Are Wisconsin Republicans so out of touch?

No, it’s the children who are wrong, they insist after another crappy candidate bombs.
Illustration: Ghosts and ghouls are shown swarming about the Wisconsin Capitol. Illustration by Maggie Denman.
Illustration: Ghosts and ghouls are shown swarming about the Wisconsin Capitol. Illustration by Maggie Denman.

No, it’s the children who are wrong, they insist after another crappy candidate bombs.

Wisconsin politics brings an abundance of bad policies, bad takes, and bad actors. In Capitol Punishments, we bring you the week’s highlights (or low-lights) from the state Legislature and beyond.

Generally, political parties are not great at reflecting after a loss. When former President Donald Trump was elected in 2016, centrists and liberals made penance by trying to understand the mysterious white working-class voter, even though the median household income of Trump primary voters was estimated at $72,000, higher than those who voted for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. Journalists flooded rural diners hoping to talk to any blue-collar white man about why he hated liberals and Hillary Clinton, ignoring the working-class women and people of color cooking and serving in the background. 

Charlatans like J.D. Vance promoted themselves as authentic white working-class whisperers, even though Vance grew up in Middleton, Ohio, which is, at best, Appalachia-adjacent. But his book Hillbilly Elegy rose on bestseller lists because it was centered on a message conservatives, centrists, and liberals could all unite behind: that poor people deserved to be poor. UW-Madison even gave the book a high-profile boost through its Go Big Read program in 2017. Now he’s a U.S. Senator, pandering to the most bigoted and authoritarian corners of the political right. 


We’re seeing in real time Wisconsin Republicans workshopping bad takes to explain why Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Dan Kelly was royally pantsed by Janet Protasiewicz on the heels of the reelection of Gov. Tony Evers. The easy, most painless route would be to admit that Kelly and last fall’s Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels were terrible candidates (especially Kelly). A better long-term solution would be to grapple with Protasiewicz’s victory as a sign that Wisconsinites—particularly young people—are not impressed with the impact of former Gov. Scott Walker’s policies.

That level of introspection is probably too much to ask of the party that thought, of all the people on this great green earth, the best person to energize the conservative youth movement is Scott Walker. Walker is so busy connecting with the youth, in fact, that he can’t run against Sen. Tammy Baldwin in 2024 because he would be “bored as a Senator.”

Of course Walker has a handy explanation for what’s happening in Wisconsin that also doubles as his own job security (if you buy it): it’s not that his policies were bad and have had a negative impact on the state, it’s the liberal indoctrination of youth.

Ah, that old canard. Nevermind that a recent UW System survey on free speech, hand-crafted to give Republican legislators the results they wanted, found that “students reported substantially more frequent encouragement than discouragement of exploring a variety of viewpoints.” Nevermind that this narrative about educators targeting conservatives is not new and has no real legs to stand on. And nevermind that the “compulsory patriotism” Republicans are pushing as an alternative is, literally, indoctrination.

But Scooter doesn’t need to worry about those pesky kids, because according to losing Madison Common Council candidate Charlie Fahey, Republicans can win votes on the UW-Madison campus. The trick is not to tell anyone you’re a Republican until after the election.

Isthmus‘ Dylan Brogan reported last week that Fahey also supported Kelly’s candidacy, and “says he didn’t ‘see any reason’ to tell young voters he supported Kelly or explicitly mention that he was a conservative.”

Not that he got enough votes to actually win—Fahey lost to MGR Govindarajan in the April 4 race for the District 8 Alder seat—but enough to put out a press release stating that a “Gen Z conservative nearly wins in Madison.”

So these are the introspective lessons the majority party in Wisconsin’s Legislature has learned from a seminal election: 1) Don’t tell the kids you’re a Republican. 2) If you do, and they don’t vote for you, blame the teachers. 3) Give Republicans (especially Walker) more money so they can keep fighting liberal “indoctrination” with… actual indoctrination. 4) Connect with the youth by banning books and drag shows, persecuting their gay and trans friends, taking no action on gun control despite the ongoing slaughter of children in schools, all while blocking any efforts to mitigate climate change, because growing up on a liveable planet is akin to socialism. 

You know, the things kids care about. 

An ode to the best and worst of Madison summers.

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