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Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015 12:21 am

Madigan’s tax-hike gaffe

PHOTO BY ALAN SOLOMON/TNS
One of the concepts used so effectively by Gov. Bruce Rauner’s campaign last year was what are called “OODA Loops.” I’m going to oversimplify because of space, but the idea, developed by a military strategist and adopted by business leaders, is to essentially introduce rapid changes to a battle with the intent of disorienting an opponent and forcing over- and under-reactions. And then do it again and again to exhaust and eventually defeat the other side.

OODA Loops transcend traditional “rapid response.” They’re quick, forceful reactions specifically designed to force repeated mistakes by the other side. The Rauner campaign used those loops to literally run circles around Gov. Quinn last year.

They’ve also used the loops since the campaign ended. For instance, when Rep. John Bradley (D-Marion) attempted to hold legislative hearings on how the administration was hiding gubernatorial payrollers, they didn’t bow down as others had in the past. Instead they attacked Bradley with snark-filled invective and caught him off guard, forcing multiple and escalating angry responses that made him look a bit pompous and, according to the Rauner folks, out of touch.

And they did it again last week.

For months now, Gov. Rauner and his top people have been saying that Democratic leaders ought to offer up a specific tax increase plan. The Republicans have laid out what they want from the long governmental impasse (Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda, which includes major attacks on organized labor). So, the Rauner folks say, it’s time for the Democrats to do the same. What do they want?

Staying silent or being vague about specific numbers has allowed the Democrats to stake out some high ground and avoid attacks on their rank and file members. Obviously, more revenue is needed. But it becomes far more real to the public when there’s a number attached. Hence the effort to force the Democrats to be specific.

Last week, House Speaker Michael Madigan took a question at a City Club of Chicago luncheon from Chris Robling, a staunch Rauner supporter. Robling’s written question was about how high Madigan thought taxes needed to go. Madigan took the bait.

Instead of his customary vagaries, Madigan said a “good place to begin” would be to return to the taxing levels from before the income tax hike partially sunsetted in January. “Starting there, you can go in whatever direction you want to go,” he said.

Madigan was not asked to fully clarify his remarks at the ensuing press conference and for good reason. Why let a clarification get in the way of a great headline? So, Speaker “I want a 33-percent tax hike” Madigan’s gaffe was quickly trumped by media outlets throughout the state, eventually forcing Madigan to issue a clarification at 6 o’clock that night (those Madigan folks never do anything quickly) about the “misleading headlines and mischaracterization of the Speaker’s comments.” The Speaker went on to say in the release that he has “no plans” to advance a specific tax hike plan anytime soon. The response was issued so late, however, that it didn’t make it into most of the coverage, even though everything is now online and can be easily updated.

It’s no secret that Madigan favors a tax increase. He’s said all year that the budget can only be balanced with a mix of tax hikes and cuts. But it’s clear from the 6 o’clock walk-back that Madigan got too far ahead of himself.

Robling’s question began the process. The Rauner folks began working their loops immediately after Madigan answered the question, pushing hard on the concept that Madigan had finally admitted to a tax hike starting point and eventually forcing Madigan into attacking the media and issuing that clarification. The clarification was then portrayed as confirmation of the Speaker’s true intent: He didn’t misspeak, he accidentally said too much. Mistakes make politicians look weak. Clarifying the mistake was a further mistake because it confirmed the weakness.

And then the next day the Illinois Republican Party launched attacks on some of Madigan’s members, asking rhetorically if those members would “stand with taxpayers, or will they stand with #TaxHikeMike?”

The Rauner folks “won” the day, and “Speaker Madigan’s 33-percent tax hike plan” will help them win more, which is what this is about. Win more days and you further exhaust the other side. More exhaustion leads to more mistakes. Enough mistakes and the opponent is so disadvantaged that it eventually has no choice but to surrender.

Surrender, of course, is not in Madigan’s vocabulary these days. But he needs to be much more aware of what’s being done to him.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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