Last Tuesday, all eyes turned to House speaker Paul Ryan’s supposedly dramatic Wisconsin primary. But while the spotlight focused on Ryan’s congressional district, less than 150 miles away in northeastern Wisconsin’s eighth congressional district — the home of the Green Bay Packers — Republican state senator Frank Lasee, the establishment favorite, was losing badly in his bid to take over the seat of retiring Republican congressman Reid Ribble. Marine Corps veteran Mike Gallagher beat Lasee by 54 points.
“This is a year where people are so dissatisfied with the status quo,” Gallagher tells National Review in the aftermath of his primary victory. “Should I get elected, my intent is to treat it like a deployment and not like a career.”
Gallagher announced his insurgent candidacy in February — in the seven weeks that followed, his campaign raised half a million dollars. To date, the campaign has raised almost $1.2 million: “Ninety-eight percent of our donations in the primary came from individuals,” Gallagher explains, many of whom served with him in the military.
A former Marine Corps captain, Gallagher served as an intelligence officer during his seven years on active duty. He also worked with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the National Counterterrorism Center, and was a national-security adviser for Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s presidential campaign.
Asked why his message is resonating with voters, Gallagher suggests that “it’s honesty more than anything else.”
He detected a noteworthy change in the minds of community members over the past few years, a change that has made his military record attractive to voters. “People are now profoundly concerned with the threat of radical Islam in particular, but also the rising threats in general,” Gallagher says. “People don’t feel safe anymore, not even in northeastern Wisconsin.”
Asked why his message is resonating with voters, Gallagher suggests that ‘it’s honesty more than anything else.’
Gallagher hopes to combat this fear by focusing on homegrown terrorism — the discussion of which, he says, has been nonexistent in the wake of the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando. “I think first and foremost we need a clear-eyed view of this threat,” Gallagher says. “When you have the Obama administration editing out references to radical Islam in the 911 transcripts after Orlando, it is clear we don’t have a clear-eyed view of the enemy we face.”
In addition to his counterterrorism experience, Gallagher’s tenure at the DEA helped shape his strong stance on immigration. “You can’t have a country without a secure border,” Gallagher says. “It’s a matter of our sovereignty and our national security.”
On the topic of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, Gallagher is “pro-trade” but has “never supported TPP.”
“I think it would be incredibly irresponsible for the president, who has proven to be a terrible negotiator, to ram TPP through Congress,” Gallagher says, although he did maintain — with confidence — that Wisconsin workers could outcompete anyone regardless of the outcome of trade negotiations.
In Congress, Gallagher wants to push for effective trade policies built for the era of the micro multi-national corporation, but TPP, he says, has too many deficiencies to pass Congress. “I don’t think it’s going anywhere. It’s dead and Obama has killed it because he’s dragged his feet for years,” Gallagher says.
After Tuesday’s Republican primary, Gallagher’s Democratic general-election challenger, Tom Nelson, released a scathing statement on Gallagher and TPP. “Mike Gallagher denies that bad trade deals have cost Northeast Wisconsin jobs,” the press release says. “Where I have stood with Wisconsin workers, Mike Gallagher would stand with the multi-national corporations and special interests that write trade deals like NAFTA and TPP that shutter American manufacturing plants and shipping [sic] good-paying jobs overseas.”
#related#Cookie-cutter statements like these, Gallagher says, are exactly the type that make voters fed up with the status quo and give insurgent candidates like him a chance to win. “Less than five minutes after I’ve won the primary he’s making stuff up. I’m not surprised — it’s what career politicians do,” he says. “I think Trump has tapped into this general frustration with the status quo.”
But is the electorate’s frustration with the status quo enough to give a former Marine and first-time candidate a ticket to Capitol Hill? Are the simmering frustrations with a sluggish economy, a porous border, and a deteriorating national-security situation enough to send a non-traditional candidate to Washington? Over the next two and a half months, Mike Gallagher aims to find out.
— Austin Yack is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated since its original publication.