JANESVILLE, Wis. — This is Paul Ryan country.
Sometimes they love him. Sometimes they get frustrated with him. Sometimes they worry he’ll become part of the establishment.
Yet, they fundamentally believe the Wisconsin Republican’s political intentions always come from his roots and are grounded in his upbringing in this working-class Kenosha County town.
They also know he had to get something done with Obamacare, even if it was imperfect.
Journalists and handicappers in Washington, D.C., have obsessed for the last ten days over the electoral impact of a vote taken by House Republicans to repeal Obamacare. Most forecast that the Republicans’ replacement for the Affordable Care Act will be less popular than the original law.
They have also obsessed over the electoral impact of President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey.
In Washington, the general belief is that both portend the collapse of Republican majorities in the House and Senate in the November 2018 elections. Not so much in Wisconsin, even among the most strident Democrats, and especially with regard to Comey’s firing.
“If we are being really honest, the Hillary thing last summer got him hated by my party, then his wishy-washiness in between — followed by the last-minute jab at Clinton — caused, I think, most people to lose trust in him,” said Ellen, who declined to give her last name but described herself as a staunch Hillary Clinton supporter.
Ellen’s “I’m with her” bumper sticker from Clinton’s 2016 campaign underscored her support.
House Republicans must all survive the 2018 primaries before they even get the chance to survive general elections, and a strong argument can be made that the health care vote matters more in those early intramural contests than in the general elections.
Everyone knows the midterm elections will be a brake-pedal reaction to whatever President Trump does (or doesn’t do) in his first two years in office.
Republicans have campaigned aggressively on repealing Obamacare in four congressional midterm elections. Failing to follow through on that pledge would have thrown gasoline on what has already been a decade-long bonfire among the GOP base.
Since 2010, Republicans have engaged in a great civil war in their primaries between the incumbent Washington wing and the fire-breathing outsiders — a war that eventually lifted Trump over a dozen more heralded and politically experienced candidates in the 2016 presidential nomination process.
The first insider-outsider Republican battles were in places such as Florida in 2010, when then-upstart Marco Rubio beat Washington’s blessed candidate for the Senate, then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist.
Some of the primary-winning guerrillas, including Rubio and fellow senators. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky, have gone on to become members of the Washington establishment themselves.
Others flamed out spectacularly in general elections, costing Republicans Senate seats in Delaware, Missouri, Indiana and Nevada.
And not all primary challengers were successful. House Speaker Ryan faced a much-hyped challenge in 2016 from Paul Nehlen, a candidate who got a nationally noticed wink and nod from Trump on Twitter just eight days before their August primary.
Trump, by then the Republican nominee, had a frosty relationship with Ryan at the time. Yet Ryan overcame and defeated Nehlen, 57,364 votes to 10,864 votes, in his southern Wisconsin district.
Ryan’s approval numbers nationally have slid considerably since February, according to the most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. Back home, however, in the counties that hug the Wisconsin-Illinois border, Ryan had far more to lose by letting the Affordable Care Act stand than by pushing a repeal.
“This is how you have to do this,” said Gabe Nudo, a small-business owner who lives in Ryan’s district. “The bill he pulled together with all the different factions of the party isn’t perfect, but anything is better than Obamacare.”
Most people hate Obamacare, Nudo said, and the only reason they are afraid to see it replaced is because it has become the devil they know. He said: “They are afraid of what they do not know, that is human nature. But Paul had to fulfill his promises.”
As for Comey, well, Nudo said there is no Comey constituency in either party. “Everyone had lost faith in him last summer on both sides of the aisle, it’s not that hard to understand,” he said.
Wave elections are not created by the press corps. They happen naturally from the ground up, and they include a constituency of Republicans, Democrats and independent voters unhappy with the actions of the president and Congress.
That is not happening yet, despite the best efforts of the press and Democrats to try to create that illusion.
Of course, progressive Democrats are unhappy with efforts to repeal Obamacare, and, of course, they are going to show up at town halls, get lots of attention and make the news.
But the real wave will be built growing your universe of resistance. To date, that still has not happened.
Salena Zito is a CNN political analyst, and a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner. She reaches the Everyman and Everywoman through shoe-leather journalism, traveling from Main Street to the beltway and all places in between. To find out more about Salena and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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