PEORIA, Ill., May 22, 2016 — Not everything in politics is loud and angry. In a quiet city in Middle America, calm people held a peaceful meeting. At the Peoria Civic Center, the Illinois Republican Party held a lovefest disguised as the state party’s 2016 convention.
Conventions are often rough and tumble. The convention in Peoria was an outbreak of harmony and niceness.
Peoria is not Chicago, a fact people in Peoria wear as a badge of honor. For coastal snobs who love a political smackdown, Peoria is a boring city in a boring part of the country.
For Normal America, this was a case of decent people behaving in a civil manner. Why should Republicans fight with each other when there is nothing to fight about?
Gov. Bruce Rauner had the convention crowd cheering when he vowed never to raise taxes. It is one thing to say this while running for office. Getting elected, keeping campaign promises and reminding the audience to stand on principle is something many Republicans have forgotten. Rauner is wealthy, but he is still a plainspoken Midwesterner trying to lead plainspoken Midwesterners. Republicans like and respect him for this reason.
Sen. Mark Kirk is more controversial, which is surprising given how calm and mild-mannered he is. He faces pressure from all sides. Conservatives believe he is too moderate while liberal Democrats portray almost every Republican as a fascist. Kirk is also recovering from a stroke, but is determined to win re-election in 2016.
He is in the fight of his political life against Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth. She is confined to a wheelchair from injuries sustained fighting in the 2003 Iraq War. While Kirk did speak at a Friday reception at Caterpillar headquarters, he was not at the Saturday general session.
One person everyone was happy to see was Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti. A rising political star, Sanguinetti blends sincere, conservative Republican beliefs with a telegenic media presence. Congressman Adam Kinziger was also received warmly by the crowd.
None of the top Republican officials face serious primary opposition in 2016. Rauner is not up for reelection until 2018. State GOP chair Tim Schneider did not face an internal challenge. The GOP side of the presidential race is over. Anyone making the case for Donald Trump was preaching to the converted.
Illinois Republicans were unified and prepared to take on the external threats every Republican should worry about. In Illinois, Republicans are fighting the Chicago Democratic machine.
The main Democrat-villain is House Speaker Mike Madigan, who has helped bankrupt Chicago and put Illinois on the brink of insolvency. Rauner pointed out that even many Democrats support his decision to make the tough cuts necessary to restore fiscal sanity.
Rauner reminded the delegates that, on the national level, unity is essential to defeat Hillary Clinton in November. Unlike convention-goers in other states, the Illinois delegation clearly understood that internecine civil war is counter-productive. Rauner delighted the crowd when he pointed out a T-shirt that read “Hillary for prison.”
Harmony was everywhere. The hospitality suites allowed socializing into the late hours Friday night.
For those wanting spiritual revelry, there is far more religious diversity in Peoria than outsiders would expect. This Christian city has a small but vibrant Jewish community and several synagogues. Everything is conveniently located within a short driving distance, and there is zero traffic. Again, Peoria is not Chicago, nor does it ever want to be.
The convention was supposed to end on Saturday at 5 p.m. Conventions often have silly fights about nonsense that cause delegates and guests to be delayed several hours. In Peoria, the business was finished quickly. The gavel banged commencement at noon. The speeches were finished in little more than an hour. The official business lasted barely another hour.
Between 2 and 3 p.m., the convention was finished. Illinois Republicans did what Republicans nationwide are supposed to do. They finished on time and under budget. Delegates were thrilled at having plenty of time to make dinner reservations unimpeded by conflict.
GOP delegations could learn a lot from the Illinois 2016 GOP Convention. Illinois citizens statewide could learn plenty from Peoria. Sometimes, politics actually does work effectively.