 2012 U.S. Senate campaign. But he’s still got a national profile as the state’s only four-term governor and former secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.

UW-Madison Political Science Professor Barry Burden explains the hot hand Wisconsin Republican leaders play this way: “Nationally the Republican Party is decidedly southern…. At the moment Wisconsin stands out as a source of some prominent national Republican leaders from the upper midwest, which trends blue.”

And, Burden adds, “Walker’s defeat in the presidential nomination race removed him from the national stage, but Ryan’s elevation to speaker of the House put the state right back on the map for Republicans around the country.”

Burden also notes that three of these eight Wisconsin Republicans will lead the party into the future. “Preibus, Ryan, and Walker are all in the 40s. They represent where the GOP is going, rather than where it’s been.”

Steven Walters is a senior producer with the nonprofit WisconsinEye public affairs channel. Contact him at

One thought on “The State of Politics: 8 Reasons Wisconsin Has National GOP Clout”

  1. Rich says:

    God help us all.

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