We are long-time Republicans who have served in GOP leadership at the county, district, and state levels in Wisconsin. After the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, we decided to ask our local Oconto County, Wisconsin Republican Party to consider a non-violence resolution at their 2021 County GOP Caucus.
What happened when we did was revealing.
Oconto is a small county—26,000 registered voters out of a total population of 38,000—in northeastern Wisconsin. It extends northwest from the exurbs of Green Bay to the sawmill-turned-tourism towns of the Wisconsin Northwoods. Manufacturing is dominant in the southern portion of the county, agriculture in the mid-section, and tourism areas are intermingled with the timberlands in the north. Generally, Oconto is characterized as small-town rural and, despite a small Latino population largely working on dairy farms and in meatpacking factories, is both heavily white and overwhelmingly Republican.
Former President Donald Trump carried Oconto County by 37 points in 2016 and 41 points in 2020. Local Republican congressional candidates, as well as partisan state and local candidates, regularly outperform the Democratic candidates 2:1 at the ballot box. Oconto County has been, in many ways and for many years, reflective of the base of the Republican party in Wisconsin.
The premise of our resolution was straightforward and non-partisan:
[A]ll political parties have a civic responsibility to promote their ideals in as productive a way as possible . . . all violence and all actions that may condone violence to attain political ends are destructive to our governance as well as our democratic way of life.
Additionally, the resolution called for a free, open, and civil discourse in the political arena which serves to uphold Republican goals in a unifying rather than a divisive manner. It opposed violence as a means to any political end and condemned all political violence of the past year, be it by members of political parties or by organizations in support of political parties or party agendas.
Finally, it condemned any ongoing or future violence, as well as any incitement to same, used as a calculated means to achieve political ends.
The resolution was considered by the Oconto County GOP at the party’s 2021 Caucus on February 13.
After what has been described by caucus-goers as a “lively back and forth” concerning the intent of and need for such a resolution, the caucus voted the resolution down on a voice vote—estimated for us by attendees at roughly 55 percent against and 45 percent in favor.
There was the sense from those opposed to the resolution that they did not need to be told “what is right and wrong,” so it appears to have struck a personal nerve with some even though we carefully drafted the resolution to express an organizational message that condemned uncivil actions and not specific parties or individuals.
There are, of course, many possible motivating factors behind any individual vote. But we do have some survey data as context. A recent American Survey Center poll found that nearly 4 in 10 Republicans see a legitimate place for political violence in our political discourse.
Which isn’t all that far from the 55 percent who voted against our resolution.
Beyond our wholehearted support for the sentiment and the focus of the resolution, we were also interested to learn how our fellow Republican party members (and the party apparatus) would react to an internal petition in favor of more neighborliness and less tribalism in the day-to-day maneuverings within our political process.
For us, the defeat of the resolution, while not entirely unforeseen, carries some disappointment. We saw it as a straightforward first step to restoring political civility and building on traditional Republican principles going forward—and we decided to start this movement within our own sphere of political acceptance and influence. With our neighbors.
We are still unabashedly Republicans and it is clear to us that Republican organizations, at all levels, are facing an influx of new members who do not have much in the way of knowledge, history, or appreciation of traditional Republican principles.
This can sometimes be a good thing—there’s a reason organizations value fresh blood. But it can also be a bad thing if many of the new members are less interested in political philosophies and more interested in anger and indignation. What happens then is that instead of the party being infused with new energy and thinking, it devolves into a vector for rancor and division.
Which is why, in recent months, the focus of many local GOP organizations has shifted away from solving problems and toward blowing things up.
At least in our neighborhood, we can now see that a number of these newly enlisted Republicans appear to have come to the GOP not for the ideology or the philosophy, but for the signs, the flags and, the fight.
So much so that they can’t even bring themselves to assert the most basic of our shared values: That violence has no place in democratic life.
2021 Republican Party of Oconto County Wisconsin Proposed Resolution 2021:
Statement on Political Discourse
Whereas, our Founding Fathers created a Republic wherein political progress is attained through discourse in the marketplace of ideas; and
Whereas, all political parties have a civic responsibility to promote their ideals in as productive a way as possible; and
Whereas, failure to make a good faith effort to achieve consensus serves only to divide and harm us; and
Whereas, all violence and all actions that may condone violence to attain political ends are destructive to our governance as well as our democratic way of life.
Now, Therefore Be It Resolved that the Republican Party of Oconto County, in caucus assembled:
- Supports free, open and civil discourse in the political arena which serves to uphold Republican goals in a unifying rather than a divisive manner, and without the perception of threats and physical intimidation; and
- Opposes violence as a means to any political end; and
- Condemns all political violence of the past year, be it by members of political parties or organizations in support of political parties or their agendas; and
- Condemns any ongoing or future violence, as well as incitement to same, used as a method to achieve political ends.