Will Wisconsin humble some big egos?

Wisconsin: Trump's Waterloo?
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Story highlights

  • Alan Borsuk: State's primary may complicate plans of some big political celebrities
  • The campaign has already humbled some in Wisconsin, Borsuk says
  • Listen to what folks at the ground level say or you'll pay a price for ignoring them, he says

Alan J. Borsuk is senior fellow in law and politics at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee. As a journalist, he has covered Wisconsin political events since the 1970s. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)In this campaign season of big egos, how about a little humility? Maybe that's what Wisconsin is providing some of the key players in the presidential race as the state takes its somewhat surprising turn at the center of the action.

Alan J. Borsuk
Overall, Wisconsin isn't a place loaded with celebrities and big shots, and we like people to be pretty down to earth. So maybe it's appropriate that we've brought some people down a bit during this primary season.
    With the potential for Tuesday's outcome to have impact on both party's nominations, let's suggest people, including some prominent Wisconsinites, who have (or should have) learned some lessons in humility and maybe even humiliation in the remarkable primary battle here.

    Donald Trump

    You have to start any list with Donald Trump. I work on the Marquette Law School Poll, so I have a conflict of interest in saying this, but, since 2012, the poll has been the best place to look to understand public opinion in Wisconsin. When the last pre-election poll was released Wednesday, it showed a big surge in recent weeks for Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, while there was no gain or loss in support for Trump. The result was a much different outlook for the election than in February. Cruz was supported by 40% of likely Republican voters, Trump by 30% and Ohio Gov. John Kasich by 21%.
    Trump just hasn't picked up steam here. Some of his missteps of late were tied to Wisconsin. He got roasted in several interviews with the state's most prominent conservative radio talk show hosts last week. And Green Bay was where he gave his notorious answer to a question, envisioning punishment for women who have had abortions, that he soon retracted.
    Looking toward a battle for delegates, Trump spent more time in Wisconsin than had been expected. Yet as he sat Sunday morning eating breakfast at a popular but modest eatery near downtown Milwaukee, perhaps he wondered if even he should have worked a bit harder to win over supporters.

    Hillary Clinton

    Hillary Clinton was soundly defeated in Wisconsin's primary in 2008 by then-Sen Barack Obama. Now she is in a tight race in the state with Sen. Bernie Sanders (49% Sanders, 45% Clinton in the Marquette poll). She too is spending more time than expected crossing Wisconsin, trying to ignite a campaign that just hasn't generated much heat.
    An interesting thing in recent Wisconsin polls: Clinton has done better than Sanders among Democrats, but Sanders has done much better than Clinton in trial head-to-head races with the leading Republican candidates because he attracts so much more support from independents. Kind of a humbling message.

    Scott Walker

    If anyone in the whole pack has had a humiliating presidential season, it is Wisconsin's governor. Scott Walker led the Republican race last summer and was out of the race by fall. Back home, he saw his poll ratings drop sharply. Those ratings have just begun to recover. Walker has now tied himself to Cruz, making campaign appearances with him and cutting a commercial for him.
    Trump has frequently and bluntly derided Walker in recent days. Walker remains popular among the Republican faithful in Wisconsin and could sway some votes for Cruz. But everyone knows that the party mainstream hasn't carried much weight in a lot of states. Will Wisconsin be an exception?

    Paul Ryan

    Who would imagine that a Republican presidential front-runner would come to the hometown of the Republican speaker of the House and get a large crowd at a rally to boo the local hero? But it happened last week. How big a distance is Ryan keeping from the dicey party situation in his own state? Literally, thousands of miles. He left for Israel as Election Day approached -- and this is a man famous for wanting to spend his weekends at his home in Janesville.

    Reince Priebus

    You would think a high-profile primary in your home state would be a great moment for the national Republican Party chair. Instead, Priebus has been trying to keep the party from splintering. He has spent a lot of energy assuring everyone that there's no problem here, just move along. "Nothing bad will happen," he said last week. Not the kind of messaging originally envisioned for this point.

    John Kasich

    The Ohio governor hasn't made any missteps in Wisconsin, and he picked up the endorsement of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the state's largest newspaper. But don't you have to get some lessons in humility when you show up in lots of places around the state as the person running third in what almost every sees as a two-person race?

    Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders

    So who hasn't been humbled in Wisconsin lately? Cruz and Sanders, the two candidates who led the Marquette poll last week. They've been all over the state, and they've attracted big, enthusiastic crowds. Neither has made particular missteps. The Republican establishment in the state has (rather belatedly) gathered behind Cruz.
    That doesn't necessarily mean either Cruz or Sanders will win Tuesday in Wisconsin. They appear to have done the best jobs of marshaling their forces, but the election landscape still seems fluid and unsettled. Wisconsin has a history of surprises that leave people a bit more humble in the aftermath of its elections.
    Maybe that's one broader lesson in humility that can be drawn not only from Wisconsin but also from the entire amazing presidential selection process so far: Don't take people for granted. Sentiment against big shots has fueled the rise of both Trump and Sanders. A big message across the board has been: Listen to what the folks at the ground level have to say or you'll pay a price for ignoring them.
    Wisconsin has lots of folks at ground level. Tuesday, what they say will not be ignored.