Illinois GOP Requires Serious Innovation for Trump 2020

By DOUG E. IBENDAHL • November 19, 2018


The day after this month’s election, this piece I wrote back in 2012 came up in my Facebook feed as a “memory” from six years ago: State GOP Chair Pat Brady and crew must resign.


I could basically just change some dates and update the names of the useless officials in that piece and run it again. Everything would still apply. That’s how stalled in the same-old-same-old the Illinois Republican Party has chosen to remain.


The 2012 bloodbath for the Illinois GOP was on a disastrous scale very similar to this year. But the 2012 and 2018 elections are hardly outliers.


It could be a great year or a terrible year for the Republican Party nationally, and the Illinois Republican Party will still underperform the GOP in most states, and usually we’re talking about serious underperformance.


It goes without saying that Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider should step down. If Schneider had a shred of decency he would have handed in his resignation on the morning after the enormous election train wreck he helped engineer.


Schneider should take all 18 members of the state central committee and all the other assorted do-nothing party functionaries with him. But of course that would require people to accept some personal responsibility, something Republicans are supposedly all about. But in Illinois, not so much.


To fully appreciate how unserious the Illinois GOP truly is, consider that in Tim Schneider we’ve had a state party chair who wouldn’t perform even the basic duties of a party chair. Schneider wouldn’t because he’s maintained a stunning conflict of interest.


Schneider was Bruce Rauner’s handpicked choice for Illinois GOP chair, despite the fact Schneider also held one of the 17 seats on the Cook County Board. That public office pays a base salary of $85,000 a year for a modest amount of work.


Cook County Board was the job Schneider cared about over everything else. Seems pretty obvious. That’s why you would be hard pressed to find any evidence of Schneider ever standing-up publicly in support of President Trump, outside of maybe preaching to a small choir of Republicans at some GOP event, and usually far away from Cook County.


Our President is unfairly hammered every single day in Chicago media but Schneider would never utilize the sizeable platform he was given as state party chair to help set the record straight about Trump’s winning agenda. Schneider was handed a marvelous position from which to educate voters with real news about the Trump agenda, but he abandoned the President instead.


Standing-up for the true leader of the GOP, President Trump, is one of the most basic duties of a state party chair – especially when we’re fortunate to have a President accomplishing so much. In other states this wouldn’t even be debatable.


Schneider’s dereliction of duty with respect to President Trump might be written-off as just more run-of-the mill Illinois incompetence. But what makes Schneider’s situation unique even by the low standards we’ve allowed is the fact he wouldn’t even seriously use his state chair platform to push Bruce Rauner, the incumbent governor who tapped Schneider for the party chairman post.


The reason seems obvious. Schneider was in a tough re-election battle to keep his Cook County Board seat this year. And Trump lost Schneider’s board district badly in 2016, as did Rauner in 2014.


Schneider didn’t want Cook County voters to think he was a Republican, and certainly not a Trump Republican, or a Rauner Republican (whatever that is). Rather than try to educate and persuade voters, a/k/a THE JOB, Schneider thought he was being clever by taking the lazy route.


That’s why Rauner’s campaign relied so much on Pat Brady as a public face. It was typically Brady having the press conferences to talk about J.B. Pritzker’s toilets, and even bringing a toilet along as a prop.


Not to get too crass about it, but believing that any voter wanted to entertain the mental image of a large fat man and his toilet is just a reminder of why Pat Brady was one of the most awful state party chairs in Illinois GOP history (a high bar indeed) and why he was eventually ousted by the state central committee in 2013.


Even that do-nothing crew could only stomach so much awfulness.


And it’s not just the horrible judgement Pat Brady regularly demonstrates, or that he’s one of the most unhinged Never Trumpers out there, it’s the fact he may very well be the only Republican less popular among Illinois Republicans than Bruce Rauner.


The fact that Rauner was okay with this arrangement where he knew his own hand-picked party chair wouldn’t be his public advocate and would instead rely on a different disgraced chair from the past, is just more evidence that Rauner’s campaign this year was never a serious one. And the fact Rauner wasted so many of his own millions on it is surely more evidence of how little honest work Rauner actually did to accumulate those riches.


Rauner reportedly spent $58 million of his own money on his reelection campaign to achieve one of the most devasting defeats of any incumbent in Illinois history. He threw many millions more at mostly pointless Republican seat fillers in the state House and Senate.


