It’s the beginning of the night at Plan B, a prominent gay bar in Madison. Attendees of the Democratic watch party raise their glasses to whom they believe will become the first female President of the United States.
Patrons donning “Pussy Grabs Back” shirts and Hillary Clinton pins dance to “Nasty” by Janet Jackson. They ignore the screens behind them, which are slowly turning red.
Yet another state turns red. The applause from states turning blue is replaced with groans and a sense of concern.
Around midnight on Nov. 8, 2016, it becomes clear: Donald Trump is going to be the 45th President of the United States.
Some patrons start crying. Others call their loved ones, shouting into the phone, “What are we going to do now?”
The next day, University of Wisconsin junior and chair of UW’s College Democrats Brianna Koerth knew what she must do. After taking a semester off from school to work for Clinton’s presidential campaign, Koerth knew there was still a chance her party could win elsewhere.
She joined a new program through the Democratic Party of Wisconsin that had campaign organizers on the ground starting as early as 2017. Across the country, millions like Koerth began to invest more into local and statewide elections, participate in rallies and protests and turn out to vote.
The results came soon after.
In Virginia’s 2017 gubernatorial election, Democrat Ralph Northam beat Republican nominee Ed Gillespie by the largest largest margin for a Democrat since 1985. The state also saw its highest voter turnout for a gubernatorial election in 20 years.
In Alabama, Doug Jones became the first Democrat to win a Senate seat since 1992.
In Wisconsin, Democrat Patty Schachtner won the special election in the 10th Senate District over state Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake. The district, which Trump had won by 17 points, had been held for 17 years by former Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls. In a 56 to 44 percent margin, Milwaukee County Judge Rebecca Dallet won a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, beating out Sauk County Judge Michael Screnock.
As Democrats continue to flip seats and gain back power in special and statewide elections around the country, Republicans in Wisconsin and across the U.S. are beginning to fear a blue wave may be on the horizon.
An alarming retirement
After months of speculation, House Speaker Paul Ryan confirmed Wednesday he would not seek reelection following the fulfillment of his current term in office.
After nearly 20 years in office, Ryan will be retiring to spend more time with his family, leaving the majority party to face what he believes will be “a very bright future.”
“When I took this job, one of my conditions was that we aim high, that we do big things, that we fashion in an agenda, that we run on that agenda, that we win an election and then we execute that agenda,” Ryan said in a press conference. “I am so proud that is exactly what we have done and what we are doing right now.”
But the retirement of one of the GOP’s most prominent figures may appear as a warning sign to other Republicans, said Barry Burden, UW political professor and director of the Elections Research Center.
“I think it is somewhat demoralizing that the leader of their party, who is sort of the only person in the party who has a consensus of support among the different wings of the GOP will not be part of the team next year,” Burden said. “That’s got to raise some concern for Republicans all over the country.”
And it has. Less than a week after Ryan’s announcement, state Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, announced he would not seek reelection after 14 years in office.
Ryan to retire upon fulfillment of current term, plans to devote more time to familyHouse Speaker Paul Ryan announced at a press conference Wednesday morning he will not run for reelection in November, ending Read…
Though Ryan’s announcement suggests potential problems for Republicans in the midterm elections, UW associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications Michael Wagner said his decision to retire is more of a reaction to the political environment — not necessarily something that will impact it.
“Dealing with this White House is a just constant barrage of difficult news items every day,” Burden said. “The Mueller investigation, the raid on Michael Cohen’s office — those things are really just this week.”Barry Burden, UW political science professor and Director of Election Research Center
If the Democrats were successful in taking over the House of Representatives and Ryan stayed in office, he could lose his speakership, Wagner said.
But this is not to say his retirement could not have negative ripple effects for the GOP. Ryan’s departure from Congress could make it harder for him to support the GOP by way of raising money for leadership PACs that he has close connections with. At the moment, Ryan receives about $8.3 million in support and donations from various organizations.
Usually when politicians in Ryan’s position are raising money, people who donate are doing so hoping they can be rewarded somewhere down the line by that person, Wagner said. Since Ryan is going to leave Congress, he can’t reward people who give anymore, making it potentially harder for him to raise money.
Another possibility of Ryan’s exit, Wagner said, is it may further exacerbate the tensions in the GOP between more traditional Republicans who fit the Ronald Reagan mold versus a newer, growing set of Republicans who subscribe to a more extreme ideology.
In addition to Democrats potentially gaining House majority, Burden said the current administration could have also influenced Ryan’s decision to retire.
