Bruce Rauner: The next blue state Republican Governor

Illinois is poised to send a new Governor to Springfield. He’s a native Chicagoan, closely allied to Rahm Emanuel, who is pro-choice, completely disinterested in social issues, and deeply tied into Chicago’s political class. And he is a Republican.

Bruce Rauner is a Republican from a bygone era, a pragmatist whose primary goal is to make state government function effectively again in a place where it has nearly collapsed. Democrats have found nothing so far to criticize beyond the fact that he’s wealthy. He’s held a solid polling lead from the very beginning and with no vulnerability to Akin-esque gaffes there is little chance he’ll blow his advantage.

As Republicans nationally are bogged down by the outsized influence of a small but aggressive extremist base, the Rauner era in Illinois might signal a turning point. The election will only be the beginning. Blue state Republicans have attempted this move before, with more disappointment than success. The question is whether Rauner will resemble Christie, or will he fall into the trap that swallowed Scott Walker, Rick Scott and Tom Corbett? In other words, can Rauner govern in the same way he has campaigned?

Regardless of Rauner’s own tendencies, there is one important fact that might keep him solidly in bi-partisan territory after November. Like Christie and unlike Walker, Scott and Corbett, Rauner will be presiding over a solidly Democratic legislature. He will accomplish nothing without compromise and coalition building. There is much to accomplish and he has ample opportunity to establish support among Democratic lawmakers.

There are two relatively un-ideological problems that sit at the heart of Illinois’ ills. Decades of corrupt political deals between public employee unions and the Democratic machine have saddled the state with unfunded obligations it can never meet. A recent 66% personal income tax hike, accompanied by massive corporate tax hikes briefly pasted over the problem, just enough to keep schools open and government functioning. Meanwhile the state’s hostile business culture dampens the potential of an economy that should be surging.

The second problem is the father of the first one. The entire state government is beholden to a very small junta in Springfield that governs with almost no outside input. Block grants are their signature tactic. The House and Senate leadership maintains almost dictatorial control over an increasingly restive legislature. In state that quite literally cannot pay its bills, funds keep flowing to politically favored recipients through unaccountable ‘grants’ doled out by the leadership.

Members on either side of the political aisle struggle to get bills paid to school districts and other government entities while money continues to flow to well-connected interests. A pragmatic Republican Governor unburdened by an unpopular culture-war agenda would be perfectly positioned to drive a wedge between the legislative leadership and back-benchers in both parties. If Rauner governs with the same discipline he’s shown on the campaign trail, he could blow apart the awkward Cullerton-Madigan alliance that controls the State Assembly and change the long term direction of the state politically and economically.

Along the way, Rauner could outline a new, post-culture war path to victory for Republicans at the national level. A political appeal premised on religion and white cultural fears no longer fits the realities on the ground. As the country grows more urban, secular, and culturally diverse, older Republican themes of pragmatic, fiscally accountable government are squarely at the center of public concern.

Freed from the constraints of a rabid, Tea Party base, Rauner will have a unique opportunity to govern in ways that make sense. What happens in Illinois over the next few years may be the best weather vane for the future direction of the country and the Republican Party.

Chris Ladd is a Texan living in the Chicago area. He has been involved in grassroots Republican politics for most of his life. He was a Republican precinct committeeman in suburban Chicago until he resigned from the party and his position after the 2016 Republican Convention. He can be reached at gopliferchicago at gmail dot com.

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Posted in Illinois, Republican Party
62 comments on “Bruce Rauner: The next blue state Republican Governor
  1. Houston-stay-at-Homer says:

    To Chris’ previous post (and this one to some extent), we have a GOP politician in Georgia concerned about some early voting sites in his district.

    The man doesn’t use the n-word or just come right out and say anything 8 steps over the line racist, so maybe everyone should just give these wholesome GOP “I don’t see race” folks a break with all these allegations of racism…or maybe not.

