Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last several months, you’re probably aware the Democratic Party faced sound defeat at astonishing levels in the November 2016 elections.
Obviously, much of the discussion over what happened and what to do next has been about the Democratic National Committee and its many scandals and failures.
But as Democrats at the national level work to sort out the 2016 election and the future of the party, Wisconsin Democrats must do the same.
The state Legislature remains solidly red and — though they weren’t a part of the November cycle — so do the governor’s office and state Supreme Court.
Because of these results, some in Wisconsin question the current leadership of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin under Chair Martha Laning.
Though it’s not confirmed at this point, it’s likely she will face a challenge for her position at the party convention in June.
At the surface level, blaming the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and Laning seems like a pretty reasonable idea. After all, they’re responsible for maintaining a blue state and for the last 6 years, they’ve failed. Pretty badly.
And Wisconsin is now, for all intents and purposes, an entirely red state.
But it’s important to remember Laning only took over in the wake of Mary Burke’s defeat to Gov. Scott Walker in 2014, and the progress she can enable for Wisconsin Democrats will be substantial.
Her staff is capable and prepared to move the state forward, but the obstacles they face in doing so are almost insurmountable. Those obstacles are why last year’s dismal elections happened in this state.
Wisconsin received no visits from Democratic presidential nominee Clinton during the 2016 election. While surrogate visits are great, they really only rally the base.
In a blue-collar state like this, people want to see that candidates actually care about their state, traditions and their futures.
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While I question whether Donald Trump actually cares about any of that, he did manage to campaign here several times. He showed up.
I’m still not entirely sure why former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold lost so badly to incumbent U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh. But, in all likelihood, Trump supporters who usually don’t vote probably showed up for Johnson too, which only added to his already substantial number of traditional Republicans who refused to vote for Trump.
At the state level, insane gerrymandering almost ensured Democrats wouldn’t be able to take back seats in the Legislature. Taking back a few seats in the Senate or Assembly might’ve been nice, but in a year with such an obvious “Trump effect,” it just wasn’t going to happen.
The fact of the matter is the Democratic Party of Wisconsin was set up to fail in 2016.
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They have the potential to take back Wisconsin for Democrats, creating a proud coalition of Madison and Milwaukee progressives with blue-collar Democrats from around the state. They just need time to rebuild their infrastructure and find candidates who can win.
That’s not easy, especially given how stacked the cards are against them.
For the sake of full disclosure, I should note that I spent the summer of 2016 as an intern with the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.
I’ve spent time working with their staff and leadership, so I am fully aware of just how excellent they are.
That’s a big part of how I know they can make real progress.
I’m not suggesting Wisconsinites should wait endlessly for Laning and the party to show progress.
What I am saying, though, is she and her staff deserve more time and getting rid of people who can make real progress just because they were in an impossible situation the last election cycle is foolish.
Under the current leadership, it isn’t a matter of if, but when Wisconsin becomes a blue state again.
Connor Touhey ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in political science, history and journalism.