“Dealing with this White House is a just constant barrage of difficult news items every day,” Burden said. “The Mueller investigation, the raid on Michael Cohen’s office — those things are really just this week.”
Every week, every day, Burden said there has been something coming out of the administration that’s unexpected and distracting — something he believes to be a source of frustration for Ryan since Trump was a candidate in 2015.
Despite a couple of policy successes — mainly around tax cuts and the federal budget — Burden said Ryan has mainly been fighting fires, which is something that’s simply not fun for a party leader.
Running for office, not away: Applications for training program for Democratic women spike after Trump electionFollowing the election of President-elect Donald Trump, protests, petitions and political activity erupted in cities and college campuses around the Read…
While many speculate his decision to retire stems from the unpredictable nature of the current administration, UW sophomore and College Republicans spokesperson Alesha Guenther believes Ryan’s decision is independent of current events and stems from wanting to spend more time with his family.
Though Guenther said College Republicans will miss his leadership in Congress, she believes he has accomplished “so much” in the House, the biggest being the GOP tax reform.
“A lot of our members grew up with him as a representative. Coming from Wisconsin, he always represented such a big ‘policy part’ of the committee. … He was really looking at the policy, and about discourse and debate off of that,” Guenther said. “For us in Wisconsin especially, it was great to have such a great example to look to for those issues.”
Despite the notion of an impending blue wave, Guenther believes the races are only getting started. She said College Republicans will be looking forward to helping make sure their party maintain their majority.
Crests and crashes
It’s not uncommon for the party’s president to perform poorly in the midterm elections, Wagner said. What is somewhat unusual, however, is the amount of fervor and energy that those opposing the president have maintained since Trump’s election in 2016.
“It looks like [Democrats] might be able to sustain that energy into the midterm election, which might make the wave larger than usual,” Michael Wagner, UW associate professor in the School of Journalism
“It looks like [Democrats] might be able to sustain that energy into the midterm election, which might make the wave larger than usual,” Wagner said.
Burden said this anger has done great things for Democrats in seeking candidates at the congressional and state legislative level.
Essentially, Trump has mobilized his opponents.
“The Women’s March, #MeToo movement, the March for Science and what looks like the year of the woman — these are all direct responses to the Trump administration,” Burden said.
The Women’s March and the March for Our Lives — created in light of the February Parkland shooting — have been movements that have lasted the longest and have had the greatest depth of emotional buy-in from participants, Wagner said. These efforts are likely positively correlated with more women running for office than is usual and with more Republicans retiring than is normal, he added.
A lot of this activism, Koerth added, is also coming from communities that have a direct stake in the policies being created. A lot of communities, such as the DREAMers, are forced to respond to the current administration, and it’s motivating people to organize because of it.
“What the party is trying to do is empower people who feel they have not only been left out in the Trump administration, but also persecuted by the administration and hurt by its policies,” Koerth said. “Now that we’ve lived under the administration, we actually know that everything that we thought would be threatened and everything Trump talked about in his speeches is becoming a reality, which I think will activate a new part of the campus community.”
Though some aspects of the Trump administration tend to polarize campus, Guenther said some of the movements, such as March for Our Lives, have allowed members across the political spectrum to engage in conversation, consider different perspectives and observe what the majority of Americans want.
And with students at the root of some of these movements, their votes in upcoming elections may be what propels a potential resurgence in the Democratic party.
A race to the Capitol
As the gubernatorial election approaches in the fall with a heavily crowded Democratic field, many wonder whether the blue wave will bring in smooth sailing for one hopeful Democratic candidate, or peeter out before reaching shore.
The evidence on whether this crowded primary will help or hurt a candidate is mixed, Burden said. Ultimately, it depends on how the Democratic candidates engage with each other.
“A robust primary campaign could help the eventual nominee gain name recognition, hone their campaign skills and develop better arguments against the other party,” Burden said. “But a tough primary can also be expensive for campaigns and reveal the nominee’s weaknesses.”
Race to the state: Amid crowded democratic pool, Mayor Paul Soglin takes first steps for the gubernatorial electionIt was 1967. The country was gripped by anti-war protests led by college students across the nation. In Madison, Paul Read…
Because of the high level of energy on the Democratic front, Gov. Scott Walker expects an expensive and hard-fought campaign, and even warned of the possibility of a “blue wave” following the election of liberal judge Dallet. Despite his previous two statewide victories and winning the recall election in 2012, Burden said 2018 doesn’t look as favorable to the Republicans as in election years past.
