Home Illinois Politics Nevins: The Illinois GOP Leadership’s Bridge to Nowhere

Nevins: The Illinois GOP Leadership’s Bridge to Nowhere


What the Chicago Tribune chooses to ignore, the Illinois Review chooses to feature. In our opinion, these ideas are worth contemplating: Jennifer Nevins' frank response to an op-ed advocating the struggling IL GOP stay on course. 

By Jennifer Nevins – 

Recently, in the wake of the blue tsunami that decimated whatever shreds of influence the state’s Republican Party thought it had, the Chicago Tribune featured a commentary by  Bruce Rauner campaign staffer Patrick Wohl titled, “Don’t Let Rauner Loss Spark a GOP Race to the Right.” Wohl’s essential message– "Moderates, stay the course!" –undoubtedly  soothes many a mind in the Illinois Republican leadership. Of course, the person shelling out this advice helped usher an incumbent governor into a spectacular loss, but Wohl’s intended audience is likely blind to the irony. They have become so accustomed to their strategic failures that this familiar counsel makes good sense.

While Wohl’s message is reaffirming to Illinois’ political establishment, his message also reaffirms the IL GOP's largely conservative voting base’s view that its leadership will never take them seriously. The perennial tension between the state’s moderate and conservative flanks has now devolved into total breakdown. The author and likeminded operatives, however, dismiss the dysfunction while they smugly believe that, eventually, the conservative mutts will heel.

As intelligent people, the Party leaders labeled the election results a bloodbath.  They are lightning quick to add, however, that the results were also predictable. Yes, they certainly were that. But what is predicable is also – to at least some degree- preventable, and preventable is not a word being used by Wohl or anyone else in the  Illinois establishment. Admitting that the defeats – particularly Rauner’s – were preventable implies failure. Failure implies blame, and that is something that the IL GOP has always done its level best to avoid.

Certainly, there were numerous chances to correct course. The most opportune of these was when conservative State Representative Jeanne Ives came within three points of besting Rauner in the gubernatorial primary despite bearing a gargantuan funding disadvantage. Indeed, Wohl concedes that her campaign expressed a legitimate concern that "Rauner had abandoned the Party.”

Unfortunately, the IL GOP leadership was not concerned. In the primary’s wake, the leadership attempted to mollify Ives voters by installing conservative operative Mark Shaw as the Party’s Co-Chairman. Astute voters , however, recognized the move for what it was: a clumsy maneuver meant to corral reluctant conservatives into the Rauner fold. The Governor , meanwhile, continued his leftward swerve even as the base howled.

Simply stated, if there is a book titled “How to Alienate Your Voting Base," the Illinois GOP borrowed Rauner’s dog-eared copy.

Predictable, indeed.

What is most incredible  is that the same people that applaud Wohl’s dismissal of conservatives are the very same ones calling for unity. That would be swell if the appeal was genuine. It is not. The unity they have in mind is a sham analogous to the Democrat’s calls for  “a dialogue” – that is – the Democrats will talk, and the Republicans will listen.

The IL GOP incarnation is similarly one sided: We will choose the candidates, and you will vote for them. Unfortunately or fortunately – depending on one’s perspective – much of the base now understands the reality of the proposition. Simply put, If the leadership  wants to keep tossing meatless bones over the fence, they can now expect for them to be tossed back.

In the closing of his article, Patrick Wohl warned that the IL GOP might find itself relegated to the ash heap of history.

There is no “might” about it. Unless the state’s party leadership slate undergoes a thorough scrubbing, that is precisely what will happen.

They cannot say they weren’t warned. It was predictable.

And preventable. 

Author's note: Not surprisingly, the party leadership believes that Donald Trump’s rhetoric created insurmountable obstacles for their candidates that eclipses any difficulties it has with the party’s largely conservative base.

Jennifer is a former precinct committeeman and board member from the Aurora Township Republican Central Committee and Trump delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention. As a conservative with a low tolerance for political nonsense, she appears on programs such as Beyond the Beltway and Chicago Tonight whenever the producers seek a nationalist-pro-Trump counterpoint to both progressive and establishment Republican perspectives.


  1. I have great respect for Jennifer, but I do believe she is off base here. Rep Ives would have had a difficult time getting above what Rauner got, not to mention trying to overcome a corrupt Democratic billionaire like Pritzker. How do we get Democrats to give up on their corrupt party and join us? I don’t see any answers to that here.

  2. Jennifer Nevins:
    Excellent article explaining the situation. Until the party leadership supports President Trump, the platform, and a conservative agenda, there will be no growth and no unity. I look forward to new leadership emerging. More people like Jennifer Nevins are speaking up. Add to that list the Illinois Conservative Union.
    There is a large silent majority in Illinois which is becoming less silent.

