Rauner’s winter of woes just beginning—but spring may come

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For Bruce Rauner, next November and the 2016 general election can’t come fast enough.

Illinois’ GOP governor is suffering through another one of those weeks, caught in a sort of awkward middle ground where no one really likes him. Just in the past seven days no fewer than four of the state’s Republican congressmen made it clear they’re not now backing Rauner for a new term, his financial relationship with big-contributor Dick Uihlein came under fire, and the governor himself seemed to waffle on whether he’s for or against the big tax bill pending in Washington.

Then the National Review, long a pillar of the conservative Republican establishment, labeled him the worst GOP governor in the country—this only an hour or two before Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Chris Kennedy blasted him for endorsing the “disastrous” tax bill.

It’s all got to be weighing on the Chicago private-equity mogul who thought he would save the state. It certainly is showing on his increasingly haggard face.

The National Review piece was greeted with unrestrained joy by state Rep. Jeanne Ives, the Wheaton conservative who is opposing Rauner in the upcoming GOP primary.

“Republicans understand that Gov. Rauner is unelectable,” Ives declared in a statement. “He betrayed his party’s values. He broke promises. And lied about his intentions, most notably on a bill that forces taxpayer funding of abortion on demand.”

Ives is right about the latter. Rauner was for abortion rights, then against them, before he finally was for them again. The position irritated just about everybody on all sides of the volatile abortion issue and was only the latest sign a guy who couldn’t get his own way on taxes, workers compensation reform, spending or lots of other things couldn’t find a middle ground to get what he needed.

“He never understood the concept of 30 and 60,” quips Greg Baise, the veteran Republican who heads the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, referring to the number of votes needed to pass a bill in the Democratic-controlled Senate and House, respectively.

To put it a little differently, it took Rauner three years to learn, if he really has learned, the difference between firing off orders as a private-equity chieftain and governing a mostly Democratic blue state.

That having been said, though, Ives is way, way to the political right, not only on social but many economic issues. And recent Illinois political history suggests that when given a choice between a moderate like Jim Thompson or Jim Edgar, and a conservative such as Steve Baer or Jack Roeser, a majority of Illinois Republicans side with the moderate.

Rauner had better hope that calculus still holds. If it does, he’ll get to the more fertile territory of attacking Democrats like Speaker Mike Madigan.

Indeed, Rauner’s campaign spokesman stressed that same National Review piece “pointed out that Mike Madigan and his cronies have consistently blocked Gov. Rauner’s reform agenda just to protect their own corrupt practices.”

That’s a clear sign of where Bruce Rauner wants to go this campaign season: to a place where he’s not running against himself but against Madigan and whoever the Democrats nominate for governor. In that contest, all the nasty things Ives and the conservatives are saying about him now actually might help help by sort of inoculating him, allowing him to say in the general election contest that he’s not that extreme.

First, though, Rauner has to make it through the winter. As any Chicagoan can tell you, winter hereabouts can be long and bitter before the crocuses finally bloom.

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