Steven Walters
The State of Politics

The Incredible Decline of Democrats

GOP soared, Democrats floored, in state vote. Dem decline since 2010 is stunning.

By - Nov 14th, 2016 10:28 am
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos

Tuesday’s election was a tale of two parties.

Wisconsin Republicans continued to soar, ending 32 years of victories by Democratic presidential candidates, re-electing U.S. Senator Ron Johnson and adding members in both houses of the Legislature.

Wisconsin Democrats crashed and burned, raising new questions about who leads them out of their political wilderness, and when.

First, how hot is the hand that Wisconsin Republicans are now playing? It’s the most “battle-tested” state GOP party in the nation, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich said earlier this year.

President-elect Donald Trump’s surprising victory in Wisconsin gave Trump 10 Electoral College votes he desperately needed. It also opened the door for several of Trump’s biggest cheerleaders here – Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke (time for “pitchforks and torches”), Congressman Sean Duffy and Gov. Scott Walker – to get offers of federal jobs in a Trump Administration.

Walker, for his part, said he has no plans to leave Madison for Washington. The governor’s next major career decision is whether to seek a third term in 2018, keeping in mind his approval rating of 42 percent. He has said he won’t challenge Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin in 2018.

Another Wisconsin Republican likely to play a big role in the Trump Administration is Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus, who stuck by Trump when dozens of other Republican leaders deserted the nominee. Trump has already tapped Priebus to become the administration’s chief of staff. And President Trump will have to work out policy differences with yet another Wisconsin Republican, House Speaker Paul Ryan, of Janesville.

In the state Capitol, Assembly Republicans will have 64 seats in the 99-member Assembly – the largest majority since 1956, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos declared.

Vos had been prepared to lose two or three of his members, so he was delighted when all incumbents, and first-time candidates, won and he even ousted a veteran Democrat, four-term Rep. Chris Danou, in a district bordering Minnesota

Vos and Majority Leader Jim Steineke, once a “never Trumper” who is now “excited” about the President-elect, also said the Trump Administration’s plan to spend $500 billion on infrastructure projects like rebuilding highways, bridges, hospitals and Internet access in rural areas could be a big win for Wisconsin. Assembly Republicans and Walker disagree over long-term transportation funding.

In the 33-member state Senate, Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald will lead a caucus of 20 Republicans – the most since 1971. Senate Republicans not only re-elected four of their members targeted by Democrats but launched a late attack that defeated veteran Democratic Sen. Julie Lassa, of Stevens Point.

An early – and dedicated – engineer on the state GOP’s “Trump train,” Fitzgerald told a Milwaukee talk-show host on Wednesday that he’d love to be Trump’s ambassador to Ireland. Stranger things have happened.

Wisconsin Democrats hit a new low last week, and gave no sign that they know when – or how – to climb out of that hole.

Wisconsin Democrats last controlled the Capitol in the 2009-10 session. Since then, they have:

*Watched a number of Democrats run for governor (including primaries) in three elections since 2010, and lost all three elections to Walker.

*Lost one of the state’s eight U.S. House seats – the 7th District in northwest Wisconsin – and not come close to reclaiming it in three elections.

*Not been able to win two other U.S. House elections – in the 8th and 6th districts – after Republican incumbents retired.

*Not come close to running the state Senate since recall elections gave Democrats temporary control, by a 17-16 margin, in the summer of 2012. Republicans promptly regained control in November elections that year.

*Not seen the number of Democrats in the 99-member Assembly rise higher than 39, and that numbers drops to 35 next session.

Any recent wins for Wisconsin Democrats? Holding the U.S. Senate seat former Herb Kohl gave up in 2012, when Sen. Tammy Baldwin was elected. And President Obama’s 2012 re-election win here.

Democratic Party Chair Martha Laning had laid out this step-by-step plan for the party’s return to power: Win state Senate seats this year, and elect a Democrat governor and more Democratic legislators in 2018. That would mean Democrats must help draw new Congressional and legislative district boundary lines after the 2020 Census.

Laning rewrote that game plan in a statement last week. Instead, Wisconsin Democrats must now hold Trump “accountable” on behalf of the “millions of hardworking Americans who most need help in these challenging times.”

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

7 thoughts on “The State of Politics: The Incredible Decline of Democrats”

  1. GPK says:

    Maybe it is time for the Wisconsin Democrats to stop trying to hold those who have been elected by the people accountable and come up with a plan of their own to improve Wisconsin. As a Democrat I want someone to vote for who stands for something more than: “I am not as bad as the other guy.”

  2. Did you seriously just write that whole article without even mentioning, let alone admitting the massive effect of, gerrymandering?

    Perhaps reading this will catch you up:

  3. Jim M says:

    It’s not so much about the Democrats as a political party but rather the erosion of common sense in the minds of the electorate. Just from personal observation and interaction, people are becoming more racist, homophobic, cynical and are willing to throw certain groups of people under the bus. We are well on our way to a fast decline as a so called democracy.

  4. AG says:

    Maybe the strategy of saying all conservatives are racist, homophobic, privileged, etc isn’t really hitting home since… well, you know, it’s not true.

  5. SEWI Cal says:

    Ask hard working people who have moved from MKE recently why they did so. There’s your answer.

  6. Tim says:

    AG, that is a good one… so ALL liberals are calling ALL conservatives blah, blah, blah?

    Liberals know nuance, like not all conservatives are liars but many are. Why did you AG, a resident conservative who aspires to be perceived as “reasonable”, what did you say about ALL liberals?

  7. John says:

    I lived the first thirty-eight years of my life in Wisconsin (1946-84) and even by the time I left, my party seemed to lack focus. Add to that the changing demographics in the southeast part of the state and I’d say they will have to really make a strong case to voters before they ever return to office. I’m still a Dem and live in a purple state now (Colorado) which could easily go red. But we’ve had a good Dem governor for eight years and some aggressive legislators. Colorado and Wisconsin, however aren’t interchangeable. Wisconsin Dems, you have your work cut out for you. Sad as it is for me to say it, things can’t get much worse for you at this point.

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