    These are the man’s own words, so not much out of context here:

    “Now we are to have Sunday voting at South DeKalb Mall just prior to the election. Per Jim Galloway of the AJC, this location is dominated by African American shoppers and it is near several large African American mega churches such as New Birth Missionary Baptist. Galloway also points out the Democratic Party thinks this is a wonderful idea – what a surprise. I’m sure Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter are delighted with this blatantly partisan move in DeKalb.

    Even some of his supporters suggested that maybe he take a bit of a different approach:

    “complaining that the new temporary precinct favors African Americans leaves a bad taste in my mouth. If the message were ‘hey! we on the north side of the county want Sunday voting at a mall, too!’ then I would have no room to complain. This post, however, comes across quite differently.”

    Another supporter asked, “If enabling more people to vote, even in limited areas, is ‘Chicago politics’ then what is it when you move to take away opportunities to vote? That is petty.”

    Millar, given the opportunity to better explain himself and maybe move away from some racially tinged rhetoric, took the opportunity to reach out to African American voters…oh wait, he didn’t do that at all.

    Instead, he wrote, “I never claimed to be nonpartisan. I would prefer more educated voters than a greater increase in the number of voters.”

    Hey, it is certainly possible that the man is not a racist in his heart of hearts. He just may be completely tone deaf to the racist stuff his mouth says.

    • RightonRush says:

      Yep, repress that vote. Those dang black folks sure screw up the rest of our lily white voters results. I left the Texas Southern Republican party years ago, after GW’s vs. McCain’s campaign. I remain a fiscal conservative, but I’m as liberal as they come socially. Even the Bush twins have seen the light and are going independent.

      • John Galt says:

        The Bush daughters are college-educated females in their early 30s, and live in New York. The Venn diagram of that demographic and the GOP does not have much overlap.

    • flypusher says:

      Next thing you’ll be saying that the poll tax was racist even though those fine Southern gentlemen clearly preferred voters who were hard working and had the disposable income, as opposed to those too lazy to earn a decent wage. Preposterous!!!!!

      • rightonrush says:

        I insist Sir, only those fine genteel Southern gentlemen that own property be allowed to vote. Next they will be insisting on DNA test before you vote.

      • Owl of Bellaire says:

        How many nucleotides equal a “drop of blood”?

      • 1mime says:

        I’ve missed you Righton and Fly! Happy to see your posts. Hope the retirement party didn’t wear you down too much, Fly.

  2. johnofgaunt75 says:

    I know this is off topic (well, wildly off topic), but I wanted to mention for anyone who isn’t following the Scottish independence vote next week that this past Sunday, for the first time, the polls show a majority of Scots favor independence from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

    Thought I would mention it because I think it has great implications for the US in that we may be seeing our closest ally (especially in our recent military adventures/misadventures), disintegrating. Interesting times.

    • John Galt says:

      Most of the Scots I know think independence would be a disaster. Alex Salmond really rigged the terms of the referendum to maximize the number of likely Yes voters (including suffrage for 16 year olds) and minimize the No votes (excluding UK citizen Scots living outside Scotland). If they vote for independence, it will be interesting to see what currency they think they’ll be using come next year.

    • flypusher says:

      Sounds like a very bad idea to me.

    • johnofgaunt75 says:

      I think it depends on who you ask. Some of the richer areas outside of the southeast immediately around London are in Scotland. They is a manufacturing base there and they still have the oil industry. There is also a growing alternative energy industry there.

      Not saying I would vote for it but smaller northern countries have been fairly successful in Europe as social democracties (see Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway). Like I said, it will be interesting to watch what happens though.

    • Crogged says:

      Heck yeah said the Irish.
      Really, really, really, bad idea economically, but who listens to economists, especially if they’ve been right…………..

      • johnofgaunt75 says:

        Well, I would say over the long term, Ireland has done quite well since independence. That is especially true since, until very recently, there has been an armed conflict within their country and Northern Ireland.

        The recent property boom and bust was predicable but hardly an example of whether or not Scotland should become independent. I think the long term prospects for Ireland continues to be bright.

