Editorial: After state GOP’s disastrous midterms, the way forward is clear. Break free from far …

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No one expected Illinois to shape-shift from blue to red on Tuesday. Republican Darren Bailey’s quixotic bid for governor was a long shot endeavor. Illinois’ General Assembly has been solidly Democratic for some time, and the best that Republicans could have expected was a narrowing of the margin, a strong showing that would stoke hope for elections to come.

Instead, the Illinois GOP found itself on the wrong end of a drubbing.

Republicans lost every state constitutional office — governor, attorney general, secretary of state, comptroller and treasurer — and 14 of 17 congressional seats. In the General Assembly, not only did the GOP fail to gain any ground on Democrats’ supermajority, Democrats notched a record number of seats in the Illinois House. And in the Illinois Supreme Court, where Republicans had an opportunity to gain two seats and secure a majority, they came up short. Democrats now have a comfortable 5-2 edge in the state’s high court.

What went wrong?

It starts with identity. Illinois Republicans don’t have a coherent one. The party that long ago succeeded on a platform of fiscal conservatism and socially moderate policies allowed itself to become infected with Donald Trump-inspired extremism. The fallout from that has become especially apparent in Chicago suburbs, a part of the metro region once dominated by the GOP and now much more Democratic than it has ever been.

Far-right politics — calls to ban abortion, even in cases of rape and incest, for example — don’t play well in the suburbs. And yet, in endorsement interviews many GOP candidates parroted the Trumpian agenda that embraces outright abortion bans, book banning in schools, and in the case of several candidates, the inane belief that fraud tainted the 2020 presidential election.

Though Bailey told us during an endorsement session this fall that Joe Biden was legitimately elected president, shortly after the 2020 election he fumed about the results, saying “all this fraudulent activity is absolutely disgusting. It’s wrong. It’s, in my opinion, almost the highest form of treason in our country.”

Election deniers also popped up in Illinois House races. Elgin Republican Angela Hallock Nowak, who lost to Democratic incumbent Anna Moeller in the 43rd District, told us, “If I were on a jury and the case in front of me was election fraud in the 2020 election, I’d have a hard time ignoring the evidence that has been presented.” Republican Tom Martens of Rock Island, who lost to Democrat Gregg Johnson in the 72nd District, told us he was convinced the 2020 presidential election was stolen because “drop boxes were being stuffed with multiple ballots dozens of times by people going from nongovernmental organizations to the drop boxes for months before the election.”

Illinois GOP leaders only have to look at midterm results at the national level to see the folly of continuing to march lockstep behind Trump. The red wave that Republicans had been banking on amounted to a soft, purling ripple. The GOP appears poised to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives, but not with the majority the party wanted. A few election deniers won, but many more lost. Conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro’s tweet summed it up. “From red wave to red wedding.”

So where do Illinois Republicans go from here?

They can begin by finding the biggest set of bolt cutters they can find and breaking free from their tethers to Trump and his toxic politics. Breathe deep, renunciate and move on. As long as Illinois Republicans regard fealty to the Trump agenda as a ticket to victory, they’ll continue to suffer morale-crushing defeats like the results Illinois saw Tuesday night.

Second, the Illinois GOP needs to sharpen its focus on everything that’s wrong with Democratic dominance in Springfield.

The state’s pension debt is estimated to reach $143 billion this year, according to the Reason Foundation, and Democrats have ignored the best and only fix — structural pension reform that finally remedies what for years has been Illinois’ biggest existential crisis. Democrats also have done nothing to ease the property tax burden that weighs heavily on Illinoisans at a time of stifling inflation. The Illinois GOP must do a much better job positioning itself as the sensible counterpoint to Democrats’ addiction to tax-and-spend governance. And there is no downside to pledging to try to keep voters safe from violent crime.

All of this feels like deja vu. After the Illinois GOP’s dismal showing in the 2018 midterms, we urged Republicans to “stop the self-destruction.” After Tuesday’s disastrous results, it’s clear they didn’t heed the call. For the sake of the party, and for the sake of movement toward better-balanced, two-party governance in this state, they should listen to us now.

Join the discussion on Twitter @chitribopinions and on Facebook.

Submit a letter, of no more than 400 words, to the editor here or email letters@chicagotribune.com.

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November 11, 2022 at 07:10PM

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