Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Trump Vs. The Wisconsin Establishment

Journal Sentinel joins talk radio and GOP party in battling The Donald.

By - Mar 31st, 2016 12:50 pm
Donald Trump. Image from campaign website.

Donald Trump. Image from campaign website.

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.”

In response, Trump has done what he always done, going on the attack. “Ted Cruz likes to pretend he’s an outsider,” Trump said. “In the meantime he gets all the establishment support, including your governor.”

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.

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

18 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Trump Vs. The Wisconsin Establishment”

  1. Vincent Hanna says:

    Radio hosts blasting Trump for lacking decency and spreading divisiveness is just priceless. I guess Trump brings out the hypocrisy in certain people.

  2. fightingbob fan says:

    What is utterly delicious about this is that in delivering the smack down on Trump, Sykes may have gotten himself a victory lap on the national cable shows, but he may have destroyed the GOP.

    Up until now it was presumed that Trump was on his way to getting a majority of delegates. Maybe not. Maybe Sykes has tripped Trump up.

    If he goes to the convention short of a majority, the nomination may be snatched away from him. Trump does not go quietly, and it is not too hard to imagine a third party write-in candidacy. What’s so hard about spelling Trump.

    The result will be a parting of the way to the White House for whatever Democrat is running and quite likely the loss of down ticket races for the Congress.

    What will especially screw the GOP will be the change in the Supreme Court. Out goes Citizens United, Out goes gerrymandering. Out goes voter ID. Out goes the unfair advantages the GOP had to win elections.

    The Republican Party. Born in Wisconsin. Killed in Wisconsin.

  3. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    Right on the money. Great work Bruce, exposing how this GOPper-ganda machine works. And make no mistake, they are all acting on orders- Sykes, Walker and Vicki from the Bradleys and the Kochs, and the J-S from the MMAC.

    Let’s see if this does sone real damage to the state GOP outside of the Milwaukee area, now that AM radio basically revealed that they couldnt care less about non-fundie blue-collar people and their concerns. Maybe they can start by voting out that unqualified crooked hack Rebecca Bradley on April 5. That would send a clear shot to the GOP oligarchs and their AM radio spokespeople.

    And to all you suburba-Baggers- you know how Sykes, McKenna, Weber and other hacks describe you? “BAAAAAA!! BAAAAAAAA!!

  4. BB says:

    I agree with Vincent, fightingbob fan and Jake. Also, we are seeing here the culmination of the George Stanley/David Haynes strategy to make JS a Republican paper and realign with the Walker wing of WISGOP. Does this diminish JS? Of course it does.

  5. Art Hackett says:

    Give the Journtinel a break. The order from the politburo was to support Cruz. Haven’t you seen the Club for Growth ads saying a vote for anyone but Cruz is a vote for Trump? Who knows? We might wake up Sunday morning to an editorial endorsing Bernie.

  6. Kasich is just Cruz-light.

  7. Allison says:

    “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.”

    I suppose you could read today’s paper and it’s endorsement of Kloppenburg as possibly leaving some doubt that it is a ‘Republican newspaper’.

  8. Bruce Murphy says:

    Alison, you raise a good point. Just as interesting as that its a local, not national race. I had emailed Haynes about the return to doing endorsements and he wrote back that “Our default position is to not do them but we’ve always left ourselves the option to recommend a candidate (or not) in unusual circumstances.”

    So if they are endorsing for president and state supreme court, why not for county exec, etc.

  9. Vincent Hanna says:

    I have been very curious about their endorsements this week. They bash Trump and Cruz and throw serious weight behind Kasich. They bash Clinton but thus far have no editorial re: Sanders. Now they have a non-endorsement endorsement of Kloppenburg, where you eventually realize they are making an endorsement even though they never actually say “Vote for Kloppenburg.” It all seems very scattered and not carefully thought out.

    First of all, Bradley is a train wreck. Second, a half-hearted call to vote for her opponent (and again they never even actually say the words “Vote for Kloppenburg”) after begrudgingly saying she’s an OK candidate isn’t much evidence of the JS not being a Republican paper.