      • John Galt says:

        Ireland was able to join the EU without a veto threat. Scotland will not be part of the EU unless it applies, like Turkey. Also like Turkey, there will be vested interests opposed to its accession, including England, or whatever we will call the rump UK. More important is Spain, which has absolutely no interest in rewarding separatist notions.

        Ireland had its own currency before applying for the Euro. Alex Salmond is busily promoting a currency union with the UK, sort of like sharing a checking account with one’s ex. This despite the current leaders of the Labour, Lib Dems, and Tories rejecting this, along with the head of the Bank of England. Sure, Scotland has large banks, but since they will be located in a country without a currency, they will almost certainly relocate their HQs to England.

        Scotland has no military. It’s chief asset is a nuclear sub deterrent which Salmond has committed to get rid of. Scottish industry is banks (that will decamp to London), oil, which is in terminal decline, and whiskey, which is awesome but is not going to support the welfare state that has been Scotland for decades.

        Scottish independence is a terrible idea for Scotland, the UK, and NATO, but it has been left in the oh so capable hands of 16 year olds.

    • Crogged says:

      If by ‘bright’ you mean “Will return to GDP last seen in 2007 by 2017” you are an optimist.

    • Somewhere, William Wallace and Robert the Bruce are smiling. Not sure the majority of Scots are…

    • goplifer says:

      The Scots’ signature trait is their unmatched talent for spiteful self-immolation.

  3. “…completely disinterested in social issues…”

    This property, more than any other, will determine the fate of the GOP. If the GOP is to be the party of individual freedom and personal responsibility, then it must advance individual freedom and personal responsibility. This does not mean that religious and social conservatives must abandon their views, but simply that they must stop trying to *force* their views on the general populace via the coercive might of law.

    In the arena of ideas the best ideas *ultimately* prevail. There is no legitimate purpose for conservative coercion by rule of law on issues like abortion or gay marriage. The people will eventually conclude all on their own that the former is bad for the soul, and that the latter harms no one and helps a few. Coercion is the tool of those who are afraid.

  4. John Galt says:

    Being a RINO might be fine for Illinois, but pragmatic, willing to compromise, and socially ambivalent ain’t going to fly down here in red meat-land.

  5. tuttabellamia says:

    By the way, you misspelled Rahm’s last name. It should be EMANUEL.

    It starts with an “E” and has only one “M.”

  6. tuttabellamia says:

    I don’t know. Mr. Rauner doesn’t seem to have any political experience and could just as easily fall into the waiting web of corruption.

    Lifer, why don’t YOU run for office?

    • goplifer says:

      Why don’t I run for office? Because I really really don’t want to. Don’t want to have that many bosses. Don’t want to have to field the constituent letters and questions I saw people deal with at the Legislature. Not suited to deal with the general public in almost any capacity.

      I feel very uncomfortable about that as a reason, but I do my best to serve in other ways. Not sure that serving in an elected office is really supposed to be for everyone anyway, right? Help me out here.

      The subject reminds me of Chris Bell, the former Houston City Councilman who tried to run for Congress and then Governor and then Senate. He’s a brilliant, funny, insightful guy. He’s also smart-alecky, snarky, and consistently struggled to relate to people. Would have been a great leader if anyone would follow him. Hmmm.

      Not sure I could ever develop the qualities it would take to win election at any level. Maybe I shouldn’t.

      • tuttabellamia says:

        True. At the very least, you have to be a people person, which I consider a positive trait. You also need to have some negative qualities, such as a certain degree of callousness.

        You might do well as a political “advisor,” or as a professional journalist. You’re insightful and thoughtful, and sometimes I feel your talents are wasted here.

      • johnofgaunt75 says:

        I think you also have to be a team player and be willing to compromise and/or lie on certain things for the greater good of the party or for the benefit of leaders who ultimately have the ability to sink your political career. That is where I would fail. I have no problem working with people of different political affiliations and beliefs for shared goals. And I have no problem being friends with people who disagree with me almost 100%. But I am not going to lie or avoid answering a question about a personal belief just because it will make certain political leader in the party look bad if I actual told the truth.