  3. I agree with Jennifer. Within the past 33 months, Illinois Republicans nominated Mark Kirk and Bruce Rauner, although they frequently disagree with the republican platform. In both general elections, the Democrats won, about 55%-40%. In 2020 and ’22, IL Republicans should try something different, nominating only candiates who agree with the party platform.

  4. After 4 years of “no social issues” Rauner and a thorough electoral rebuke of his leadership, most conservatives see through the Democrat-lite malarkey being shoveled our way by Wohl and other RINOs.

  5. Good article; hope you become a regular contributor to IR!
    Speaking of political nonsense, I’m having buyer’s remorse after Kavanaugh’s siding with the libs on the Planned Parenthood case. What do you think?

  6. Jeanne Ives should have won. Than all the people above me commenting would have worked hard for her.
    They like myself could not work for Rauner and his baby killing values. He supported Madigan and Cullerton have the same value. Yet he lied and stated that Jeanne Ives was a supported of Madigan.
    Love Saves Lives
    Carl Lambrecht

  7. Illinois Democrats’ bridge to gap among their own is between being socially liberal but for an expanded government and being socially liberal but for a greatly expanded government. As such, it’s not that hard for them to rally around their candidates. The rare exceptions, people like Lipinski, are in such safe districts that it doesn’t matter if a significant portion of their party base hates them.
    The IL GOP starts with a disadvantage, especially with Cook county and now increasingly the collar counties, so for them to win means they have to work together. The problem, however, is that their big tent is much more ideologically diverse than the Democrats. Think of how culturally different Chicago and even the suburbs are compared to most of rural Illinois. You have social issue differences. There are differences on economic and fiscal policy. You have regional interest conflict as well. Regional interest conflict is easier for Democrats to solve, because they say, “Everybody will get more.”
    In my opinion, it’s possible for the GOP to win local elections, but that’s going to get increasingly more difficult as demographics change and we get the new post-census map in 2022. I have trouble seeing them winning anything statewide given the nature of their dilemma. I also believe that the suburbs are sort of a microcosm of this statewide and nationwide fight for the heart of the GOP. The division and inability to agree on a common message is why they got wiped out in the suburbs.
    Nationally, you see economic conservative but social libertarians, foreign policy hawks, socially conservative economic conservatives, socially conservative economic populists, all around moderates, and other factions duking it out. The dread of Hillary Clinton, promise for a wall, and hope for a hollowed out manufacturing base helped Trump win a pretty big electoral college victory despite losing handily in the popular vote, because he was able to string together a few narrow victories in some rust belt states that hadn’t voted red since the 1980’s. It’s doubtful whether that can happen again in 2020. The Dems are gonna be more pumped up, there’s gonna be more Dems due to demographics, the never trump Republicans seem to be rising again, and Trump’s own base could be less motivated to vote. Ryan’s congress squandered an opportunity and they might not get another crack at it for a very long time.
    Honestly, I think it’s the end of the GOP. You might find some state or local carve outs, but this is gonna end up being a regional party. Due to Senate elections being staggered, the GOP could hold that for a few more years, but the writing is on the wall. The Dems have won the popular vote in 6 out of the last 7 presidential elections. It’s only a matter of time before the electoral college starts reflecting that. Look at the gains Dems made in the House and in state government across the country. Solid red states in the south and west are becoming bluer. Locally, suburbs are getting bluer. And in Illinois there’s talk that the Conservative Party is going to be established in over 80 counties. What party is that going to help?
    I think it will take either some kind of total political realignment of the two parties, a new party forming, a black swan event, or, most realistically, a fracturing of the Democratic Party due to fighting between neoliberals, social democrats, and outright communists for the Republicans to regain control.
    I generally agree with Nevins’ assessment that the response from the Wohl was incorrect. They say it was a refutation of Trumpism. Well, Roskam didn’t exactly embrace Trump and look at how that turned out for him. Maybe no candidate could have won that seat. Or maybe Roskam had overstayed his welcome. Hultgren generally shied away from Trump too, and went out of his way to say when he disagreed with Trump. Who did that convince to vote for him? Hultgren ran a terrible and lazy campaign too. Maybe he could have won if he worked harder. Rodney Davis and Mike Bost were in close races and they won. Both were more Trump-friendly than Roskam or Hultgren. So this notion that just distancing yourself from Trump and being moderate is not a one size fits all solution nationally or in the state of Illinois. I forgot where I saw it but Trump voters in districts where the GOP races said the failure of the GOP over the last few years is that they haven’t embraced Trump’s policy enough. Their healthcare costs are still high, there’s no wall, inequality is still high between rural and urban voters arguably more so (homelessness is even up despite gains in the stock market and high GDP growth). Tariffs and the wall are opposed not just by the Dems but by many of the GOP.
    The GOP has sabotaged his presidency. At the state level, Rauner was probably doomed anyway but he took away a lot of support from his potential base when he signed the sanctuary bill and abortion bill. No doubt that cost Republicans downticket. We can give the wheel back to them, but I guarantee their failed boomerconservatism of the 1980’s isn’t going to work. Free trade, 911, and amnesty aren’t going to work. GOPers like Wohl say the Republican Party isn’t tolerant enough. What is the GOP doing to be intolerant? The GOP does outreach and minorities just don’t vote for them. Trump did about the same among Hispanics as Romney and he doubled the black vote percentage. I’m not sure minorities are ever going to vote for the GOP, but if they do I don’t think the boomerconservatives have the answer. Reagan gave amnesty to illegals in 1988. I believe that was the last year California and Illinois voted for a Republican for president.
    Sorry, I don’t have a blueprint to victory. But maybe the GOP should stop listening to Wohl, Proft, and all these other yahoos who have been involved with the GOP in recent history as the GOP in this state has collapsed. Proft has the nerve to say he sold out on social principles to get Rauner in, and now he pounds his fist that unprincipled people don’t deserve Republican votes. Joe Walsh criticizes Donald Trump daily. His wife ended up losing her race and giving Madigan an even bigger supermajroity. The leadership that I hear people griping about in the state central committee is going to be there until 2022 as well, so you’re stuck with them. Things just don’t look good for people on the right, especially in Illinois.

