MILLER: Welcome to the new Illinois GOP

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As you’ve probably heard by now, Illinois Republican Party Chair Don Tracy announced his resignation last week, apparently effective the day after the Republican National Convention concludes on July 18.

The announcement came after far-right activists forced out the state party’s vice chair, Mark Shaw, and the resignation of the party’s finance chair, Vince Kolber. Both Shaw and Kolber had made unsuccessful bids for the Republican National Committeeman post days earlier, but were rejected by state convention attendees.

After he first won the chairmanship job in 2021, Tracy said, “Regardless of our differences… Republicans are the only hope for turning Illinois around.”

By last week, Tracy was finally forced to admit the obvious.

“When I took on this full-time volunteer job in February, 2021, I thought I would be spending most of my time fighting Democrats,” he wrote in his resignation letter. Now, however, “we have Republicans who would rather fight other Republicans than engage in the harder work of defeating incumbent Democrats by convincing swing voters to vote Republican.”

It has always been thus. This is what I wrote almost six years ago, in late 2018: “The far right has been obsessed with gaining control of the Illinois Republican Party for as long as I can remember. They’ve only really held the party’s reins once, in 2002 when Gary MacDougal was handed the chairmanship after then-House Republican Leader Lee Daniels was forced to step down during a federal investigation into campaign work on state time that eventually nailed his chief of staff.”

But MacDougal didn’t last long: “Before the year was out he was replaced by then-Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, the only Republican to win statewide during that year’s sweeping Democratic victories. Topinka spent the next few years in almost constant battle with her right flank. But she prevailed and the far right has been shut out ever since.”

When I wrote that story in 2018, Jeanne Ives and the far-right were attempting to oust then-party chair Tim Schneider six months after helping broker a deal that made their guy, Lake County Republican Chair Mark Shaw, a state party co-chair with Schneider. Fast-forward to this month, when that very same Mark Shaw was deemed as aloof from the “grassroots” and had to go and Ives is a member of the state central committee.

Party elders have done whatever they could to keep the party out of the hands of the insurgents. The fear was the insurgents would alienate the “donor class,” the wealthy Republicans who only wanted to deal with people who looked and talked like them.

Also, people who spend their lives yelling “No!” and trying to tear things down rarely, if ever, learn to say “Yes” and build things up. It’s no accident that the state party has had ten different chairpersons in the past 23 years. When you look around the country, though, it’s kind of amazing that the Republican powers that be have held on this long.

Most members of that once-powerful donor class have passed away, retired and/or left Illinois. Kolber, the resigned party finance chair, has contributed more than $1.3 million to campaigns in the past ten years. The state Republican Party’s latest quarterly report showed that Chairman Tracy, his family’s company and his family members accounted for 76 percent of all the ILGOP’s individual contributions – $109,600 out of $144,013.

One of the lesser-known, but highly important aspects of state parties is their access to a federal postage discount. By paying for their direct mail through the state parties, candidates can save a lot of money.  But that requires a level of trust that the parties will spend the money as intended, which is another reason the people who run things want one of their own in there.

But now, it looks like those perpetually aggrieved outsiders could soon take over the party apparatus.

Palatine Township Republican Chairman and state central committeeman Aaron Del Mar wants to be Tracy’s replacement. Del Mar ran as Gary Rabine’s running mate in the 2022 Republican primary. Rabine finished fifth with less than 7 percent of the vote.

Del Mar appeared earlier this month on Ramblin’ Ray Stevens’ WLS Radio show where he cracked two jokes about Gov. JB Pritzker’s weight. Still, that put him in sync with former President Donald Trump, who also recently mocked Pritzker’s weight.

Needless to say, Trump lost Illinois by 17 points in both 2020 and 2016. But, hey, welcome to what looks to be the new Illinois Republican Party.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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