  10. Bill Sweeney says:

    Here is Michael Gerson, former speech writer for George W Bush and current columnist for the Washington Post: “But the durability of Trump’s appeal creates a conundrum for many Republicans. For decades, some of us have argued that the liberal stereotype of Republicans as extreme, dim and intolerant is inaccurate and unfair. But here is a candidate for president who fully embodies the liberal stereotype of Republicans — who thinks this is the way a conservative should sound — and has found support from a committed plurality of the party. If the worst enemies of conservatism were to construct a Frankenstein figure that represents the worst elements of right-wing politics, Donald Trump would be it. But it is Republicans who are giving him life. And the damage is already deep.”

  11. tim haering says:

    “If it goes the way it’s going right now, boy, up here in the north woods, it’s heavy for Trump,” he said, “I’ve talked to a kazillion people here in the last two to three weeks. The more and more that they attack Trump, the more people are going to vote for him.”
    Bruce, if JImmy BOy Edming is right, all this will backfire on the Establishment. It suggests a sympathy aspect to Trumpites. They are protecting him from the evil bullies. On the other side, it’s like ROddy Piper finally gets Keith David to put on the glasses, and David says, “Yeah, so what?”

    We won’t know until TUesday night. I’m doubling my xanax until then. And going to Baker’s Square for a few french silk pies.

    Happy Friday!

  12. tim haering says:

    “We are going to make America rich again! We are going to make America great again! And it takes the rich to make the great, I’m sorry to say.” – Trump after Super Tuesday

    Maybe his economically challenged supporters were cheering so loud they didn’t hear him. Trump is one of the rich Republicans they seem to hate. What a long strange trip it’s been.

  13. Joe says:

    “[H]e may have destroyed the GOP.” I love these little left-wing fantasies we see every election cycle. I’ve been hearing about the downfall of the GOP for the last two decades, yet every election cycle they are still here. How could that be?

    Oh, I’m sure, THIS time is different.

  14. Vincent Hanna says:

    Hey Joe, when is the last time the GOP won the popular vote in a presidential election? When they lose again in 2016, which they will, will that be enough to convince you that maybe something is amiss? Plus, claiming that Trump may have destroyed the party can’t be known now as it is a prediction.

  15. fighingbobfan says:

    This article and your comment William bring up a very good point.

    We always hear about people voting against their self interest, but gutless Democrats fail to give people a reason to vote for the party to achieve their self-interest.

    Trump is doing just that. Too bad he has to garnish his appeal with racism, xenophobia and total ignorance on a lot of issues.

  16. M says:

    Tom B., no Kasich is Walker without total contempt for the people of his state.

    But Kasich still wants to ban reproductive rights. He thinks he’s a compassionate conservative cause he does not want to punish women like Trump does. I guess we’ve entered the S & M phase of this kinky reality-TV prez-election drama.

  17. Milwaukee Native says:

    Bruce, the JS could still endorse Abele–but maybe they don’t need to. They were with him 100% when he tried to sell off O’Donnell Park to NML, when he played the World’s Worst Negotiator in the Bucks Arena Bonanza Giveaway (which they shamelessly shilled for nonstop for a year), when he lies about how he really does not have an ungodly, unprecedented amount of power to do as he pleases, when they all but fail to mention his reckless and foiled attempt to dump the Marcus Center on the WCD, when they report every action of the board looking out for the public’s interest as “petty politics” just trying to thwart put-upon Saint Christopher Seton Abele, when Dan Bice fails to mention Abele’s once-avowed longtime close friendship with Rebecca Bradley–and his sudden throwing her under the bus by endorsing Kloppenburg, most likely as payback for a fawning endorsement by an LGBT paper grateful for his largesse.

    Abele is the MMAC’s point person with just enough going-rogue ruthlessness to make him seem fresh and bold–if you’re the JS. Selling off and giving away public assets for peanuts–what an out-of-the-box concept! Taking over public schools. Who says someone who spent 20 years in private schools before dropping out of college can’t be an expert on public education?

  18. Thomas says:

    Kasich is so “awshucks” that he would probably cover the White House in ethnic brick composite siding if he were elected President. He is also reactionary to the core; as such, he would do the bidding of those who have been trying to take our country back to 1933 & earlier.

    Democrats undecided between Clinton and Sanders could consider voting for Trump primarily to give the Republicans the candidate they deserve – also to stick a finger in the eye of reactionary a.m. talk radio and her Jon: “The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.” Democrats voting for Trump in an open primary could almost make an honest man out of the likes of Republican apologists such as Christian Schneider.

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