A Heartland Battle for the GOP’s Soul

With the come-from-behind triumph of J. D. Vance last week in the Ohio U.S. Senate primary, the America First movement looks to earn similar victories in other states. The cause of populist patriotism accelerates among voters as the Deplorables continue to transform the Republican Party, thwarting the tired, corporatist agenda of the establishment GOP. 

In Illinois, the race for governor presents a clear America First champion in the primary with State Senator Darren Bailey. If Bailey can prevail over his big-money, establishment rival in the Republican primary, then the America First cause may have a realistic chance to unseat the disastrous incumbent governor, J. B. Pritzker. 

In both 2016 and 2020, Donald Trump upended the electoral map by putting once solidly Democratic states such as Michigan up for grabs as swing states. Could Illinois be next?

Darren Bailey brings a Trumpian approach to political office, meaning he is an outsider who speaks bluntly and fiercely disrupts supposedly sacrosanct political practices. A southern Illinois businessman and farmer, he only recently entered politics. Like Trump, Bailey enjoyed a comfortable and successful life in the private sector. He and his wife started a Christian school together. Bailey ran a prosperous business and enjoyed his large family of children and grandchildren.

But citizen Bailey was called to political action in 2018 when he grew incensed that the establishment Republican Governor Bruce Rauner betrayed his own promises and raised taxes. Bailey the political novice challenged and summarily beat an incumbent, prevailing as a true conservative over a squishy GOP state representative. Then in 2020, Bailey prevailed in his state senate race as a staunchly pro-Trump, unashamedly America First leader.

While in the legislature, Bailey garnered statewide and national attention for his strong opposition to Governor Pritzker’s tyrannical lockdowns. Pritzker’s overreaction created enormous backlash, especially when it was revealed that he and his own family disregarded the punishing, ineffective constraints the governor himself imposed. For example, his family fled locked-down Illinois on private planes to Pritzker’s luxury horse estate near Palm Beach in the free state of Florida. At that same time, the governor forbade unnecessary travel for the “peasants” of Illinois. 

Bailey took action. He sued Pritzker over these illegal and unscientific restrictions. Bailey won early decisions to protect the rights of businesses, churches, and schools to determine their own virus mitigation protocols. Even though Pritzker eventually prevailed in front of some corrupt judges on appeal, Bailey effectively galvanized citizens to fight for their constitutional rights.

Bailey brings that same tenacity to the governor’s race, where he represents the clear choice for the new Republican Party. He espouses toughness on crime, school choice, the right to life, and gun rights. 

In contrast, Bailey’s chief primary rival Richard Irvin represents the worst kind of manipulated political scheming from powerful backroom interests. 

For starters, Irvin is a Democrat, and a strident one, having voted in seven of the last eight Democratic primaries, which determines party allegiance in the state of Illinois. Even worse, Irvin brazenly supported the radical Black Lives Matter movement, just as BLM-sponsored riots terrorized Chicago and engaged in open street battles against brave city cops. Irvin bragged: “I support Black Lives Matter strongly and passionately.”

At that same time, Irvin used his social media accounts as mayor of suburban Aurora, Illinois, to boldly proclaim his thanks for the election of Biden in 2020. Even now, Irvin cowardly ducks questions about 2020 or where he stands on Trump. 

So, how does such a limp and liberal candidate stand a chance in a GOP primary? The simple answer is that Irvin enjoys the massive financial sponsorship of hedge fund magnate Ken Griffin, the richest man in Illinois, a state where donations for state office are unlimited. Griffin believes he can fool the citizens of Illinois with a rebranded and repackaged stooge candidate pretending to be conservative. 

In reality, Griffin effectively surrenders to left-wing Democrats with his tired, Republican establishment attempt to market a “Democrat-lite” candidate as a conservative. Griffin the mogul plays the part of controlled opposition as he pays to prop up a phony.

Griffin himself luxuriates at a $100 million megamansion in Palm Beach, not far from Pritzker’s equine estate. The two of them share more than proximate second homes, though. They both benefit from a corrupt and rigged system that the ruling class constructs for their own self-aggrandizement, to the detriment of working-class voters. 

For example, gasoline prices in Illinois have reached a staggering $4.56 per gallon, well above the national average. In Chicago, the average price is nearly $5 per gallon, compared to only $2.54 when Pritzker was elected in 2018. The Biden-Pritzker agenda inflicts misery on everyday citizens. But those exorbitant prices present merely a minor nuisance to the jet-set mentality of Pritzker and Ken Griffin. Likewise, Griffin can well afford the millions he spends on his mannequin puppet candidate, Richard Irvin.

But the citizens of Illinois cannot afford to be fooled. Once Bailey dispatches with this pretend conservative Irvin, can he beat Pritzker? In deeply Democrat Illinois, can an America First stalwart prevail? 

The numbers suggest that Pritzker’s vulnerabilities, in a likely red wave year, put this race in play. 

One of the state’s most accurate pollsters, Victory Research, shows that only 51.7 percent of voters believe Pritzker deserves reelection. Also, note that Pritzker spent a staggering $170 million of his inherited fortune to win in 2018, when he ran against a deeply unpopular Republican incumbent who was nearly upended in a brutal primary battle with Bailey ally Jeanne Ives. 

Now Pritzker faces an understandably angry electorate, anxious about spiraling prices and sickening street crime. For instance, murders in Chicago under Pritzker rose from an already-troubling 561 in 2018 to a truly staggering 800 in 2021.

Moreover, Pritzker faces a formidable national backdrop of Democrat failure. For instance, Joe Biden’s approval rating in Illinois stands now at 43 percent versus 47 percent disapproval, down from a 57-34 percent approval/disapproval rating. That’s a stunning decline of  27 net percentage points, per Civiqs polling. Biden’s implosion, even in a state Democrats take for granted, points to serious potential for an intrepid outsider like Darren Bailey. 

About Steve Cortes

Steve Cortes is senior advisor for strategy to the Trump 2020 campaign and played college football at Georgetown University.

Photo: iStock/Getty Images

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