      • tuttabellamia says:

        I’m an introvert with a major aversion to being around people. Also, I think a high level of energy is important. I have lots of mental energy, but my physical energy tends to wear thin very quickly. It could never work.

      • Bobo Amerigo says:

        You also need to be able to listen to criticism, evaluate it and then let it roll off your back. Days can go by without anyone saying anything but criticism of you and to you. That’s exhausting.

      • Gee, bobo, I guess I’m just a glutton for punishment… 😉

      • Bobo Amerigo says:

        I shared that gluttony once.

      • tuttabellamia says:

        Exhausting? More like demoralizing.

      • Manhattan says:

        I thought about running too maybe but realized I would be like Bulworth and be brutally honest (which would piss off both parties) and not win. I’d be better off as an ideas person bringing ideas to the table and maybe a consultant.

        I tend to have a lot of ideas and sometimes it’s things people don’t want to hear. Even when I posted in forums about my ideas, no one ever notices my posts. Fighting seems better than bridge building. But in today’s environment, I’m not sure people would want to listen.

        Bulworth is a film directed by Warren Beatty that has him play a California Senator having a breakdown and start telling the truth about things. It came out in the 90’s and Beatty was ahead of his time. Has anyone ever seen it? Good film, check it out sometime!

      • Bobo Amerigo says:


        Your mention of Bulworth makes me think of the president’s statement about not having a strategy yet.

        I thought it was a moment of genuine honesty. (Others, apparently, were shocked.) I preferred it to moral-esque bluster, always being on the side of right and might, blah blah blah.

      • Owl of Bellaire says:

        So many conservatives seem to have a terminal fear of uncertainty.

        It explains their tendency toward religious fundamentalism; their addiction toward simplistic depictions of complex problems (like abortion or climate change); their jingoistic with-us-or-against-us foreign policy; and their addiction, like Tracy’s, to over-the-top solutions like unrestricted bombing campaigns.

      • EJK says:

        You wouldnt win. You have no constituency. A raving leftist Republican. Kind of like George Ryan maybe.

      • unarmedandunafraid says:

        Lifers comments on the life of elected officials reminds me why I don’t think term limits are a good idea. It takes a certain personality type. And sometimes it takes a while to get up to speed.

        With a few tweaks of the system and an involved electorate we can elect worthy people and turn out the unworthy ones.

      • 1mime says:

        Yes, Lifer’s proximity to politics is instructive. I agree that time is needed to “season” an elected official, but the problem I have is that these people are staying long after their passion for SERVICE has evaporated. At this juncture, it is easy to become handmaidens of others in order to remain in the cycle. I just think that’s counter-productive.

        You might find this WAPO opinion on S.Palin interesting even tho we probably concur that she is not someone we would like have a 30 year Congressional career.

  7. GG says:

    Okay, this is a Republican I could vote for. They need more of this type.

  8. johnofgaunt75 says:

    Good luck to him! He sounds like a very interesting candidate and perhaps a ray light for a different and better future for the Republican Party. This country needs more rational probelm solvers who shun ideology and blatent partisanship….regardless of party.

    • Turtles Run says:

      75 – So basically you are saying he would never make it in Texas?

      • tuttabellamia says:

        Not with a name like BRUCE! 🙂

      • texan5142 says:


      • I don’t know, Turtles. If folks like Ron Paul can make it as Republicans in Texas, I don’t see why a person like Rauner couldn’t.

        The problem with the GOP is that it is, at a deep level, intellectually incoherent. You can’t be for freedom for everybody except gays. You can’t be for small government except for pork for your own district. Get can’t be for a balanced budget except for your own pet programs. You can’t be for free markets except for trade protectionism. Etc., etc., ad nauseum. Rauner sounds like he has at least enough sense to avoid the areas of maximum incoherence. Good for him.

