In the two weeks since, there has been much hand-wringing, speculation and self-reflection on what the party did wrong, and how much can be chalked up to a “Blue Wave” that party officials and candidates couldn’t do much to avert. The autopsy continued Monday at the City Club of Chicago, where Republicans gathered to hear takes on the party’s past and future strategies, and what comes next for the Illinois GOP.
The panel, which was moderated by former Illinois House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego), also included former Illinois GOP Chair Pat Brady, conservative talk radio host Dan Proft and Chicago Tribune columnist Kristen McQueary. Though the three represent various wings of the party, they agreed that the state GOP could begin its rebuild by exerting influence in a race much closer than the 2020 elections: the February Chicago mayoral race.
“Don’t you think we have an opportunity now in this mayoral race with everybody besides you and I not filing to run for Chicago mayor today?” Brady asked Proft. “If we got organized in Chicago and the organization is there and actually stayed together, we might have 8 or 9 percent is a big chunk of what’s going to win the mayoral race. I think it’s an opportunity to reassert ourselves in a real down time.”
Proft replied that it’s a “shame” that Republicans aren’t organized enough to mount a GOP candidate in the “wild west” mayoral race.
“Even if they couldn’t win a runoff, they could get to it,” Proft said. “Even if they couldn’t get to a runoff, they establish a beachhead in Chicago and start to change the conversation in this state. So it’s another failure of the Republican Party, if we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s a failure of the Republican Party to not be in a position to elevate somebody in this mayor’s race with this historic opportunity of this open seat.”
But Brady said the party can still make lemonade out of the situation, saying the lack of a candidate doesn’t equate to the lack of a voice, as there are still a constituency of Republican voters in the city of Chicago.
“These people need to come before the Republicans and say, ‘Hey, if you want our nine percent or whatever we can deliver, this is what we demand. A sugar tax is a bad idea. A 10 percent sales tax is a bad idea,’” Brady said.
Proft, who backed 22 far-right legislative candidates with money from his Liberty Principles PAC, only won a handful of those districts, where most of the candidates were also incumbents and relied more upon the party’s infrastructure than Proft money. Proft said Monday that he nearly stepped away from the election cycle back in August when he first saw polling evidence of a Blue Wave.
“I’ll tell you something i haven’t said publicly: I looked at these races…that my little group supported pre-Labor Day,” Proft said. “And the numbers I saw coming from suburban races — I had a conversation internally with our group: “should we sit this election out?” Because they were that bad.”
Proft didn’t end up pulling his support, but acknowledged he did not do particularly well on Election Day. However, Proft said he wasn’t about to change his methods.
McQueary said that when candidates are vetted by the Tribune’s Editorial Board, she looks for candidates “who are independent thinkers” and “aren’t looking to make friends” in Springfield.
But despite all three panelists’ agreement early on in the conversation that an opposition to longtime House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) shouldn’t be the party’s only message, McQueary closed the conversation saying that the party doesn’t necessarily have to move to the center in order to win elections.
“If these two sides can constantly focus on what the real opposition is, and that should be the Democrats — look at what they’ve done to the state, you don’t need me to go through all the numbers,” McQueary said. “That should be the focus of every conversation that these two gentlemen have and party should have going forward.”
Brady broached the subject of President Donald Trump several times, receiving audible groans from the back of the room when he mentioned the drag Trump had on the party. He also mentioned GOP attorney general candidate Erika Harold as the future of the state’s Republican party, saying she was charismatic and young. Harold is also African American, which many in the Illinois Republican Party pointed to as an asset throughout the campaign.
Proft, on the other hand, decried “identity politics” as “anti-intellectual,” and said he refused to “play the game” of picking ideal candidates by characteristics, rather saying that the party needed to be more aggressive about its conservatism.