When Sen. Ron Johnson passes Sen. Tammy Baldwin in the corridors of the U.S. Senate, he likely understands the big smile on her face. Baldwin has to be pleased that her re-election chances are buoyed by the intra-party squabble between supporters of state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield) and Kevin Nicholson.

Not a minute too soon, Wisconsin’s senior senator has stepped in to organize a post-primary unity fundraiser featuring Diane Hendricks and Dick Uihlein. Hendricks sponsors a Super-PAC that supports Vukmir, while Uihlein is Nicholson’s primary patron.  

Their joint attendance at the August 17 event is a reminder that (1) only one outcome matters to conservatives, namely, the November election of either Vukmir or Nicholson and (2) as in 2012, that outcome is threatened by the back-and-forth slings and arrows cast by supporters of GOP candidates.

Six years ago Baldwin was the main beneficiary of a three-way fight between Eric Hovde, former Rep. Mark Neumann, and former Governor Tommy Thompson. Thompson, the winner, emerged cash-poor and drained by a divisive primary. Baldwin, meanwhile accumulated a sizable treasury and entered the general election campaign largely unscathed by serious GOP attacks.

There were early signs that this year would produce a similar dynamic. With their eyes almost solely focused on winning the primary, supporters of both candidates challenged the core legitimacy of the other’s credentials.   

In the case of Team Vukmir, it has been unable to get past Nicholson’s history as a Democrat.  Clips of him speaking at the Democratic convention show exactly what? That his current views are not valid?  That he’s not a “real” Republican?

And then there’s the Club for Growth. Instead of emphasizing Nicholson’s strengths, it unleashed laughable RINO attacks on Vukmir. Is this history repeating itself? In 2012 the Club poisoned the waters with attacks on Hovde and Thompson aimed at bolstering Neumann. In many respects, the Club owns Tammy Baldwin. She should name her Senate conference room in its honor if she wins a second term.

Kudos to Johnson for understanding the real stakes. Time will tell whether his leadership in forging unity will be sufficient.

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