        BTW, the Dems suffer no such intellectual incoherence. They are progressives / statists / socialists through and through. No Dem ever saw a social problem that more government couldn’t fix. No Dem ever saw any market disturbance that more government interference and regulation couldn’t solve. No Dem ever saw an inequality that couldn’t be addressed by government coerced redistribution. No Dem ever saw any aspect of private life that couldn’t be improved upon by having government tell you what you *must* do. Nope, it’s more cowbell all the way, all the time. And if a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, rest assured, the Dems are quite convinced that everybody else’s minds are littler than theirs.

      • John Galt says:

        Oh, Tracy, you were doing so well there for a while.

      • johnofgaunt75 says:


        See, the problem I have with today’s Republican Party (well, at least a significant section of the party), is that they are trying TOO HARD to not be intellectually incoherent. Basing all policy on theory (like “free markets”) in exchange for basing policy on what actually works and what doesn’t is the problem.

        For example I think generally free markets are great when they work well but they are not always the best solution. As any decent economist will tell you there are certain times where the free market is not the best way to allocate a good or service. There are too many potential market failures and/or the outcomes of the market are unbearable socially.

        The fire department is a perfect example. We used to have private fire services where a building owner would pay a fee to a private service and, if there was a fire, the fire company would come to your house. If you didn’t pay the fee for service, well…too bad. You took the risk and will pay for it. The problem is, of course, that one burning building can quickly lead to many burning buildings, especially in dense cities. So, we then established a very non-market, socialist, publically owned and operated fire department.

        The bottom line is that ideology, at the expense of rational good governance is the problem with today’s GOP. Ideology is fun to debate and think about but when the tire meets the road, we need policies in government that are rational and actually work.

      • johnofgaunt75 says:


        Unless he was running for dog catcher, he would have no chance winning in Texas.

        Texas and sadly, most Texans (at least most Texans who vote), don’t seem to care about actually solving problems. They care more about fire and brimstone and red meat…and then they complain that the government isn’t effective.

        Ye shall reap as ye sow.
        (Trying to speak in terms that Texan conservatives would understand)

      • JG, I don’t believe free markets are the solution to every problem; your fire department illustration is valid. Same logic applies to national defense, for example. I suspect where we part ways is in the degree to which you and I believe government is the appropriate solution to various social problems. Let’s just watch to see how “affordable” the ACA really turns out to be. And if it works like gangbusters, why, I’ll be entirely content to have federal government-mandated auto insurance that covers oil changes, too. Really, I can’t wait…

      • johnofgaunt75 says:

        Fair enough Tracey. My point was that intellectually incoherent or inconsistent policies is not necessarily a problem. We shouldn’t be striving for intellectual consistency for the sake of consistency. We should be striving for rational solutions to problems.

        But in response to your comments to the ACA, a rational question would be, “Where in the world does a more free market solution to the provision of health care work well as compared to less free market based-solutions?”

        Policy should be based on evidence, not purely on theory.

      • tuttabellamia says:

        Mr. 75 – EXCELLENT points about the quest of some for absolute consistency, based on theory and ideology.

      • flypusher says:

        ” Basing all policy on theory (like “free markets”) in exchange for basing policy on what actually works and what doesn’t is the problem.”

        BRAVO JoG75!!! That warms my pragmatist heart soooo much!

      • John, most evidence that I’ve seen would seem to suggest single payer nationalized healthcare is more or less a disaster, and nations that practice it, e.g. the UK, are not particularly happy with the situation and are moving towards increased privatization.

        I have many issues with nationalized, one-size-fits-all, mandated healthcare. But, actually, I could live with a single payer system that provided a backstop for catastrophic health (acute and/or chronic) problems *only*. I think if we got back to a point where health insurance operated more like auto or home insurance we’d be a lot better off. Let the market function as a market for the small stuff; make sure the big stuff doesn’t eat you alive. Pretty simple, really. And certainly not anything that requires a monstrosity like the ACA.

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