Dan O’Donnell has a deeply personal message for conservatives in the wake of Governor Walker’s defeat: Internalize the hurt you’re feeling right now and channel it to ensure you don’t have to feel it again.
November 8, 2018
Special Guest Perspective by Dan O’Donnell
I hate writing in the first person. I really do. I tend to operate on the assumption—both in this column and on my radio show—that no one really cares what I think or I feel, but rather that they tune in or read me because of the information that I can provide them; because of the fact-based arguments I can make for the ideas that they think about and feel strongly about.
My feelings, I tend to assume, are largely irrelevant. That’s why I hate writing in the first person; because I don’t want what I write about to be about me. But in a very real sense, Wisconsin’s gubernatorial race was. Not me specifically, of course, but me as a Wisconsin conservative. It was about you, too.
It was about a sudden end to what all of us have built in this state together. And I think all of us are feeling pretty terrible about it. It hurts in a much more acute way than I think any election loss has ever hurt before because of what it ultimately represents—an end to eight years of conservative governance in this state in which many of us were far more personally invested than perhaps any in our lifetimes.
Our euphoria over Governor Walker’s win in 2010 quickly turned to horror at the manner in which tens of thousands of truly unhinged liberals took over the Capitol in response to the new governor’s very first major policy proposal. Yet it was the way that we internalized that revulsion and turned it into resolve to stand with a leader who was brave enough to stand up for us that defined us and our state for the next eight years.
That resolve powered us through the State Senate recalls right through a gubernatorial recall and the 2014 re-election battle. It fueled gains of the biggest margins in the State Legislature in decades and stunning upsets for Senator Ron Johnson and Donald Trump in 2016.
And underpinning it all was our connection not to a particular politician, but to the movement that he embodied—a movement that belonged to all of us.
Now, that movement is ended (as least as it has been embodied and led by Governor Walker) and it hurts. As it should.
When we hurt, though, we want to understand why and have a tendency to lash out at the most convenient scapegoat. It was a weak get-out-the-vote effort by the State Republican Party! It was President Trump’s antics that turned off suburban women in the WOW Counties! It was a weak response to the pre-existing conditions lie!
The reality is that it was a confluence of nearly a dozen factors that were all underscored by a simple indelible truth: It’s really, really hard to win a third term. I’ll admit that for that exact reason I was surprised when Walker announced that he was going to try. Only once in the history of this state—Tommy Thompson in 1994—has a Wisconsin governor won a third four-year term.
Only twice since World War II has a political party won the presidency in three straight elections. Ingrained, it seems, in our very DNA as Americans is a desire to keep the pendulum of elections swinging and the balance of power carefully in place. Heck, the only time a president won a third term (and then a fourth), we amended the Constitution to keep it from ever happening again!
This was the history Walker was fighting, but it still felt as though he couldn’t lose because, well, we conservatives haven’t lost much of anything in Wisconsin over the past eight years. We had almost forgotten how it feels.
Well we remember now. And I hope that we remember how it feels right now for a long time; so that it motivates us not to blame Russians or smash storefront windows like Democrats in 2016, but to never again take victory for granted.
I hope that as you read this, you make this loss all about you; that you understand the hurt and disappointment you’re feeling, internalize it, and remember it over the next four years. Use it. Channel it. Do everything in your power to make sure you don’t have to feel it again.
Write Wisconsin’s next chapter in the first person.