GOP leaders try to rally party's troops
That was not quite the message, but that was the subtext as the stars of Wisconsin's Republican Party spoke to GOP members from Green, Rock and Walworth counties Sunday night in Janesville.
The overt message was: This is a time to get back to basics.
After taking "a licking" in Washington and Madison last November, Republicans need to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and present an alternative to the failed socialist policies of the past, Rep. Paul Ryan told the crowd at The Armory, where they had assembled for their annual Lincoln Day celebration.
Also speaking were Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, state party Chairman Reince Priebus, state Supreme Court candidate Randy Koschnick and Rose Fernandez, one of five candidates for superintendent of public instruction in the Feb. 17 primary.
"This is not a time to sulk," Ryan said. "This is not a time to be licking our wounds. This is a time to get back to our basic principles."
Walker, a Delavan native, laid out those principles simply: Smaller government, lower taxes and personal responsibility.
"We've got to talk about tax cuts instead of pork," Walker said.
Walker, who has not yet announced that he will run for governor in 2010, said there is reason for optimism. He noted that every incumbent Republican governor won re-election in 2008.
Walker said the problem is not with Republican ideals but with its messengers. He criticized Sen. John McCain, who he said did not deliver the Republican message and, he said, probably didn't believe in it.
Walker shot most of his arrows at Democrat Gov. Jim Doyle for leading the state into an economic quagmire.
"His failed leadership has got to go," Walker said. "It's time to get rid of him. It's time to get rid of the Democrat majority in the Assembly."
Walker spoke glowingly of former President Ronald Reagan and former Gov. Tommy Thompson, saying the GOP can win if takes its cue from those leaders.
Ryan said the GOP must consider what it means to be a political party. The goal, he said, is not to destroy the Democrats but to make America great.
"They are not our enemies," he said of the Dems. "They are our opponents."
And, Ryan acknowledged, "They run everything."
Republicans must point out when something is wrong, as they did with the massive stimulus package now before Congress, and they must present alternatives, Ryan said.
Ryan got the biggest round of applause when he mentioned the solid Republican opposition to the stimulus bill, even though he said it is sure to pass.
But do not despair, party faithful.
"We're going to rebuild this party," Priebus said. "We're going to be the party of Lincoln once again."