For years, the Illinois Republican electoral playbook seemed to have had only one play: “Madigan up the Gut”, and for years they kept getting tackled for a loss (Go Bears!). Republicans ran the same play again this year, but for some strange reason, it worked. Sort of.
It wasn’t because of a financially-level playing field; Republican House candidates were outspent by millions, and it certainly wasn’t because of the inspired leadership of the Illinois Republican Party, which wrote the one-page playbook and has sounded ever since like that old 33-1/3 rpm album that skipped in the same place right in the middle of Stairway to Heaven. You knew it was coming, but you’d heard it so often that you didn’t notice it anymore, just like the trains outside of Elwood Blues’ room at the Plymouth Hotel. No, it worked, sort of, because the rest of Team Democrat messed the bed, and is now scrambling to find somebody to clean it up. Who better than the wounded Speaker? It looks like they’re going to leave him on the battlefield as spoils while they try to beat a hasty and not too organized retreat.
Why didn’t the Democrats run the table on Tuesday? There are plenty of reasons, not the least of which is that a number of Democrats ran the same play, too (see image). It’s going to be fun watching the ensuing carnage as they now try to sort things out. Republicans have had plenty of practice forming circular firing squads, so we know one when we see it, and this has every sign of being a doozy.
COVID-19 certainly played a part, but to what extent we don’t yet know. In May, the Dems rammed through legislation expanding the availability of vote-by-mail, thinking that by doing so they’d cause an avalanche of early votes, especially by a generation whose universe is bounded by the screens on their cell phones and which thinks that history began on the day they were born. It’ll be interesting to see how that worked out once the final numbers are tallied, but in my neck of the woods, there are an awful lot of voters who take Election Day seriously, and undeterred by the prospect of pandemic and buoyed by the beautiful weather, exercised their franchise in the traditional way. For that I thank them.
The pandemic certainly hobbled the Governor, but it was his own fault. I’m not a COVID skeptic; this pandemic is real, and as one who’s a crawling mass of co-morbidity, I’m all in favor of doing the things that our public health officials have been asking us to do. That said, for months the Governor has been issuing executive orders and emergency rules which have had a devastating effect on our economy, especially on those sectors which employ such a large number of people at the bottom of the ladder. He’s doubled down with the failures of his administration to provide competent service to those seeking unemployment benefits. He’s done all this without telling us exactly what “science” is driving his decisions, and without bringing the Legislature on board. We’ve been treated like potted plants and haven’t been allowed to do our job. His go it alone attitude since March has destroyed the moral authority he needs to successfully weather the pandemic and was probably just as much of a reason as any as to why his so-called “Fair Tax” failed so spectacularly (hallelujah!). That, and the fact that the people of Illinois don’t trust the General Assembly with its money.
No, the Speaker is merely the convenient (though deserving) target of those who refuse to take responsibility for their own failures. If we Republicans, especially in the House, have the good sense to step aside and let the Dems eat their own, we have a great opportunity to make hay in 2022. But it means that we have to draft a new playbook that brings new constituencies into the fold and puts forth a message that will appeal to those who agree with President Reagan when he said that the person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally, not a 20 percent traitor. But it’s a long way ‘til then, and such a prediction may be nothing more than the triumph of hope over experience.