How Ryan, Scott Walker and Reince Priebus came out of the Badger State together to reshape American conservative politics.
In 2006, Brad Courtney, a Republican activist and forklift-business owner in suburban Milwaukee, threw a Christmas party at his house near Lake Michigan. Republicans had recently been trounced in another state election, failing to unseat either the Democratic governor or U.S. senator on the ballot. The Milwaukee County executive, an old friend of Courtney's named Scott Walker, was there, as was another die-hard party activist, Reince Priebus. Outside, a snowstorm raged, and an up-and-coming young congressman, Paul Ryan, called to say he wasn't going to be able to make it.
"We all sort of grew up together in politics," Courtney, now the chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party, told me. But at the time, the men often had little but their friendships to sustain them in the face of a hostile political landscape.
Today, things look very different. Here's a poster Courtney received as an email forward, created by a talk-radio host in Arizona,* that celebrates Wisconsin's political stars alongside the state's recent success in athletics and beauty pageants:
Ryan, Walker and Priebus are three of the GOP's brightest national stars, and Wisconsin -- the state that helped birth the Progressive Movement and shape the New Deal -- is suddenly the leading exporter of a hard-charging, sharply ideological brand of conservatism. The Republican trio sometimes dubbed the "Cheesehead Mafia" have made their state "the capital of the Obama-era Republican resistance," as one writer put it. And they are reshaping the Republican Party.