How Does Trump Turmoil Impact Wisconsin Politics?

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Premiere Date: 
May 19, 2017

How Does Trump Turmoil Impact Wisconsin Politics?

As the partisan firestorm rages in Washington, we discuss politics in Wisconsin with Republican Bill McCoshen of Capitol Consultants and Democrat Scot Ross of One Wisconsin Now. “If you look at the SS Trump, the only difference ... is there were life boats on the Titanic,” Ross says. McCoshen disagrees. “[Trump] has to get his agenda done. … I think 2018 can be a very good year for Republicans."

Episode Transcript

Frederica Freyberg:

From Washington politics to Wisconsin politics and some "Capitol Insight," as the partisan firestorm rages in Washington, party politics in Wisconsin gets down to business with the annual state party conventions. Last weekend Republicans gathered in Wisconsin Dells. Early next month state Dems convene in theirs in Madison. Between the conventions we thought it was a good time to take stock of the parties' strengths and weaknesses as a midterm election year approaches. Here to help with that, Capitol Consultant's managing partner and Republican Bill McCoshen. Democrat Scot Ross is the executive director of One Wisconsin Now. Thanks to both of you for being here.

Bill McCoshen, Scot Ross:

Thanks for having us.

Frederica Freyberg:

Our lead describes what's going on in Washington right now as a firestorm. What do you guys make of everything that's going on? First to you.

Scot Ross:

I don't think we've ever seen -- I mean as bad as we thought things would be, I think that they're exponentially worse. Every single day we --you ask yourself this has gone on, this has gone on, this has gone on. Oh wait. It's only Tuesday afternoon. It's been a disaster. Most importantly for I think the Republicans, they're not able to get their agenda going. That's the trouble with what's going on with Trump is that they can't get and execute the agenda they promised both their base and independents that they'd be able to deliver.

Bill McCoshen:

I would agree with Scot on that. I wouldn't call it a disaster. I'd call it a distraction and a significant distraction. The one thing we learned about Donald Trump during the election last year was he's unorthodox and unpredictable. There were times where guys even like me predicted he was done in the primary process and proved to be wrong time and time and time again. So that strategy or model worked for him as a candidate. I'm not so sure it's going to work governing. And so far it's been a fairly significant distraction.

Frederica Freyberg:

But is this as bad as all of that or is this as much about the 24-hour news cycle flogging this every minute?

Scot Ross:

I'd say this, I mean, if you look at the S.S. Trump, which, really, the only difference between it and the Titanic is there were life boats on the Titanic. Look at what's happened to the golden god of Wisconsin politics, Paul Ryan. This was a guy who was not only unchallenged by opponents for the most part or Democrats in his own district, but this is a guy who was considered the intellectual firestorm, the intellectual giant of the Republican Party. He's now considered --

Bill McCoshen:

The mistakes Democrats have made in the first 120 days of the Trump administration is everything is a 12, a fever pitch against him and it just rallies Trump supporters. They got to choose their battles a little more carefully then they may have an opportunity to make some inroads.

Frederica Freyberg:

What about the way, though, that Wisconsin Congressional people are having to respond to this? Like Paul Ryan. I mean this puts people in a really difficult spot.

Bill McCoshen:

I think they've learned not to respond. They've basically said I’m going to wait and see what the facts are. That's the better model. Back in the campaign cycle, Congressman Ryan, Congressman Grothman, others did have comments on every issue of the day. It's just not a good strategy. You might as well wait for all the facts to come out and be sure before you make a statement.

Scot Ross:

I think that -- again, I think you say some salient things, but I think there are three politicians in Wisconsin tied to Donald Trump. Paul Ryan, Reince Priebus and Scott Walker.  And Scott Walker's on the ballot in 2018, as is Paul Ryan. I think that's where the real challenge is. How do they distance themselves in a way that doesn't alienate the base, but recognizes that there are a lot of people out there who have real concerns about what's going on every single day in Washington D.C.?

