William F. B. O'Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.
Wisconsin is often referred to as the birthplace of the Republican Party – Ripon, Wisconsin, to be exact. It was there in the winter of 1854 that the party was founded in protest of the newly enacted Kansas-Nebraska Act, which many viewed as a ploy to tilt the divided Congress pro-slavery.
The Badger State is arguably just as important to the GOP today. Wisconsinites, of both political parties, are known to take their politics a little extra seriously, so it’s no surprise that Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and one of the country's best-known and most respected Republicans, Gov. Scott Walker, all hail from the state.
There’s something about that Wisconsin water.
Wisconsin’s importance to the GOP makes Donald Trump’s primary loss there Tuesday all the more significant. It’s not just about the delegates Cruz won – they’re crucially important – it’s that Trump was rejected in the state that many view as the heart of the Republican Party.
That will resonate.
A few weeks ago it seemed that Trump had this whole thing wrapped up. After knocking Florida Sen. Marco Rubio out of the race with an impressive Sunshine State victory, the New York businessman appeared unstoppable, inevitable. Even the most ardent anti-Trump Republicans were resigned to the probability that Trump would be the Party’s nominee.
Then came the trifecta of self-inflicted disasters – the gratuitous Twitter insults of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s wife, the arrest of Trump’s campaign manager for simple battery of a female reporter, and the MSNBC interview in which Trump called for punishing women who have illegal abortions (he took that one back in the ensuing outrage from pro-life and pro-choice leaders alike).
Add to all that Trump’s bizarre foreign policy ramblings over the past few weeks in which he threatened to pull out of NATO and much of the Pacific Rim and seemingly abandoned 70 years of established U.S. policy in telling Japan and South Korea to think about getting their own nuclear weapons. All these pronouncements – there were others, too – stopped Trump’s momentum dead in its tracks. They told Republicans ready to break for Trump that he’s incapable of controlling himself.
Just when Trump should have been on cruise control, he shot himself in the foot, about eight or nine times.
Wisconsin was the first real test following this string of mistakes, and Badger State Republicans spoke decisively. Not only might they have denied Trump the delegates he needed to become the nominee, the state that founded the GOP may have just preserved the party’s future.
Tuesday was a big deal.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a Republican consultant.