  8. We, America, are in the Second Civil War, the issue is not slavery but goes to the heart of The American Revolution; a ruling class of statists who oppose The Constitution and strive to legalize their tyranny through government. Illinois populace has enabled this self-derstruction believing that politicians will look-out for and assure the best for the ‘common good’. Our ability to deeply discern, promote personal accountability and hold elected and hired officials has been pushed aside by the attitude of ‘I’ve got mine’ and the elixir to social media which promotes socialism. History has been revised and taught to ‘dumb down’ education because parents have abdicated their responsibilities to those PHDs full of untruths. Demonic forces have been allowed to assume leadership in government and societal institutions and the POPULACE IS SILENT! The problem is the heart of Illinoisians. Until there is revival, an awakening to this sickness, NOTHING will change. The Second Civil War is quiet, will it become violent like France?

  9. Conservatives in Illinois (whatever that even means anymore) make a big mistake by pigeon-holing themselves into the “conservative” box. So we end up with Republicans, and then this rump group of “conservatives,” which isn’t a ballot line. Note how Trump only talks about being a Republican, not a conservative, even though he’s been the most successful president in history on advancing a conservative Republican agenda. But Trump understand messaging and branding.
    I hate to say it, but I think a lot of conservatives in Illinois just like playing the victim role. They’ve done it for so long they don’t know what else to do.

  10. There is a whole lot of stuff to unpack in your post-and Imo-much of it is dead spot on.I agree with your assessment of the demographic changes hampering the conservative prospects and I also-of douse-agree with your descriptions of the Roskam/Hultgren campaigns. They ran as if they were still institutions and therefore untouchable. Any fool should have been watching the steady demographic shifts that have been taking place in DuPage and Kane Counties for over a decade now. These counties went for Hillary in 2016 for cripes sake-a factoid that Walsh and other Trump haters love to dismiss as they pin blame on him for the losses.
    Having said all that-I still maintain that the factors Hultgren and Roskam had to contend with were the same factors Trump had to deal with-and obviously, he won. What I think is missing from the GOP playbook in general is a stand of populism. It’s a dirty word to too many doctrinaire conservatives-and thats a damned shame. As you say-messaging is everything-and properly delineated, a conservative message with a good dash of populist appeal CAN carry the day with union members-many of whom I know voted Trump. White suburban single women are simply too stupid to chase after-and I know thats a radical statement but I mean it sincerely-but there are other places we can get the votes if we are willing to adjust both the messaging and most importantly-the leadership that thinks its knows the way forward when it clearly doesn’t.

