There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned Twitter war to shape a news cycle, for better or for worse. Congressman Sean Duffy, who represents Wisconsin’s 7th district, started one recently after he called Madison a “communist community” on Fox News.
The comment might strike some as a minor gaffe, but Duffy is no out-of-control, off-script flame thrower. He’s strategically savvy and very much in control of his message.
Instead, I see a potential strategy for Duffy: leveraging his cable news appearances to grow his statewide conservative credibility. If that was Duffy’s intent, another Wisconsin congressman, Mark Pocan – who represents the Madison area – took the bait by demanding an apology.
— Greg Neumann (@gneumann_wkow) December 7, 2016
Rep. Pocan, who is quite cordial but also very progressive, boldly went on Tucker Carlson’s new show (already famous for Carlson’s relentless grilling of his progressive guests) to explain that Duffy is misguidedly “Trumpizing” Wisconsin politics by slinging insults in the model of Donald Trump. Pocan advertised the appearance on Twitter, extending the social media battle.
— Rep. Mark Pocan (@repmarkpocan) December 9, 2016
Carlson read the Wisconsin Communist Party’s platform on-air and asked what part of it Pocan disagrees with. Brushing the question aside, Pocan criticized Duffy’s tongue-in-cheek response to Pocan’s apology demand. Duffy had tweeted in reply that The Left has no sense of humor and offered to send puppies to Madison’s safe spaces as a consolation.
The PC crowd is humorless. For those offended by my "communist" comment, I'll send a therapy dog to your "safe place" of choice in Madison.
— Sean Duffy (@RepSeanDuffy) December 7, 2016
Within one media cycle, the story had made its way into the mainstream media. More importantly, conservative commentators – mainly seated in deep-red southeast Wisconsin – saddled up to defend Duffy and, in the process, repeat and magnify Duffy’s comments about Madison being a communist enclave, as well as his poking fun at eminently mockable lefty concepts like therapy puppies and safe spaces. What do those statements have in common?
They’re ambrosia – red meat – for conservatives.
As for “Trumpizing” Wisconsin politics, Pocan might’ve missed Politics 101 and the entire 2016 presidential election. Trump was successful by constantly picking on a foil – the mainstream media, by the end of the campaign. Democrats have tried in the past few years, unsuccessfully, to use the Koch Brothers as their foil.
By picking a city he will never come close to winning in a hypothetical statewide contest – one that most Wisconsinites look at in the Dreyfusian witticism as 76 square miles surrounded by reality – Duffy couldn’t have chosen a better foil.
Duffy leveraged one comment on Fox News into a multi-day media cycle aimed at conservatives in southeast Wisconsin. A congressman from far-northern Wisconsin, Duffy would need to make rapid and solid inroads with voters in the super-conservative Milwaukee suburbs, which is an indispensable puzzle piece for any Republican looking to win a statewide race.
The question is whether Duffy is looking to mount a statewide race, which at this point is pure speculation. I’ve previously written that Duffy would be an ideal contender to run for U.S. Senate against Sen. Tammy Baldwin (also a creature of Madison) in 2018. I also said one of Duffy’s unique strengths versus other possible Republican contenders is that he’s all but immune to being dragged down by his support of Trump, as Pocan tried to do:
That calculus is this: Duffy was a strong Trump supporter from the very beginning. This turned out to be genius; Duffy’s district swung heavily for Trump in both the primary and general elections, and newfound GOP voters in rural areas could prove crucial.That calculus is this: Duffy was a strong Trump supporter from the very beginning. This turned out to be genius; Duffy’s district swung heavily for Trump in both the primary and general elections, and newfound GOP voters in rural areas could prove crucial…
Trump won Duffy’s district handily. He also won Democrat Ron Kind’s 3rd District. If the Trump trend holds, Duffy would enter the race with a decided advantage among rural voters – not just because of Trump, but because of the rural appeal Duffy has maintained since voters first sent him to Congress to replace retiring lefty Dave Obey in 2010.
Duffy has handily won re-election ever since.
In addition to winning Wisconsin overall, Trump won the all-important Fox Valley by a considerable margin. Further, a Duffy candidacy for Senate – should he emerge from a potential primary – would certainly be embraced by voters in the WOW counties, among the deepest-red counties in the country.
Pocan’s Trump attack could only enhance Duffy’s standing in much of the state’s rural counties that led Wisconsin to becoming a Trump state:
If Sean Duffy wanted to expand his name ID to crucial conservative enclaves beyond his own vast northern Wisconsin district and others that went for Trump (like Democrat Ron Kind’s 3rd district) – which are areas the Democrats have relied on in the past to tip the balance in narrow statewide races – then he could’ve executed no more perfect a strategy to endear himself in places like Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington Counties and the Fox Valley than he did via the “commy-gate” comment.