KOSHKONONG — U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson told Jefferson County Republicans Saturday that the 2016 presidential election will be the most important race of their lives as the direction of the country — and possibly the U.S. Supreme Court — hangs in the balance.
“This election is for all the marbles,” the senator said during his remarks as the keynote speaker at the Jefferson County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner Saturday at Koshkonong Mounds Country Club.
Johnson himself is being challenged by Democrat Russ Feingold, who served 18 years in the Senate before losing to Johnson in 2010.
Other in attendance included state Sen. Steve Nass, R-La Grange; state Rep. Cody Horlacher, R-Mukwonago; state Rep. John Jagler, R-Watertown; state Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, and state Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau.
Wisconsin Supreme Justice Rebecca Bradley, who is seeking a new term on the state’s high court, was slated to appear, but was unable to attend.
Entertainment for the evening was provided by the Maranatha Baptist Academy Ministry Team of Watertown, which sang a selection of patriotically-themed songs.
Speaking to the gathering of about 60 supporters, the senator urged them to get out to vote and encourage their friends, neighbors and relatives to do so, as well.
Reflecting back on that first time he was asked to speak at a Lincoln Day Dinner event, Johnson said, he knew then exactly what he would talk about: freedom.
“It has been 240 years since our founding fathers fought for their freedom,” Johnson said. “Now 240 years later, we find ourselves in a struggle for our own freedom, and that is incredibly sad.”
He cited the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as an example of the great significance of the 2016 election.
“Justice Scalia was unique because he was a judge,” the senator said, acknowledging that typically, that would not be a profound statement.
He referenced the many interviews he has given since Scalia’s death, specifically on how the Republican Senate intends to vote on an Obama nominee. Reporters have asked him, “what if he appoints a moderate?”
“There is no such thing,” Johnson said. “You have judges and you have super-legislators.”
The senator suggested that Justice Scalia was unique in his integrity, his fidelity to the text of the Constitution and the text of the law.
Johnson said that likely the most celebrated case demonstrating Scalia’s fidelity was a flag-burning case. The senator noted that Scalia was offended that anyone would desecrate the symbol of the country’s liberty and the sacrifices of those who fight for it.
“He understood that the higher principle was fidelity to the Constitution to our First Amendment right of freedom of speech and of the law,” Johnson said. “He ruled in that case against the result that he so fervently wanted. He ruled in favor of the cause of liberty and freedom of speech and fidelity of the Constitution. Unfortunately, on the Supreme Court and courts around America, being a judge is a rare quality.”
Johnson has joined in supporting Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in calls to block an Obama nominee without a hearing.
“Rather than have a lame-duck president put forward a nomination, rather than have a lame-duck Senate confirm that nomination, why don’t we let the American people decide?,” Johnson said. “It’s a unique time in our history. The American people are going to go to the polls in 2016 and decide what path this nation is on. Are we going to continue on this road to serfdom or are we going to change course and re-embrace the founding principles of this nation?”
He called this a seminal moment for the nation.
“The Supreme Court now hangs in the balance and I would argue this nation hangs in the balance,” the senator said.
As for the presidential nominee, Johnson deflected a question on who he supports in the Republican presidential primary.
“In the end, I will support the Republican nominee because elections are comparisons,” he said. “The Republican nominee versus Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, I think no matter who the Republican nominee is, that will be a favorable comparison from my standpoint.”
Continuing, he again emphasized the role of Scalia’s death in the election.
“With the passing of Justice Scalia, it brings a little clarity and shows the gravity of the situation of this election,” Johnson said. “You’ve heard in the past, ‘this is the most importance election in our lifetime.’ This is the most important election in our lifetime.”
Johnson said he believes Wisconsin is a firewall in terms of saving a Senate seat and electing a person of integrity as Republican president.
“As I travel all around Wisconsin tirelessly, I cannot think of a better group of people into whose hands we are going to, basically, put the future of this country,” Johnson said. “Our efforts in the next eight months are preparing Wisconsin for this election. The success of this nation lies in our hands or certainly could. You have to put every ounce of effort into it. We can’t allow anybody to stay home.”
The senator urged the Jefferson County Republican supporters to get out and encourage people to vote.
To assist them, he offered some advice on how to approach those who they might disagree with ideologically.
“I start the conversation the way I start all my business negotiations,” Johnson said. “I didn’t sit down at the table and start arguing. I would start my negotiations laying out all the areas of agreement.”
He said it was a good technique, developing a relationship and a level of trust with a negotiating partner, so when he or she finally came to those areas of disagreement, it was a easier to find common ground.
“When you start those conversations, particularly with those that don’t share your idealogy politically, start with an area of agreement,” Johnson said. “Acknowledge that we all share the same goal as Americans and Wisconsinites. We all want a safe, prosperous and secure America.”
He pointed out that no one political party has a monopoly on compassion.
“We all want every American to have the opportunity to succeed,” he said.
Johnson said that if political discussions focus on those areas of agreement to accomplish that shared purpose of a safe, secure and properous America, there will be results.
“It is what we have to do,” the senator said. “The great divide in our politics right now literally is a reliance in faith in big government or reliance in faith on literally what made this country great: individual liberty and a free-market competitive system.”
The senator noted that the United States makes up 5 percent of the world’s population, but produces 25 percent of the world’s goods.
“That is a marvel,” he said. “That came about not because of big government, but because individuals operating within a system of freedom, individuals that wanted to innovate that, aspired to build things and were given the opportunity and freedom to realize those dreams.”
Rhetorically, he asked the crowd how many thought the federal government was efficient or effective.
“Here’s an idea: How about we stop growing it?,” Johnson said. “Stop sending people like Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Russ Feingold, people who think they are smarter than you. People who are dedicated to growing that very dysfunctional, very ineffective place.”
He suggested, instead, to send people to Washington who are dedicated to limiting the federal government, devolving power back to the states and back to the communities where “we can actually solve problems by reaching out to our fellow citizens.
“The American spirit is alive,” Johnson concluded. “ It is our job, it is our duty to make sure it not only survives for future generations, but that it thrives. That is our task. That is what I’m asking you to double down on.”