  11. I think you make a number of spot on points. Demographics are not on our side-and they will never be in all likelihood. How we deal with that is the question. We HAVE to deal with it or we can hole up in a bar somewhere and drink and play darts until the Dems have so thoroughly decimate this state that the lib voters finally cry uncle.
    What is shocking to me-and it shouldn’t be I know-is that the leadership had no plan-and still has no plan-to counter the changes that Trump instinctively knew how to deal with. Hultgren and Roskam should have been far more aware of the changes that had been taking place for over a decade in their districts. Their counties went for Hilary for cripes’ sake. But its so easy for them-and cretins like Walsh-to ascribe the blame to Trump.
    What I think is sorely needed is a strong dose of populism. Doctrinaire conservatives balk at that term-but properly delineated-it does not contradict conservatism. We know the white single female voters aren’t going to go our way as a bloc. Bending into a pretzel to appeal to them is what will water down our platform-and that’s a trap I refuse to fall into . There are millions of folk in this state who still don’t vote-working class people who crave the ” I care about the little guy” message Trump gave. I think we all know union folks who pulled the lever for Trump despite their leadership”s stances. We can-and we must-direct our outreach to people who are not fundamentally opposed to a strong economic and social message. Chasing after some voters is a big fat waste of time-and that’s a position I stand by.

  12. The Illinois GOP is dependent upon the lie that there’s a “socially moderate” but fiscally conservative Republican. There is no such thing. Mark Kirk’s vote for Obama’s cap and tax is proof of that. The RINOs amongst us brag about Charlie Baker in Marxachusetts, who hasn’t seen a Democrat tax increase that he didn’t like. Or Phil Scott in Vermont, who hasn’t seen a Democeat tax increase that he didn’t like. In either of those states, I wouldn’t have voted for the Republican. Unlike Bruce Rauner, neither of those two RINOs ever, at all, pretended to be fiscally conservative. If I’m not mistaken, most of the “Republicans” who voted for Madigan’s budget and the massive tax increase represented most of the suburban “very Republican” districts that Democrats won last month. Big loss. FYI, in Washington State the voters KILLED their state’s version of cap and tax by a LANDSLIDE. No D or R next to it. But a loser like Joe Walsh tells us not to challenge Democrats on anything that they embrace and that they effectively sell to stupid people. Right.

  13. Speaking of political nonsense, I’m having buyer’s remorse after Kavanaugh’s siding with the libs on the Planned Parenthood case. What do you think?
    You have one constitutional conservative on the court: Thomas
    You have one right of center justice: Alito
    Three staunch far liberal leftists: Ginsburg, Sotomayer, Kagan
    One left of center, gutless coward: Roberts
    Two moderates leaning left: Gorsuch, Kavanaugh
    One liberal: Breyer
    Read them and weep…

  14. The Republican Party does not pick candidates. We declare ourselves as candidates and the voters choose their favorite in the primary election. The GOP in Illinois must understand that in this state, like a few other states such as California, we conservatives are in the minority. The liberals have enough voters concentrated in just a few counties to win state wide elections. I am the Collinsville 18th Republican Precinct Committeeman. The voters in my Precinct have voted about 60% Republican in every election since I began serving. I actually walk my Precinct for every election handing out a specimen ballot with all of my choices checked off with a big red mark. I have done this for the last 4 or 5 elections. I talk to all the voters in my Precinct. Not just the Republicans. I have been told by many of the people who voted in the Democrat Primary that they would vote for Republicans if they would quit trying to outlaw abortion. We Republicans do not have to abandon our principles. Personally I am pro life and a Christian Conservative. But I recognize and acknowledge that I live in a blue state. Not a totally blue county. The Republicans took control of the Madison County Board two years ago and held it in the most recent election. In a blue state we conservatives have to focus on the most common ground issues when we are campaigning and put less emphasis on the issues that will be divisive for the voters. We can not go into Cook County and Lake County talking about an anti abortion agenda and expect to win. We have to focus on what those voters will support. I believe many of them are fully aware of the issues with our state economy. But they are not going to support a candidate that is pro life. They do not support that agenda. We have to focus on the economic issues and put less emphasis on the social issues. Once we win back control of the state legislature we conservatives can impart our economic agenda to fix the state economy. Only after we have accomplished that goal will we conservatives be in a position to insist the voters accept our agenda on the social issues. Only after we are in a position to point to our successes on the economy can we say they have to take our position on the social issues or risk a return to the miserable condition the state economy was in when the liberals controlled the state. I am a conservative. But I live in a blue state. I am NOT moving away. I work in Missouri. I could easily move to a red state but I intend to stay and fight for what I believe is right. I intend to get everything I want. But I think we have chosen the wrong strategy in some of our statewide elections. Yes Rauner was pro abortion and still lost the state wide election for governor. But I believe that may have been because he did not have universal support from the party and did not get the effort we needed at the Precinct Committeeman level to win a statewide election. We have to recognize that we can not win statewide elections with just the conservative vote. We have to have a large number of RINO voters, moderates and a good number of voters who voted for Democrats before if we are going to get what we want.

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