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A 'Blue Wave' Is Swelling


We're going to start the program talking politics. Now, you've probably heard Democrats talking about the so-called blue wave. A spate of Democratic wins in special elections so far this year have raised Democratic hopes for even bigger victories this November. Now, that's not a new conversation. What is new is that some prominent Republicans are now talking about this.

We wanted to hear more about this, so we've called Charlie Sykes. He is an author and conservative analyst. And for decades, he hosted an influential political talk show based in Wisconsin. He's with us from WUWM in Milwaukee, Wisc.

Charlie Sykes, welcome back. Thanks for joining us once again.

CHARLIE SYKES: Good to be with you.

MARTIN: So one reason we called you is that one of the prominent Republicans talking about the so-called blue wave is from your state - the Republican governor Scott Walker. He wrote that, quote, "big government special interests flooded Wisconsin with distorted facts and misinformation. Next, they'll target me and work to undo our bold reforms." Now, this was a series of tweets that came after all of his causes and candidates lost in a special election last Tuesday. Most notably, a progressive candidate won a special election for the state Supreme Court. So I just wanted to ask you, like, what is behind those tweets, and what strikes you about it?

SYKES: Well, there's a weapons-grade freakout going on here in Wisconsin among Republicans and conservatives because that Supreme Court election is just the latest straw in the wind indicating that this electoral landscape is actually turning very, very hostile to Republicans across the board. And Scott Walker understands that in a wave election, it doesn't matter how good a swimmer you are. Everybody can get swept away. And now it's - you know, panic may be a slightly strong word, but not that strong a word.

MARTIN: I mean, the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in an interview with the Kentucky Today editorial board, we know the wind is going to be in our face. We don't know whether it's going to be a Category 3, 4 or 5. He said he hopes that Republicans can hold the Senate. Now, you know, historically, the party that holds the White House loses seats in the midterms.

SYKES: Correct.

MARTIN: But is this, in your view, kind of localized towards places where the candidates, for whatever reason, are vulnerable? Does it have any through line as far as you're concerned?

SYKES: Oh, there's definitely a through line. And look - in any time you have a Democrat winning a U.S. Senate race in Alabama (laughter) of all places, you know that you have a national problem. Now, obviously, all politics is local. But, you know, Wisconsin is a bellwether. It is a formerly blue state that became kind of red, now kind of purple. So now that you're starting to see a series of elections indicating that Wisconsin is shifting back to the left, that has to be a leading indicator. I think that the Wall Street Journal editorial board referred to this as the canary in the coal mine, and I think that's accurate.

MARTIN: I do have to ask, though, is if raising the alarm is in part a fundraising gambit? I mean, the fact is, people raise money on fear all the time. I wonder if the tone that you're hearing - is this in part to create a sense of urgency for fundraising purposes, or is it really...


MARTIN: ...Based on - oh, yes.

SYKES: Well, yes. Yes, in part, but also, it's dealing with the problem of complacency. I mean, the worst danger for any political party is to go into an election where your base is either complacent or unmotivated. And so I think when Walker puts out a tweet like that, there is a genuine freak-out. But clearly, the signal is, I'm going to need lots of money, but I'm also going to need you folks to do what you've done in previous elections, which has come out in big numbers.

Now, we're seeing progressive voters come out in massive numbers. The question is, will Republican voters feel as motivated? And the elections that we've seen, these special elections, would suggest no.

MARTIN: A lot of the news over the past week has been about trade and about tariffs, and there is some speculation that if this escalates, this will have real consequences in the Midwest. I'm wondering, how is that conversation playing where you are?

SYKES: Well, I do think that there's real anxiety about all of this. But, you know, having watched Donald Trump bluff in the past and back off, I don't think that we're at the stage where people are ready to bail. On the other hand, you know, if, in fact, this escalates, and the Chinese begin to slap major tariffs, you are going to see this hitting the bottom lines of many of the individuals and the communities that backed Donald Trump in the election. And I think then you'll have a real palpable sense of betrayal that will not help Republicans in the midterm elections at all.

MARTIN: That's Charlie Sykes. He's a conservative commentator and author, longtime host of an influential political talk show based in Wisconsin. He joined us from member station WUWM in Milwaukee.

Charlie, thanks so much for joining us.

SYKES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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