Just as Ryan has been successful in moving major bills through the House, Walker has been effective at cementing major proposals into law. His most recent term, Burden said, has focused on more funding for public education and combating the ongoing opioid epidemic. Despite the success in landing a contract with Foxconn to build a facility in Racine County, Walker has also faced difficulty tackling the deterioration of Wisconsin roadways.
Murky waters: Foxconn deal brings economic opportunity, environmental concernsThe rolling farmlands of Mount Pleasant create a scenic landscape on the Milwaukee to Chicago commute. But this view will Read…
Overall, his legislative record has been a bit less consistent since his presidential campaign ended in 2015, Burden said. But, voters’ views on his biggest accomplishment — Foxconn — will be an important deciding factor for the upcoming election.
“People who see it as a significant job creator will give Walker some of the credit while those who are concerned about public payments to the firm and weakening of environmental projects will blame him,” Burden said.
Ryan’s retirement leaves a glaring vacancy on the Republican ticket for Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District and the potential for a contentious election similar to the upcoming gubernatorial one.
At the moment, only Paul Nehlen, an avowed anti-Semite and white nationalist, and businessman Nick Polce appear to be gunning for a seat on the Republican side.
The two contenders could not represent the current divide splitting the Republican party any better.
Polce, a U.S. Army veteran and small business owner, embodies the traditional conservative ideals that focus on individual freedom and liberty. Nehlen’s track history of bigoted remarks and close ties to the “alt-right” movement led the Republican Party of Wisconsin to disown him and even get him banned from Twitter.
Polce isn’t a career politician. In fact, his entire platform is based on the idea that Washington doesn’t need more of them. And while his platform is more reflective of the traditional Republican favored by the district, his ideas and policies are often overshadowed by the furor attracted by Nehlen’s campaign.
“I think the reason [Nehlen] was the only contender was because no traditional Republican was going to run against Ryan,” Wagner said. “Now that Ryan is out, we should expect at least one more, and probably more traditional Republicans to enter that race.”
But since Ryan’s announcement to step down, no major Wisconsin GOP figures have offered to throw their hats in the race.
Dallet victory brings hopes of blue wave for Wisconsin DemocratsFollowing Tuesday’s decision to send Rebecca Dallet to the state Supreme Court, Democrats believe the state may finally be leaning Read…
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and most recently state Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Salem, have all declined to run to replace Ryan in Congress. UW Board of Regents member Bryan Steil is left as one of the last remaining established Republicans to consider running for the seat.
Should Steil choose not to run, the most reasonable outcome in a traditionally conservative district should then come down to either Polce or Nehlen. Enter Randy Bryce and Cathy Myers.
Bryce — most commonly known as “Iron Stache” — is a union ironworker. Myers is a longtime Janesville school board member and high school English teacher. Both are running on the Democratic ballot, and both have the potential to add to the swell of Wisconsin’s potential blue wave.
Despite failing to win a state Legislature seat on two separate occasions and a school board race, Bryce’s campaign has garnered nearly $4.8 million through grassroots efforts since the beginning of 2017. Though much of that sum comes from out-of-state, it is an indicator of Bryce’s ability to grow support in the traditionally conservative district.
Looking to gain support from the white working-class families that turned Trump in 2016, Bryce’s campaign efforts may pose a possible challenge for Republicans running in the 1st district.
Meyers, while having not caught fire across the internet like “Iron Stache” and being considered an underdog, has a similar grassroots appeal and has positioned herself as a proud member of the growing influx of female candidates.
Increased interest in running for public office leads Emerge Wisconsin to create first-ever fall programWithin a few days of the 2016 presidential election, Erin Forrest, executive director at Emerge Wisconsin, witnessed applications for the Read…
Ryan’s retirement may be a pivotal moment for Wisconsin’s upcoming elections. Though Wagner said it’s dangerous to “read too much into the tea leaves” at this point, the evidence thus far suggests a good election year for Democrats.
Many have called Nov. 8, 2016 a disgraceful day in American history, others believe it is a day Americans chose to break the status quo and start listening to those who have had their voices silenced on Capitol Hill.
One thing many can agree on, however, is that Nov. 8, 2016 has cast many ripples in U.S. politics. And now comes a wave.
“If young people get involved in 2018 like they already have been getting involved, we can make sure the people in power represent us,” Koerth said of Democrat’s chances. “And if there are people in power who have very different interests from the young people demanding change, then they are not going to stay.”