Gov. Bruce Rauner’s announcement Thursday afternoon that he plans to sign a major abortion rights bill strongly opposed by most of his fellow Republicans has me for the first time considering two distinct political possibilities.
One. Rauner will now face a serious primary challenge.
So far, no one from the GOP has made a move to challenge Rauner’s renomination. He has a dauntingly large campaign war chest — $67.8 million at last look — and an impressive personal fortune to draw on should those funds run dry.
But money isn’t everything. Just look at Alabama. There, radical conservative Roy Moore handily won Tuesday’s Republican U.S. Senate primary despite reportedly being outspent byTrump-endorsed incumbent Luther Strange by a more than 10-to-1 ratio.
Whether base Republican voters in Illinois are as riled and hungry for disruption of the political order as voters in Alabama is uncertain, but hostile responses from the right during and after Rauner’s announcement suggests that they might well be.
“Bruce Rauner is a failed governor who lied to the people of Illinois,” seethed state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills.
“I have given Bruce Rauner every benefit of the doubt,” said a statement from House Republican floor leader Peter Breen. “ I can no longer support him. And whether or not they are able to agree publicly, I know hundreds of elected Republicans, along with hundreds of thousands of Republican voters, who feel the same way I do.”
I get that. Opposition to abortion runs strong among Republican voters, and Rauner’s decision to sign a bill that expands Medicaid funding of the procedure and includes abortion services in the health insurance plans for state employees disappoints them profoundly.
If an incumbent Democratic governor were to sign a bill championed by foes of abortion rights, you can bet those of us on the left would be hopping mad and looking for an alternative candidate.
If the right can settle on a single, plausible primary opponent for Rauner, a grass-roots effort could well put that candidate over the top despite a massive financial disadvantage.
Asked about the prospect of a primary challenge during a question-and-answer session with reporters following his announcement, a visibly glum Rauner merely intoned, “Politics are politics.”
Yep. And they’re going to get really ugly really fast in the wake of this decision by Rauner.
Two. Rauner will decide not to run.
Being governor of Illinois can’t be much fun these days, especially when the rank and file of both political parties are disgusted with you, you’ve been unable to fulfill any of your significant campaign promises and odds are very good that your next term will see just as much gridlock as your first term.
Rauner has tried to shake up Springfield per his promise in 2014, but his strategy of browbeating, name-calling and budgetary hostage-taking has beaten up Springfield instead. Yes, he inherited a mess from his Democratic predecessor, Pat Quinn. But nearly every problem has gotten worse on Rauner’s watch.
Even he can’t be liking the sound of four more years of the same, preceded by a relentless battering from an energized field of Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls.
Rauner is a wealthy man who doesn’t need this job and has learned, even if he won’t say so publicly, that he’s not very good at it.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan shocked the Illinois political establishment with her recent announcement that she would not seek re-election to a fifth term. A similar announcement from Rauner, while more consequential, would be far less shocking under the circumstances.
I didn’t hear back when I queried his campaign about this possibility Thursday. But the haggard man dully answering reporters’ questions that afternoon while bracing for the howls of betrayal from his former supporters didn’t look like someone braced for the political fight of his life.
He looked like he was done.