Bill McCoshen:

We know this. Typically the party in power loses seats during the midterms. That's been the historic precedent. Whether that happens in 2018 remains to be seen. If they get health care done and they get a major tax package done, I’m not so sure they couldn't actually add seats on the Republican side.

Frederica Freyberg:

You think this kind of controversy in Washington would be in the rear view if that were to happen for the 2018 election?

Bill McCoshen:

He’s got to get his agenda done. And that's why these other things are such a distraction. If they can get health care done this fall. If they can get tax reform done this fall, I think 2018 could actually be a very good year for Republicans.

Frederica Freyberg:

And yet those investigations will keep on going, right?

Bill McCoshen:

Hopefully, you know, I wasn't a Jim Comey fan. Truthfully Democrats weren't fans of Jim Comey last October when he came out against Clinton with eight days, ten days to go in the election, right? So I think it's probably good that he's gone. Robert Mueller is above reproach. High integrity guy. Hopefully these things will happen expeditiously and get them behind us. Whatever the facts are, they are.

Frederica Freyberg:

So what about that, about Comey? As a Democrat you didn't like him and you still don't like him?

Scot Ross:

I mean I thought it was outrageous. But what Donald Trump did is unprecedented. That's the thing. The Democrats can do a level four and Donald Trump comes and does a level 13. And that's where I think that's where -- you know, the comparison level for alternatives do not exist at this point, 120 days into an administration in American history.

Bill McCoshen:

We’ve never had a president that's this accessible to the press either. He's had how many press conferences in the first 120 days? At least one a week. It's stunning how open and accessible he is to the press. And it creates problems for his staff, frankly. They're out there saying one thing and then he oftentimes contradicts them.

Frederica Freyberg:

As for state party politics, I’m going to ask you each to describe the other party. So Bill McCoshen, how would you describe the state of the Democratic Party?

Bill McCoshen:

I’d say it's in disarray. They lack leadership. They clearly lack an agenda, and they're losing working people. This is a party that my mom and dad grew up in. They couldn't identify with it today. The Democratic Party of today is all about identity politics and that's not a winning strategy. They need a different formula if they're going to be successful moving forward.

Frederica Freyberg:

Let me have you respond to that, your own party.

Scot Ross:

To my own party?

Frederica Freyberg:

Yes.

Scot Ross:

Well, as a Democrat I have concerns about what's been the Democratic economic message over say the last 25 years. Somebody who's a member of Generation X. It's been Social Security, Medicare, and is my employer-provided pension under threat. Those don't exist for post-Baby Boomers. What does exist for post-Baby Boomers is student loan debt. And I think that's where the Democrats can make their inroads. 43 million people have student loan debt in the United States. One million in Wisconsin. They're regular voters. So if the Democrats who have embraced student loan reforms can get that into the campaign debate, I think they're going to have a good time on 2018.

Frederica Freyberg:

How would you describe the state of the Republican Party in Wisconsin?

Scot Ross:

Well, I mean, again, they're tied to that Trump thing, which is a real problem. And I just look at where Scott Walker is now compared to where he was at this time in the 2014 cycle. He's nine points down in terms of popularity from the Franklin polls at the same time. And he's got a heck of a lot less money than he had then. And he has to make the case to be -- I think -- maybe I’m wrong on this -- would be the only governor to ever serve more than two terms. How does he make that case? Wisconsin deserves the best. If you don't feel you're getting the best, Scott Walker is to blame.

Frederica Freyberg:

Your response.

Bill McCoshen:

My former boss, Tommy Thompson was elected governor four times so there is another one. I'd say this, Scott Walker has built probably the strongest grassroots GOP organization in the state's history. And that includes the campaign I ran for Governor Thompson in 1994. Even though his poll numbers are not great today. He's got a lot of time to improve those and I’d say he's the heavy favorite in 2018.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. Bill McCoshen, Scot Ross.  Thanks.

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