Gov. Bruce Rauner won’t talk about President Donald Trump’s policies, not even the ones that have a huge impact on state government.
Heck, he seems determined to never even say Trump’s name aloud, not wanting to alienate anyone on either side of that divide.
But in remodeling his administration in more conservative hues to better wage a combative bid for re-election, Rauner appears to be borrowing lessons from Trump’s campaign.
In particular the one about “Let Trump be Trump.”
But will it work?
I wouldn’t think so, not in this Democratic-leaning state, which rejected the Republican presidential nominee. But who can say for sure any more?
If Trump’s election taught us anything, it’s that we should take nothing for granted, especially as it relates to the behavior of voters.
It also taught us voters will choose even the most outrageous and boorish of candidates if they think he is authentic and really stands for something. (Of course, it helps if he’s running against a woman they don’t like.)
Enter the new Bruce Rauner. He looks a lot like the old Bruce Rauner, only more so.
We are told the new Rauner — as prepped and promoted by the conservative ideologues brought over from the Illinois Policy Institute as reinforcements — will more closely resemble his candidate self from 2014.
At least, he will look more like the right-leaning one who won the Republican primary. By the general election, you might recall, Rauner’s Democratic wife was helping him apply his moderate makeup to help cover up that ugly blemish left over from when he said he believed in lowering the minimum wage.
I’m guessing that means Rauner will return to his Chicago-blamin’, union-bashin’ (especially teachers), taxpayer-protectin’ “reformer” self.
If so, he’s going to have to do it without one of his closest political advisers, Mike Zolnierowicz, who on Friday joined the exodus from Rauner’s team. Unlike many of the others, Zolnierowicz’ departure was voluntary. He’s moving to another political job.
I can’t say Rauner ever strayed far from his 2014 approach, though maybe he had trouble “getting his message out” after two years of starving out the state’s universities and social service providers.
When you get down to it, no Illinois politician has ever been more consistent than Rauner. Nobody stays on message better than him, no matter how much I might resent the message after hearing it over and over.
It’s like that great story he told my colleague Mike Sneed about the life lessons he learned by waiting all day to catch the big bullfrog in his grandfather’s pond. The man is relentless. While we’re on the subject, how many of you believed the conclusion of that story — where Rauner said he released the frog?
There was never much hope Rauner would release us so readily without getting what he came for — remaking Illinois in the image of Indiana.
Now, all he has to do is convince Illinois voters that two and a half years of getting nothing accomplished — soon to be four — was all part of the foreplay necessary for him to score big on their behalf during a second term.
To repeat: I do not underestimate his ability to do so. He has hundreds of millions of dollars at the ready to sell his message.
In its most simplified version, the Rauner message is: “Blame Mike Madigan. It’s his fault.” Judging from my email inbox, that part of the plan is working to perfection.
At some point, Rauner will have to amend that message to blame the Democratic nominee — for being too close to Madigan.
Here’s another reason that might work, and it relates back to letting Rauner be Rauner.
In the end, every election comes down to the choices involved. And if voters don’t warm to the candidate Democrats put forward, perhaps finding him less authentic if he doesn’t stand for something other than not being Rauner, the governor might get his second chance.
As far as whether he’s taking lessons from Trump, we’ll know for sure if Rauner’s tweets suddenly get a lot more interesting.