It’s unclear why Rauner even bothered, because again, he clearly wasn’t serious about winning this year. All of those squandered millions could have done some actual good in the hands of a decent charity, or better yet, if it could have gone to the victims of Rauner’s old nursing home chain, to innocent people who were awarded damages by courts but never saw a penny thanks to Rauner’s financial games.


After four years of Rauner throwing tens of millions of dollars at the Illinois Republican Party, the officials who relied on that booty are lazier and more pointless than ever.


If there is any good news to come out of this election for Illinois Republicans it is that Rauner will no longer be around as a millstone, dragging down Republican prospects.


And karma came back to bite Tim Schneider. His selfishness in putting his own political survival in Cook County ahead of the interests of Republicans statewide was all for naught. Schneider lost his reelection battle for Cook County Board by nine points.


So at least Schneider can stand as cautionary tale for selfish players in the future who might think they can play Republicans for fools without paying a price.


Bruce Rauner was allowed to buy the Illinois Republican Party four years ago. While he was governor it was all his show.


Rauner and his minions were given a tremendous opportunity and they blew it. The curtain has officially come down on that clown show.


Now we’re looking at 2020 and a fight for reelection of an actual leader Republicans are excited about. I’m of course talking about President Trump.


But we can’t have the same-old-same old. This President deserves more from Illinois. Republicans sitting around in Illinois pigeonholing people as conservative, moderate, liberal, RINO, or whatever, is largely a waste of time. Let’s face it, whatever the ideological label, the people in charge have all been about equally useless.


In this age of Trump, it’s not about pigeonholing people by ideology, it’s about doers. That’s what we’re woefully lacking in Illinois.


It goes without saying we need a replacement state party chair for Tim Schneider, as well as a lot of other posts. The fact that not a single member of the state central committee ever said a peep about a conflict of interest like Schneider maintained, or even thinks about lifting a finger when black Trump supporters are banned from GOP events (something that’s happened more than once this year), is proof positive the status quo will remain a miserable failure.


Our current system isn’t producing the Trump-like doers we need. Consider that during the 20 years I’ve been paying attention to this state political stuff the Illinois GOP has had 10 state party chairmen (Harold Byron Smith, Rich Williamson, Lee Daniels, Dallas Ingemunson, Gary MacDougal, Judy Baar Topinka, Andrew McKenna, Pat Brady, Jack Dorgan, and Tim Schneider).


Ironically, the worse job the occupant did, the longer the person likely hung around. Pat Brady and Tim Schneider for example are two of the longest serving in recent history.


Nothing is going to change with the same crew picking a new captain. Just rearranging the deck chairs isn’t good enough. History has shown that just shuffling in a new chairman doesn’t get the job done. We’ve had self-proclaimed “conservative” and “moderate” state chairmen. And the Illinois GOP keeps shrinking and getting less energetic.


Serious innovation is what the Illinois Republican Party desperately needs.


Donald Trump and his agenda is where all the energy is, and definitely will be going into 2020. Many of the local yokels still don’t get it. They’ll still want to bore us with their state House & Senate floundering, even though those two GOP caucuses just re-chose Jim Durkin and Bill Brady as the “leaders” of their newly shrunken minorities. Nothing screams you’re pointless like doubling-down on two guys who couldn’t lead their way out of a wet paper sack.


My unsolicited advice for Trump supporters in Illinois is to forget about the do-nothings. It’s your turn. If you are an actual doer who wants to help your fellow doer Donald Trump, now is your time to take your rightful seat at the GOP table.


It doesn’t matter if you’ve not been active in GOP politics before. Look, when the current crop of “top” officials are having press conferences featuring toilets, it would basically be impossible for any new person to do a worse job than what we’ve had.


More importantly, for Illinois to be something other than irrelevant again in the upcoming presidential election, you have to step up. Start thinking about running for Republican committeeman for example. That process will start next fall.


There will also be a Republican State Convention in Illinois in the summer of 2020 (shortly before the Republican National Convention that year which will presumably nominate Trump for reelection). There is a serous reform we can accomplish at that State Convention to restore direct elections for all members of the state central committee. That’s yet one more way we can fix a dysfunctional system and attract the doers we need.


Giving Republican voters back a real voice in their own state party is an example of the kind of serious innovation I’m talking about.


Watch this space for more in the near future.


Doug Ibendahl is a Chicago Attorney and a former General Counsel of the Illinois Republican Party.



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