Home / News / Taking Liberties / The Extreme Primary
Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Extreme Primary

Google+ Pinterest Print
Republicans lament the lack of public enthusiasm for their party's primary election in a month to select a U.S. Senate candidate as if that were a bad thing.

Actually, the public running the other way from their choices on Aug. 14 is a very positive sign. As the Republican Party moves further to the extreme right edge of a very flat Earth, its primaries have become awfully embarrassing.

In Wisconsin, the best known candidate, Tommy Thompson, governor for 14 years until 2001, has the same absurd problem as Mitt Romney, only more so.

Now that Republicans officially oppose government doing anything—"That's socialism!"—any Republican candidate who previously held office has to apologize to anti-government crazies for ever accomplishing anything.

That's why Romney can't run on his only major public achievement—the popular health care reform he passed as governor of Massachusetts mandating everyone to buy health insurance, providing subsidies for the poor and preventing insurance companies from refusing to cover people who get sick or have pre-existing conditions.

That pretty much removes everything Romney ever did to benefit anyone other than himself in a life devoted to amassing a quarter of a billion dollars and who knows how much more hidden in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands.

Thompson's Record Repels Conservatives


Thompson has an even bigger problem under the new Republican rules. Even his enemies acknowledge he was an extremely effective governor.

That means Thompson accomplished far more than Romney ever did. And almost all of it is now anathema to Republican extremists.

In 1993, Thompson committed the state to providing two-thirds of the funding for Wisconsin's public schools, a guarantee demolished by the largest cut to education in state history by Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

As chairman of the Amtrak board, Thompson was such an enthusiastic supporter of high-speed rail that one of the first trains was actually named after him. He made Wisconsin a central piece of the high-speed rail system for the upper Midwest to create jobs and expand businesses here.

Walker ran against high-speed rail and foolishly turned down nearly a billion dollars in federal funds, sending those jobs and business expansions to other states.

As President George Bush's Health and Human Services secretary, Thompson protected the University of Wisconsin-Madison's pioneering stem cell research from policies halting new research elsewhere because of nonsensical objections from anti-abortion extremists.

Anti-Government Candidates


It's sad to watch Thompson deny so many of his own positive achievements and even his early support for health care reform to pander to the mean-spirited extremists who now control his party.

Worse than Thompson having to lie about ever doing anything worthwhile in government are all of his opponents who are probably telling the truth when they promise never to support any government program that benefits the public.

Thompson's most dangerous opponent may be the one voters know least about. Most Wisconsinites had never heard of Eric Hovde before he announced his candidacy to be their senator.

Only because of a legally required, but ridiculously unclear financial disclosure statement do we now know Hovde has somewhere between $58 million and $240 million. How's that for a murky response?

Qualifications schmalifications. Hovde's only qualification is the same one that elected another right-wing Republican millionaire no one really knew anything about, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson.

(Buyer beware: Johnson recently said publicly he opposed the government requiring insurance companies to cover cancer patients.)

Like Johnson, Hovde has enough money to run TV commercials morning, noon and night misleading voters into thinking he's somebody important because he's on television.

Mark Neumann is another Republican millionaire with so much money he believes he deserves to be elected to something, anything. That's why he keeps running again and again and again.

Neumann is such a nasty campaigner he should be warmly embraced by today's Republican Party. But Neumann made the fatal mistake of aiming his nastiness against Walker in the 2010 gubernatorial primary. Game over.

The fourth candidate, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, has the excess baggage of all the unethical and illegal tactics of the Republican Legislature under Walker without any of the governor's fake boyish charm to cover up how foul it all was.

Golly, why wouldn't the public be enthralled about voting for such a line-up of candidates? Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, the Democratic Senate candidate, sure likes the field.

Republicans are already grasping at straws. Neumann's spokesman recently said: "It's good for us because conservatives are the ones who are mostly likely to come out and vote in August."

Why would that be exactly? Light-headed from the heat?

Republicans usually don't take my advice, but here it is in all sincerity: The Republican Party isn't going to get any better candidates until it starts honestly trying to attract some better voters.