The late ultraconservative Boston City Councilor Albert “Dapper” O’Neil always used to boast that when he ran for re-election, they wouldn’t count the votes in his landslide wins; they would weigh them. I wouldn’t be surprised if House Speaker Paul Ryan makes a similar boast after his next re-election effort.
Randy Bryce, the Democratic ironworker who plans to challenge Ryan, is unquestionably an inspiring candidate with an inspiring story, and his candidacy holds the promise of Democrats finally finding a way to attract working-class white voters. The problem is that for the foreseeable future, it’s a false promise–and reality will impose itself upon the fantasy when Ryan and Bryce square off.
Bryce is a compelling speaker. He is eloquent in his condemnation of the scorn Ryan, Donald Trump and the Republican Party hold for average Americans, the atrocity of inadequate health care and the moral bankruptcy of right-wing politics. However, Wisconsin’s perverse political culture will burn Bryce beyond recognition with rhetorical napalm.
Last week, I noted the dishonesty of right-wing Badger State radio host and MSNBC personality Charlie Sykes, who has made a new career of denouncing Donald Trump for supposedly going too far, while continuing to embrace the radicalism of, among others, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Sykes and fellow right-wing radio raconteur Mark Belling were among the forces that drove Wisconsin as far to the right as possible, paving the way for the likes of Walker and Senator Ron Johnson, who unseated progressive icon Russ Feingold in 2010, and defeated Feingold in a 2016 rematch. (Was there a countervailing media force that attempted to keep Wisconsin on the progressive side of the ledger? The question answers itself.)
The political culture Sykes, Belling and their right-wing allies created still controls that state, and will do all within its considerable power to brutalize Bryce. It won’t be long until we see ads and op-eds blasting Bryce as a fraud who claims that he will fight for the working class but will surely abandon them if elected, a stealth candidate who will obey orders from Nancy Pelosi to ensure that generous welfare benefits are provided to “undesirables” in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Everything the right wing planned to do to Bernie Sanders had he defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primary, they will do to Bryce.
Even without the inevitable right-wing onslaught, Bryce faces long odds, as the Washington Post notes:
[I]t’ll take more than a great ad and working class cred to elect Bryce.
The district covers southeastern Wisconsin from the city of Janesville in the west to Racine and Kenosha to the east on Lake Michigan, south of Milwaukee. It’s Republican. It hasn’t elected a Democrat since 1993. And Ryan has won it with ease since he was first elected nearly 20 years ago.
It went for Trump by 11 percentage points last fall. Ryan won by 35 points.
On top of that, Bryce’s three prior attempts at winning elected office have failed.
He lost a Democratic primary for state assembly in 2012. Two years later, in 2014, Bryce was defeated in the general election for state senate. And in 2013 he lost a 10-way primary for Racine County Board of Education, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Of course, John Kerry had a near-flawless electoral record when he challenged then-President George W. Bush in 2004…and you saw what right-wing media did to him.
Many progressives will be convinced that Bryce can do the impossible. Many progressives will be in for a rude, but necessary, awakening. Right-wingers, in Wisconsin and elsewhere, created a disinformation machine for the express purpose of stopping candidates such as Bryce–and stopping ideas such as single-payer health care, which Bryce supports. If–or rather when–disinformation destroys the Bryce campaign, perhaps we’ll finally be ready to face the reality that progressive candidates and ideas need media machines behind them (the way right-wing candidates and ideas do) in order to score any points on the playing field of politics.