Wisconsin’s Republican roots date from 1854 – Isthmus

With 2,429 delegates to the Republican National Convention coming to Milwaukee, joining thousands of journalists and national and international officials, it’s time for reminders of Wisconsin’s history with the party and its nominee for president, Donald Trump.

Has Wisconsin voted for Donald Trump in past elections? In 2016, Wisconsin voted for Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton by the narrowest of margins: 1.4 million votes to 1.38 million votes. It was the first time since 1984 that a Republican presidential candidate won Wisconsin. In 2020, Democrat Joe Biden beat Trump in Wisconsin, again by the narrowest of margins: 1.63 million votes to 1.61 million votes.

But voters in Milwaukee County, where Trump will accept his party’s nomination, have overwhelmingly backed Democrats. In 2016, Clinton got 288,797 votes; Trump, 125,846. In 2020, Biden got 317,270 votes; Trump, 134,3517. 

Before he speaks at the Republican convention next week, how often has Trump visited Wisconsin? He visited Green Bay in April, Waukesha in May and Racine in June. His Green Bay visit was the first since 2022.

Which Wisconsin Republicans have run for President? Gov. Tommy G. Thompson and Gov. Scott Walker. Thompson quit the race on Aug. 13, 2007, after a sixth-place finish in the Ames, Iowa, straw poll. Walker quit running on Sept. 21, 2015, after poor debate performances hurt fundraising.

Thompson and Walker plan to jointly campaign for Trump in Wisconsin before Nov.5.

“Scott Walker and I are going to cross this state with you hand-and-hand because if we win, and we are going to win, Wisconsin is the difference,” Thompson told supporters on June 25.

Has Wisconsin elected more Republican or Democratic governors? Republicans by a 31-14 margin.

Which Wisconsin Republicans played large roles in national politics?

Thompson was secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services from 2001 until 2004, a period which included the September 2001 terrorist attacks and coordinating national and international HIV epidemic efforts. 

Former Congressman Paul Ryan, from Janesville, served 20 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, was the 2012 vice presidential nominee, and the first U.S. House speaker from Wisconsin from 2015 until 2019.

Former Congressman Melvin Laird, who grew up in Marshfield, served 16 years in the U.S. House before serving as U.S. secretary of defense under President Nixon from 1969 until 1974.

Republican Sen. Robert M. La Follette had served in the U.S Senate for 19 years before leaving the party to run for president as a Progressive in 1924. Incumbent Republican President Calvin Coolidge won with 53% of the vote; La Follette won Wisconsin but finished third nationally with 16.6% of the vote.

Where was the Republican Party formed?

“There were two meetings held in Ripon which led to the naming of the Republican Party,” according to the Ripon Historical Society.

“The first held at the Congregational Church on February 28, 1854, included women. At that meeting it was agreed that in the event that the Kansas-Nebraska Bill was adopted, old political parties should be cast aside, and an entirely new organization should be established.

“At the Little White Schoolhouse meeting on March 20 1854, Alvan Bovay spoke to the elect that the new party should, and in all probability would, be assigned the name Republican, but he advised against naming it at that time.

“A committee was formed consisting of Alvan Bovay, Amos Loper, Abram Thomas, Jehdeiah Bowen, and Jacob Woodruff. Amos Loper’s son, A.A. Loper, attended the meeting out of curiosity and years later summarized it: ‘The predominant idea existing at that time in the minds of the prime movers was to prevent the further extension of slavery’.”

The Little White Schoolhouse was a school until 1860. Moved to 1074 W. Fond Du Lac St. in Ripon, it is now open to the public as a museum and run by a nonprofit organization.

Which Republican U.S. senators from Wisconsin served the longest? Alexander Wiley, from Chippewa Falls, served 24 years (1939-1963). La Follette, from Madison, served 19 years (1906-1925).

Which Republican U.S. House members from Wisconsin served the longest?

Congressman James Sensenbrenner, from Brookfield, served 42 years (1979-2021). Two others — Tom Petri, from Fond du Lac, and Henry Cooper, from Racine County — each served 36 years. Petri was elected in 1974; Cooper, 1892.

Steven Walters started covering the Capitol in 1988,. Contact him at

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