Steven Walters
The State of Politics

New Leaders at Republican State Convention

Ryan, Walker no longer key players, but focus remains on Trump 2020 victory.

By - May 13th, 2019 11:08 am
Ron Johnson

Ron Johnson

Two first-team players are gone – Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan – but the mission of Wisconsin Republicans meeting this weekend has not changed: Make sure President Trump carries Wisconsin again in 2020.

Party leaders are using this rallying cry for the annual party convention in Oshkosh expected to attract 600: “President Trump is making America great again – but there’s more to do!”

Trump won Wisconsin by just 22,748 votes, out of 2.78 million votes cast.

The convention will “support and grow our grassroots army,” new Party Chairman Andrew Hitt vowed last week. “That means even stronger county parties, more grassroots training, more effective communications, and being laser-focused on our efforts to engage voters house-by-house across this state.”

Two other convention purposes:

*Offer legislative leaders – Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald – a forum to rally Republicans against the state budget Democratic Gov. Tony Evers offered in February. Vos and Fitzgerald will also remind Republicans that they are championing pro-life bills that would put new restrictions on abortions – bills opposed by Evers and Democratic legislators.

*First-round auditions for potential 2022 candidates. For eight years, Walker hosted a “governor’s reception” on Friday night. But Walker lost to Evers in November. So, this Friday night, there will be a “welcome” reception hosted by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson.

That’s symbolic because Johnson has said his second Senate term, which ends in 2022, will be his last. But he is considering running for governor that year. So, the tone – and targets – of Johnson’s formal speech to the convention will be telling. Will he focus more on attacks by U.S. House Democrats and Democratic presidential candidates on President Trump – wearing his U.S. senator hat – or leaven those comments with attacks on Evers?

Another potential GOP candidate for governor, two-term Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, will keynote Saturday’s Wisconsin Federation of Republican Women luncheon. Now executive director of the Washington-based Suffrage Centennial Commisssion, Kleefisch will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Wisconsin being the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote.

One scenario has Johnson running for governor, and Walker running for his U.S. Senate seat, in 2022. But if Johnson doesn’t run for governor, will U.S. Reps. Sean Duffy or Mike Gallagher?

Walker is emphasizing national issues as he lays the groundwork to run again in 2022. He leads a group pushing a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, for example.

Walker is also leading the fight against what he says is the Democrats national push to have judges take away the power of state officials to draw new Congressional and legislative districts. “Republicans need to wake up to Democrats nationwide judicial political power grab,” Walker tweeted last week.

Walker will speak at Sunday’s prayer breakfast.

Ryan who retired after 16 years in Congress, will not attend the convention.

Vos and Fitzgerald will tell convention delegates that the Evers budget spends much too much, expands welfare, wipes out the budget surplus, raises taxes and kills jobs. The budget Republicans craft by July 1 will be much more responsible – and spend much less, Vos and Fitzgerald will say.

Vos and Fitzgerald just killed Evers proposal to expand Medicaid, which would have brought in an additional $1 billion in federal aid to pay for health care by mid-2021. Because the last Marquette Law School poll said 70 percent of those surveyed supported taking federal cash to expand Medicaid, Republican leaders in the Capitol are trying to reframe the health-care debate by emphasizing their push for right-to-life bills.

This week, the Assembly is scheduled to debate bills requiring newborns who are breathing after an abortion or abortion attempt to be kept alive, prohibit abortions for gender and other reasons, and require physicians to advise women who have taken abortion-inducing drugs that they can be reversed.

In a statement last week, Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke defended the “born alive” bill. “It clarifies that while it may still be legal to take the life of a baby that has yet to be born, just seconds later and inches away, if that baby takes a breath, not providing the care that baby deserves would be illegal, and taking his or her life would be murder,” Steineke added.

Steineke was already practicing his Saturday convention speech.

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

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