How Classic Wisconsin Political Moves Propelled Paul Ryan to Speaker

How Classic Wisconsin Political Moves Propelled Paul Ryan to Speaker

Michael Grebe’s Bradley Foundation influence will live on at the Capitol with Janesville’s Paul Ryan as Speaker of the House.

A recent edition of Time magazine wrote about The “Reasonable Nutjob Caucus”. The article explains the Freedom Caucus a bit. Although Rep. Paul Ryan wasn’t a slam dunk at the time of the article, it acknowledged Ryan’s challenge in holding the Republican House of Representatives together as Speaker.

Ryan is being asked to negotiate between the Republican establishment and the Freedom Caucus, and odds are he will do it well. While media has made much of a list of demands from Ryan prior to taking the job, no one has framed that list for what it really was: calling the Freedom Caucus bluff.

Ryan’s tactics in this matter are classic Wisconsin political moves. Fellow Wisconsinite and Chairman of the Republican National Committee Reince Preibus used very similar methods in Wisconsin once. As the head of the Republican committee in this state, he slid the Tea Party under the big umbrella. The more that conservative organizations moved away from traditionally favored Republican candidates, the more Reince would make himself present, put his arm around the shoulder of a Tea Party organizer, and gently rein them in with a firm reminder of how much the party would miss their leadership. In Wisconsin, the Establishment of the GOP became the face of the Tea Party.

It’s a learned tactic. The Freedom Caucus is about to identify with GOP establishment in ways they never anticipated.

While Ryan and Preibus have carefully studied the maneuver, Gov. Scott Walker doesn’t use it so well. In part, it’s because he prefers control to results. While he was involved in managing his own campaign for President the last few months, some of that Wisconsin influence was set aside. Mentors like Michael Grebe from the Bradley Foundation, the common denominator in Ryan, Preibus, and Walker, became less important to Walker, and it eventually cost him with an early withdrawal from that race.

Grebe, who serves as President and CEO, started as a Milwaukee attorney and made a very important interim play as chief legal counsel for the RNC from 1984 to 2002. From President Ronald Reagan’s second term through the GOP’s Contract with America to a couple of years after George W. Bush’s pregnant-chad win in 2000, Grebe was a part of it all.

Now Michael Grebe, 74, is retiring from his Bradley post. Walker, his brightest hope, failed spectacularly, and time has run out to groom another. Still, Grebe succeeded in placing Preibus, and to America’s (but not my!) surprise, Ryan. Surely Grebe is pleased with his legacy as a political puppeteer.

The Bradley Foundation is old money in Milwaukee. Perhaps that’s what keeps Wisconsin at the center of national politics. The ying and yang of not two but four political parties in our state (in addition to Democrat and Republican we do Socialist and Libertarian rather well here, too) keeps Wisconsin on its toes. It makes sense that leadership can rise from here as Wisconsin politicians are well tested.

So what’s next? Watch to see who the Bradley Foundation taps as their next president. The organization has begun a national search for their next leader. Conservative talk show host Mark Belling thinks competitor Charlie Sykes would be a good candidate. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on Wisconsin for the replacement.

Also, do not think Wisconsin is alone in providing puppet-masters. Look to who is dancing in the national media. Someone like Freedom Caucus leader Jim Jordan (Ohio – 4th District) likely has a similar mentor. Could it be that another mastermind is at work in the background?

Finally, keep an eye on Paul Ryan. He’s been pressed into service as Speaker of the House against any plans of his own. He met that challenge by taming 40 far-right Republican House members. If the Republican presidential race falls apart, he could well be shuffled in as the party’s presidential nominee.



Cindy Kilkenny holds a degree in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. She has written columns for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's "Purple Wisconsin." She's mother to three and grandmother to one. She and her husband live in Brookfield.