The Corner

Kleefisch’s Challenge

Caledonia, Wis. — The 4,000 Wisconsin tea-party activists rallying at Gorney Park this morning were a “red” crowd. But on stage, Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch was working blue.

Kleefisch, who is facing a recall challenge on Tuesday from Madison firefighter Mahlon Mitchell, began her fiery speech by invoking David and Goliath. She likened the “big union bosses from out of state” to Goliath, accusing them of coming to Wisconsin to “pick a fight with David.”  Kleefisch pointed out that in the story, David had five stones, then rattled off a number of the reforms Governor Scott Walker enacted, calling them her “stones.”

Pausing briefly, Kleefisch raised her voice, and said, “Our opponents, despite their money and their muscle, don’t have the stones!” After a few seconds of stunned laughs and cheers, she continued.  “I was in the middle of a sentence,” she cautioned.  “Our opponents don’t have the stones to move Wisconsin forward like you do,” she clarified.

Later, Kleefisch would tell me that her timely pause wasn’t intentional.  “I was in the middle of telling a Bible story and people just started laughing. I can’t explain it,” she said.

The event was sponsored by the Racine County TEA Party, and held in a spacious, grassy park just south of Milwaukee.  Before the event began, a bus from Americans for Prosperity pulled up on the opposite end of the park to provide an opening act.  AFP president Tim Phillips took the microphone and showered Governor Walker with compliments, calling him a “national star.” Phillips added that Walker even looks like a star — “he’s a good looking guy, right?”#more#

Event organizers noted how dedicated their attendees are; in February of 2011, just as Walker was introducing his plan to scale back collective bargaining, the Tea Party held a frigid outdoor event. Yet even in 18 degree weather, 4,000 conservatives showed up. Today, the weather was 75 degrees and sunny, but some attendees still faced challenges. Before the featured guests began their speeches, two elderly ladies sat patiently next to the stage speakers as Muse’s “Uprising” blared at unconscionable levels.

While the presenters spoke, local luminaries circled the crowd.  Racine county executive Jim Ladwig discussed with me the myriad ways Walker’s reforms have helped not only his county’s fiscal situation, but its ability to provide public services.  Ladwig says that last week, the county had an employee show up at work with a .234 blood alcohol level. Instead of going through the usual bureaucratic red tape needed to fire the employee, Ladwig says, he was simply allowed to let him go on the spot.

Under normal circumstances, Congressman Paul Ryan, who represents the Racine area, would be the day’s headliner; Kleefisch stole that title for the day. But Ryan gave an impassioned speech to his constituents.  “On Tuesday, we save Wisconsin!” he thundered.  “On November 6th, Wisconsin saves America!”

The recall “doesn’t make any sense,” Ryan told the crowd.  “If the recall is successful, they’ll just keep doing it. Any time a person of conviction gets elected and does what he says he will do in office, he’ll get recalled.  We’re not going to let that happen here in Wisconsin.”

Ryan pointed out that Democrats have completely dropped collective bargaining, the stated reason for instigating the recall, as a campaign issue. “You turn on the TV lately, you think they’re making arguments against these reforms? No! They’re just trying to destroy Scott Walker.  That’s all that’s happening here.  Divide, distort, destroy, distract!”

Ryan finished by emphasizing America’s fascination with the Wisconsin recall. “This is an election that will send shock waves throughout America,” he said.  “This is either a momentum-maker or momentum-breaker.  The stakes are as high as they ever could be.  Because courage is on the ballot Tuesday,” he finished, echoing a line he has often used.

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, who wasn’t scheduled to appear, briefly addressed the crowd as a “surprise” guest.  Priebus called public unions “the beast that never gets enough and will eat us out of house and home.”  Later, Priebus would downplay the GOP’s chances on Tuesday, telling reporters, “I just assume, being from here, that we have to scratch and prod at everything we do.”

Other speakers included conservative talk-radio host Vicki McKenna,’s Dana Loesch, Tony Katz from All Patriots Media, and State Senator Van Wangaard, who is facing a recall election.

— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute and writes the Yankee Review.