Editorial: New Illinois GOP chairman is right to pursue unity; can he achieve it?

  • A screen grab of the Illinois Republican Party website announcing Don Tracy's election as its new chairman.

    A screen grab of the Illinois Republican Party website announcing Don Tracy's election as its new chairman. Courtesy of Illinois Republican Party

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 2/12/2021 9:48 AM

The new Illinois Republican Party chairman, Don Tracy of Springfield, has a big job in front of him. Before the Illinois GOP can start winning statewide elections again, he's got to pull the disparate pieces of the party together and get most of them, at least, pointed in the same direction.

In Wednesday's Daily Herald, Tracy, an attorney and former head of the Illinois Gaming Board, made a broad call for GOP unity. "A fractured Illinois Republican Party focused on continuing past disputes means J.B. Pritzker wins a second term," he wrote. "A circular firing squad among Republicans means the Madigan Machine continues to stay in power."


We wish Tracy, who took over the party chairmanship from the suburbs' Tim Schneider, well in his quest to unify the party. Illinois is best governed when there are two healthy, competitive political parties to check and balance each other, and right now the Illinois GOP is a mess.

It's going to take more than a mutual dislike of Democrats to pull this party into the cohesive political force it once was. But with the election of Tracy, we are relieved to see the Illinois party reject the pathway taken by the Arizona GOP, which has been purging itself of and censuring anyone less than wholly devoted to the cult of Trump.

Tracy, it seems, is a level-headed, responsible, establishment conservative. His election portends recognition within the party that to return to relevance in Illinois, the GOP must broaden its appeal, not narrow it.

Moreover, being from Springfield, he may well carry more respect with the downstate party leaders he will have to win over. The Illinois GOP has been run for years out of the suburbs, but it certainly seems that GOP strength has been moving downstate, as the suburbs get bluer.

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But his downstate credentials don't assure that Tracy's job will be easy. Thirty-six county GOP chairmen from southern Illinois met over Zoom Jan. 19 to condemn Republican congressman Adam Kinzinger of Channahon for stating that Joe Biden won the election fair and square and for being among the minority of Republican congressmen and women who voted to impeach the former president -- convinced as they are that Trump incited the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

"The baseless public claims that Rep. Kinzinger has made against President Donald Trump do not reflect the beliefs of the Southern Regional Chairmen nor largely those that we represent," their letter reads.

As ill-conceived as their condemnation of Kinzinger is, those 36 chairmen alone represent more than a third of the state's county GOPs. They don't appear to be interested in unity, unless it's unity behind Donald Trump. If Tracy truly aims to rebuild strength in the state Republican Party, he can start by reminding these chairmen and others like them that they cannot hope to regain the upper hand in elections if they are continually and baselessly undermining faith in them.

The Republican Party in Illinois seems to have wandered in the wilderness since the retirement of Peter Fitzgerald in 2004 and the party's bizarre and ill-considered embrace of Alan Keyes as a Senate candidate to replace him.

The state needs a two-party system. May the selection of Tracy be the first step in a return to Republican relevance.

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