Jim Dey: Wounded Rauner on run vs. angry Dems, alienated GOP

Jim Dey: Wounded Rauner on run vs. angry Dems, alienated GOP

The rhetoric of October has become the reality of December, much to the regret of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The question is: What does that portend for March, four months from now, and November, 11 months from now?

If worse comes to worst for Rauner, he can look back to a fateful day in September when he signed legislation requiring taxpayers to pay for elective abortions as the source of one of his problems.

"I am announcing that I am signing House Bill 40," Rauner said at the time. "I am being true to my values and my views. I have always been true to those. ... I have to make a decision. I have to do what I believe is right for the people of Illinois. And I have to be consistent with my values."

Even by the slippery standards of political rhetoric, it's hard to imagine that's the truth and the whole truth. If it really was nothing but the truth about his well-known pro-choice position, why would Rauner have told Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich that he planned to veto the controversial legislation?

Rauner's decision to sign the bill sparked widespread anger among niche supporters who consider abortion to be what it is — the lawful taking of an unborn human life — and media commentators who thought he had shot himself in the foot.

"Since his election, Rauner rightly blocked bloated Democratic budgets and vetoed an income tax increase. He pushed for pro-business, pro-growth reforms. But then he got in bed with Democrats on an issue that is explosive to his conservative base. He's poison to that base now, and so is his money," wrote Chicago Tribune columnist Kristen McQueary.

Poison comes in the diminutive form of Republican state Rep. Jeanne Ives, a 53-year-old West Point graduate and former military officer from Wheaton.

Ives, who formally announced her candidacy Monday, wasted no time launching a vitriolic attack on Rauner. She questioned his manhood — Is our governor really a girly man? — as well as his loyalty to regular voters.

"We were promised a conservative, reform governor. Instead we got an Ivy League gender studies professor," Ives said, referring to him as "Benedict Rauner."

Despite her language about Rauner's alleged loyalty to the political ruling class, what Ives really is outraged about is his decision to sign the abortion bill. No matter what her rhetoric about running for governor, Ives' real goal is to see Rauner lose, whether she defeats him herself in March or helps the Democrats do it in November.

What Ives seeks to do is clearly not beyond reach. She'll have her hands full in the March primary defeating the governor. After all, he has the money and is the incumbent.

But she can play a key role in defeating Rauner in November by persuading her hard-core abortion opponents that it's better for the GOP's conservative wing to have a Democrat in the governor's office than a Republican like Rauner.

Rauner, of course, is a conservative. But he's an economic conservative whose real goal is to fix this state's desiccated economy and effectively bankrupt finances. That's not the case with Ives and the social conservatives. Somewhat like the abolitionists of yesteryear, they live and breathe opposition to abortion.

They aren't many of them as a percentage of the population, but there are enough to beat Rauner if they either sit out the election or vote for the Democratic candidate. Rauner only won by 142,000 votes in 2014 (he had 50.3 percent of the vote to Democrat Pat Quinn's 46.4 percent) when he had a united party behind him and many Democrats had had enough of dysfunctional one-party rule in Illinois.

In 2018, Democrats, who are enraged by the eccentricities of Republican President Donald Trump and motivated by Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan's plan to lay the groundwork for another legislative gerrymander in 2021, are determined to take back the governor's mansion.

So Rauner has to know that he's in trouble in this solidly Democratic state and that winning requires changing the subject.

He's trying to do that, stating recently that "taxes are going to be the essential issue."

Rauner seeks to put the focus on the Democrats' override of his veto of an increase in the state income tax and their gubernatorial candidates' unanimous support of replacing the current flat state income tax with a progressive income tax.

But it will be a tough sell. In 2014, candidate Rauner was a blank slate. In 2018, he's an incumbent with a record that has generated discord in his own party and near-unanimous opposition from Madigan-led legislative Democrats who prefer the old way of doing business.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.

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EdRyan wrote on December 05, 2017 at 9:12 am

The Republican Party has adopted the circular firing squad approach that the Democratic Party has proven so successful.