Trump Vs. The Wisconsin Establishment
Journal Sentinel joins talk radio and GOP party in battling The Donald.
It was back in October 2012 that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel announced it would no longer do endorsements of political candidates. This was a few months after the paper endorsed Scott Walker in the recall election, its second straight endorsement of him for governor, which caused an angry blowback from the paper’s Democratic-leaning readers.
The paper’s editorial page editor, David D. Haynes, said the decision was done to give the paper “independence” from any “party or ideology.” As he concluded: “It makes little sense to put our independence at risk during the election season.”
Yet that is exactly what the paper is doing for this election, giving up its independence to join the rush — by conservative talk radio and the Wisconsin Republican establishment — to condemn Trump. Indeed, the paper followed its anti-Trump editorial with an endorsement of John Kasich and a condemnation of Hillary Clinton.
In the process, the newspaper essentially put itself once again in the camp of Walker, who endorsed Cruz, and also on the side of talk radio, led by Charlie Sykes, who won national coverage for an interview of Trump where he compared The Donald to “a 12-year-old bully on the playground” and suggested he was lacking in “civility and decency.” No one, of course, has ever accused Sykes of bullying callers or lacking civility on the air.
While most of the Republican establishment nationally has been opposed to Trump, conservative talk radio elsewhere has either supported or stayed neutral in the Republican presidential primary. After all, Trump’s style is in many ways a match for right wing radio, which has made a living on nastiness and sneering toward dreaded liberals (while Trump’s targets have often been his fellow Republican candidates). Talk radio helped lay the groundwork for Trump’s rhetoric, and many of its listeners love him.
But in Wisconsin, he’s not getting any love from radio talkers. As Sykes has written, “Wisconsin boasts an unusually robust talk radio infrastructure – one that includes my colleague on WTMJ, Jeff Wagner, WISN’s Mark Belling, Jay Weber, and Dan O’Donnell, as well as Green Bay’s Jerry Bader. There are no Hannity-like Trump fan boys here.”
Sykes, of course, is arguably the state’s number one “fan boy” of Walker and Trump crushed the Wisconsin governor’s candidacy, and Charlie’s fond hopes as well. The rest of talk radio also supported Walker. So they have a personal stake here: their credibility is on the line.
As for Walker’s endorsement of Cruz, former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson offered this take: “I don’t know what’s so surprising about it. I’m sure Ted Cruz is going to help him pay off his campaign debt, and I think he wants to be a player in Ted Cruz’s campaign.” Walker might be hoping for a nod as Cruz’s vice president as Washington Post writer James Hohmann speculated in the same story.
But according to Sykes, the unity of talk radio and seemingly every Wisconsin Republican official against Trump is strictly about principle and “reflects the distinctive sort of conservatism that has flourished here: principled, pragmatic, substantive, reformist, but not afraid of taking on tough, controversial issues.”
Trump blasted Walker for letting schools and highways decline “because he didn’t want to raise taxes ’cause he was going to run for president… Wisconsin has a lot of problems, plus there is tremendous hatred … I wouldn’t exactly say that things are running smoothly.”
His comments, per usual, were scathing, and often funny. Wisconsin is “losing jobs all over the place” and is mired in “vitriol” over the governor, Trump declared, as Craig Gilbert reported for the Journal Sentinel. Wisconsin has problems, but “you have a governor that has you convinced that it doesn’t,” Trump added.
Given Walker’s embarrassing defeat to Trump, The Donald declared, his opposition is no surprise: “We sent him packing like a little boy.”
Meanwhile, talk radio circled the wagons to support their beloved governor, with WISN’s Vicki McKenna insisting the state economy, which has trailed behind most states in job growth, is actually doing well.
Beyond all the sound bites, something fundamental is at stake. The ascendance of Donald Trump has raised questions about a big part of the Republican Party’s base — white people without college degrees — many of whom have been left behind by the global economy, and need help from the government. Until now, the Republicans extolling of “the makers not the takers” and sneering at those “sucking the government teat“ has always sounded like it was aimed not at Republican voters but at unnamed “others” — blacks, Hispanics, single mothers.
But as less-educated white voters have turned out in droves for Trump, he has defended their reliance on Social Security and Medicare and warned that Republicans like Rep. Paul Ryan (who was booed at a Trump rally in Ryan’s hometown of Janesville) want to cut those benefits. In response, conservatives are increasingly aiming their sneers at these Republican and “Reagan Democrat” voters.
As National Review columnist Kevin Williamson put it in a recent column excoriating Trump and his struggling low-income white supporters: “The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible.”
What Wisconsin, the nation’s most politically polarized state, is revealing, perhaps at its most naked, is the shocking split in the Republican Party. In Southeastern Wisconsin, and among the wealthiest and best educated Republicans, Trump has little support. But in western and northern Wisconsin, including more than half the state geographically, there is huge support for him.
What Sykes and talk radio are signaling is their allegiance to more well-to-do conservatives, and that their sneering at “a nation of moochers” is as widespread as that sounds, and includes many of their own listeners.
And the Journal Sentinel, with its trifecta of endorsements, is leaving no doubt it’s becoming a Republican newspaper and aligning itself with the WOW counties, Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington, while moving away from Milwaukee County and the city after which its named.
Yesterday’s poll showed Trump is behind in Wisconsin. “If the Trump Train derails, it may start right here,” Sykes trumpeted.
But win or lose here, Trump has exposed some disturbing truths about Republicans, talk radio, and the newspaper Sykes loves to savage as a “dead tree.” That rot he alludes to may ultimately involve far more than the state’s largest newspaper.