Jim Dey: Rauner takes it on chin in debate with Republican challenger

Jim Dey: Rauner takes it on chin in debate with Republican challenger

For those few people (percentage-wise) who care about Illinois politics, Monday was a bad day for Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Indeed, if the reviews are correct, it could be called Rauner's really bad, horrible, exceedingly rotten day that was even worse than critics thought at first blush.

What was the problem? Did he come down with a severe case of flu? Has he been indicted in connection with one of his pre-governor-days business deals?

It was even worse. He debated little-known Wheaton state Rep. Jeanne Ives before the Chicago Tribune editorial board.

Rauner wanted to talk about how rotten Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan is, while Ives, a West Point graduate from Wheaton who is a real conservative, wanted to talk about how rotten Rauner is.

Pursuing zealously her claim that Rauner is just a liberal in disguise, Ives made a big impression with her incessant attacks on Rauner.

"Ives crushes Rauner in Tribune governor debate," headlined a John Kass column.

"Ives goes on attack vs. Rauner," a front-page Trib headline stated.

Completing the trifecta of Rauner failure was a Tribune editorial that declared Ives' aggressive style demonstrated Republicans have "got a legitimate alternative" to Rauner in the upcoming March 20 primary election.

They most assuredly do. For those hard-core conservatives who want things their way all the time, Ives is the perfect alternative to Rauner.

Whether they choose to take advantage of the Ives option depends on just how much Republican voters wish to lose the November election.

Let's remember, just for starters, that Illinois is a solid Democratic state, a place where election results demonstrate that Republicans can only win statewide if they nominate a strong candidate and Democrats nominate a weak one.

So while Rauner, at best, will be running uphill if he wins the primary, which he likely will, Ives would be slaughtered just like the sacrificial lambs the GOP puts up every four years against popular Democratic Secretary of State Jesse White.

In other words, Ives and her backers, however delusional they are about her election prospects, would have no chance in the general election. But that's not why she's running.

Ives is determined to see Rauner lose, even if that means the Democrats take back total control of state government. If she beats him in the primary, great. If he survives the primary but is too bloodied to win the general, that's OK, too.

There's a strain in both the Democratic and Republican parties that embraces ideological purity to the point that they would rather lose and complain than win and embrace compromise.

That's what Ives is offering.

There is no doubt, however, that Rauner makes an inviting target.

For all of Ives' complaints about Rauner losing the budget battle with Madigan, what she and her supporters are really upset about is his signing legislation that provides for taxpayer-funded abortions. That's their version of a third rail of politics.

But Rauner screwed up even further, signing legislation that makes Illinois a de facto sanctuary state for illegal immigrants. Why he decided to alienate his friends and indulge his foes on those two issues, only Rauner can say. But they were terrible decisions — and it was a total political calculation — that immensely complicate his re-election campaign.

Rauner further undermines his election prospects by his inability or refusal to articulate the benefits of his policy proposals. He relies on political shorthand phrasing that makes a point without explaining his point. To the extent he repeats the same phrases over and over again, he appears robotic.

The people of Illinois know Madigan is so low he can play handball up against a street curb. What they don't know is how and why Rauner's policy proposals will jump-start the state's economy.

If that's not enough — and it's more than enough — Rauner does a poor job of avoiding questions he doesn't want to answer.

For example, questioned at the Trbune debate about having another, he replied: "We're debating right now."

But how about another debate, the Trib persisted.

"We're debating right now," Rauner said.

That's a distinctly non-clever way to avoid a question that didn't need to be avoided. It's yet another example of how Rauner can become so wedded to his talking points that he seems unable to do anything other than to endlessly repeat them.

Why not just say he has more effective ways of reaching the voters than by participating in a series of debates only the press and policy wonks care about? The Democratic gubernatorial candidates are holding regular debates that have generated minimal media coverage and even less public interest.

Maybe people should care, but they don't.

The only value debates have in races for governor are as clubs one candidate can use to beat another — "Why won't you debate? What do you have to hide?"

Given that approach, it's no surprise that the aggressive Ives — no one is more aggressive than an ideological zealot — pounded Rauner. Her goal was to play rough while he needed to be nice so as not to further alienate her supporters.

But the Trib unwittingly gave her game away with the following paragraph:

"While Ives didn't offer much in the way of how she'd get things done with Madigan in power, she voiced the frustration of conservative Republicans in Rauner on abortion and taxes."

That's because Ives' campaign isn't about how she would work as governor with a Democratic-controlled Legislature. It's about defeating Rauner so a Democratic governor can work with a Democratic-controlled Legislature.

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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scott_tapley wrote on February 01, 2018 at 11:02 am

Rauner is about as likely to get re-elected as Mark Kirk, because both sold out the base of the Republican Party on nearly everything that matters, and it's not about "hard-core conservatives who want things their way".

Even though "hard-core conservatives" don't like it, a majority of voters believe abortion should be legal, but 70%-80% of voters (including Democrats) don't want taxes to pay for abortions like the bill Rauner signed.

And while a majority of voters support some kind of work-out for illegal aliens whom Obama gave DACA privileges, a lopsided majority of voters (including Democrats) want more immigration restrictions and do not support Rauner's Sanctuary State bill.

The other side of the "embraces ideological purity to the point that they would rather lose and complain than win and embrace compromise" position is "becomes so much like the other Party that it doesn't make any difference."  That's where Rauner, just like Kirk, finds himself today.


Homeboy wrote on February 03, 2018 at 11:02 pm

“In other words, Ives and her backers, however delusional they are about her election prospects, would have no chance in the general election.” Hey that’s what they said about Trump who is now President Trump!