Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Did Democrats Devise Great Replacement Theory?

So say conservatives like the policy director for 'free market' Badger Institute.

By - Jun 30th, 2022 10:43 am

Statue of Liberty. Photo by William Warby (originally posted to Flickr as Statue of Liberty) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Statue of Liberty. Photo by William Warby (originally posted to Flickr as Statue of Liberty) (CC BY 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

In May I did a column raising a question whether Senator Ron Johnson was a white supremacist, noting that he pushed the “great replacement theory” that influenced the racist mass shooter in Buffalo. A spokesperson for Johnson denied that the Senator’s comments were intended to promote this theory.

But a former media flak for Johnson, Patrick McIlheran, offered a different take, tweeting that “you’re accusing a man of bigotry for saying the same thing that Democrat eminentoes have been saying for years to polite applause.”

Eminentoes? That’s letting those liberals have it.

McIlheran, who now serves as the policy director of the conservative Badger Institute, was actually undercutting the spin from Johnson’s current staff because he was so anxious to push the claim by some conservatives that it was Democrats who originated the great replacement theory with their comments that America is on track to become a majority- minority country. The argument by McIlheran and others is a slippery one that conveniently ignores much of this nation’s history in order to justify a truly ugly — and un-American — theory.

No nation in history has a higher percent of its population that can trace their ancestry back to immigrants. The Statue of Liberty welcomes immigrants to our shores, and the idea of the “American melting pot” was a concept championed in our history textbooks. In Milwaukee the neighborhood near Burnham Playfield is a classic example, where the neighborhood has gone from German residents to Polish, then Italian and now Hispanic, with a growing number of African American and Hmong families. At what point should we have barred the door?

Nowadays we like our ethnic restaurants, festivals and music too much to favor a meltdown of differences. And it’s true that there has always been some pushback to open shores, with immigrant quotas at times and groups like the Know Nothing Party and Ku Klux Klan opposing people of certain races or religions, but the prevailing theme in America history is that immigration has made us stronger. America is “a nation of immigrants,” politicians of both parties would proclaim.

As recently as the 1990s, polls showed that about the same percent of Democrats and Republicans agreed that immigration was good for America. Republicans Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush were not anti-immigrant. All three might have agreed with this statement by President Barack Obama: “For more than 200 years, our tradition of welcoming immigrants from around the world has given us a tremendous advantage over other nations. Its kept us youthful, dynamic, and entrepreneurial. It has shaped our character as a people with limitless possibilities.”

This was just a few years after George W. Bush pushed a reform bill that tied tough border security and workplace enforcement measures to a plan to legalize an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. But he couldn’t get enough Republican support, and the bill died.

By then Republican politicians and voters were turning against immigration and saw it in increasingly negative terms. It was in this context that Democratic politicians like Nancy Pelosi were making statements that it was a good thing the country was moving toward a majority minority nation and that our diversity was a strength. It was both a reaction to the growing demonization of immigrants and a reaffirmation of America’s best ideals.

It was also a stance based on facts noted by economists and celebrated by the George W. Bush Institute. Its website notes that immigrants to the U.S. “increase the productive capacity of the economy and raise GDP” and alleviate worker shortages for less desirable jobs, while more skilled immigrants have been “linked to innovation” and “higher patenting rates… Forty-four percent of medical scientists are foreign born, for example, as are 42 percent of computer software developers.”

In Wisconsin Mexican immigrants have been critical to the dairy industry, and the Hispanic population has been a boon to Milwaukee, adding population and economic growth.

The great replacement theory is completely at odds with these facts, and the continuous history of America as a nation of immigrants. It is a foreign theory developed by French thinkers. According to the Anti-Defamation League, “the theory’s more contemporary use is attributed to Renaud Camus, a French writer who wrote ‘Le Grand Remplacement’ (which translates to ‘The Great Replacement’) in 2011. Camus’ writing was influenced by another French Author, Jean Raspail, whose 1973 novel, The Camp of the Saints, told a fictional tale of migrants banding together to take over France,” as an NPR story reported.

And that’s where conservatives like FOX commentator Tucker Carlson got the idea and began to push the ahistorical and libelous claim that Democrats concocted this theory to “import an entirely new electorate from the Third World and change the demographics of the U.S. so completely theyll never lose again… theyll be able to run the country forever.” Carlson has pushed the theory hundreds of times on his show.

There is more than a little irony that Patrick McIlheran is among those backing this claptrap. He was at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel when I worked there. This was a time when the newspaper was getting pummeled as a liberal newspaper on a nearly daily basis by right-wing talk radio hosts Charlie Sykes and Mark Belling. The paper was desperate to find a reliably conservative columnist and was having trouble, because not that many reporters wanted to write a political column and of those that did, none seemed likely to adhere to a consistently right-wing view.

The typical newspaper columnist was a former reporter whose work in the field provided a knowledge base (and cynicism toward both parties) that leads to smarter columns. Instead the newspaper went with a non-reporter, grabbing McIlheran from the design desk. You might say that he was a beneficiary of conservative affirmative action. The result was a columnist who was certainly right wing, but had no first-hand knowledge of how politics worked in this state and often looked naive. Reporters rolled their eyes at “Paddy Mac,” as he was nicknamed.

The job became a stepping stone for McIlheran, who after nearly seven years as a columnist left the paper in 2011 to become an aide to Sen. Johnson at an annual salary of $97,000, which grew to more than $140,000 by 2021, as McIlheran became the senator’s deputy chief of staff.

In October 2021 McIlheran was hired by the nonprofit Badger Institute, which described him as a “longtime policy and communications professional” without specifying what policies he had ever conceived for worked on. “McIlheran will manage the development of a comprehensive policy agenda – titled A Mandate for Madison – based on objective, data-driven fundamentals,” the press release noted.

Given the institute’s mission statement, that it stands for “free markets, opportunity and prosperity,” you would think it would support immigration, which is all about free markets and individual initiative. Will McIlheran’s policy agenda include defending the great replacement theory, as he has in his tweets? That will be interesting to see.

4 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Did Democrats Devise Great Replacement Theory?”

  1. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    “You might say he was a beneficiary of conservative affirmative action.”

    No “night” about it, Bruce. Paddy Whack, the entire 1130 AM lineup, Michael Gableman’s clown show, etc are ALL affirmative action hires.

    And a main benefactor of this affirmative action? Milwaukee’s own Bradley Foundation “charity”, which props up GOPperganda outfits like the Badger Institute, WILL and MacIver “News”.

    It’s frustrating seeing that liberals have to be 5 times better than a GOP hack to even have a chance of equal access to air ideas and move up the ranks. Because there isn’t nearly enough oligarch money on the left – mostly because facts don’t need a big BS machine behind it. Maybe that needs to change.

  2. Thomas Williams says:

    We’ll all I can say is my family went from Ireland and Scotland to Kansas for free land. In doing so they/we replaced the Native American who were living there! There’s a real need to look at history with an honest and open eye and see that this nation was built by immigrants who took land from those already here. And since we have “welcomed “ new arrivals who pick our vegetables, clean our streets, pick up our garbage, and offer intellectual and technological innovation! We need immigration policies which recognize that! Not racist tropes!

  3. Jeffrey Martinka says:

    interesting remarks, Bruce; thanks

    proud to be a second generation immigrant from all four grandparents

    and proud too, to welcome the next waves…..

  4. Dennis Grzezinski says:

    I stand, in similar shoes, with Jeff Martinka.

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