Illinois Republican Party Chairman Don Tracy announces resignation

Don Tracy’s decision this week to step down as Illinois Republican Party chairman puts state GOP leadership in flux less than a month away from the Republican National Convention.

Tracy pointed to Republican infighting for his exit from the post after three and a half years, a tenure that has seen the party’s influence wane further in the state as its base moves farther right.

“When I took on this full-time, volunteer job in February 2021, I thought I would be spending most of my time fighting Democrats, helping elect Republicans, raising money to pay for more Party infrastructure, and advocating for Party unity,” Tracy wrote in a two-page resignation letter.

“Unfortunately, however, I have had to spend far too much time dealing with intra-party power struggles, and local intra-party animosities that continued after primaries and County Chair elections. In better days, Illinois Republicans came together after tough intra party elections. Now however, we have Republicans who would rather fight other Republicans than engage in the harder work of defeating incumbent Democrats by convincing swing voters to vote Republican,” Tracy wrote.

He said he’ll remain party chair until a successor is elected, “preferably no later than July 19,” the day after the national convention concludes in Milwaukee.

Tracy proved unable to stanch a hemorrhage of Republican support in Chicago’s suburbs, once a reliable well of fiscally conservative, socially moderate GOP votes that has dried up for the party thanks largely to the unpopularity there of former President Donald Trump.

Republicans have been shut out of statewide Illinois offices since the 2018 general election, when Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker unseated GOP former Gov. Bruce Rauner, a close ally of Tracy.

Meanwhile, the party has scarcely put a dent in Democratic super-majorities in both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly.

A co-owner of his family’s massive food distribution company and a former chairman of the Illinois Gaming Board under Rauner, Tracy ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2010 — and won a Democratic primary for a state Senate seat in 2002. He lost in the general election.

Tracy was narrowly elected party chair over pushback from hardline conservative leaders from rural areas downstate, where Trump remains immensely popular.

Tracy survived a no-confidence vote taken by party leadership in 2022, and saw his grip slip further last month during a chaotic state GOP convention that led to the ouster of party vice chair Mark Shaw “without due process,” Tracy wrote in his resignation letter. The move “portends a direction of the State Party I am not comfortable with,” he added.

State GOP finance chair Vince Kolber stepped down earlier this month, writing in his own resignation that the party is “excessively focused” on newly engaged voters “raising high the banner of the ‘grassroots.’”

Vanquished 2022 GOP gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey — a former state senator and zealous Trump supporter who appealed directly to the grassroots movement — celebrated Tracy’s departure in a social media post, saying that the “cleansing of the Republican Party continues.”

“The problem that Don, Mark, and many others simply don’t comprehend and refuse to understand is that they simply are failing to uphold the party platform. They believe that supporting liberal candidates who will work closely with Democrats is the answer. It’s not!” Bailey said. “Fake Republicans got us into this mess. Real Republicans standing firm will get us out!”

The Democratic Party of Illinois reveled in Tracy’s looming departure, saying in a statement that their opponents have “been defined by a litany of electoral disasters, constant infighting, meager fundraising, and a strict adherence to a losing set of anti-choice, anti-worker, pro-Trump policies.

“While we don’t expect new leadership to change any of that, we do wish the best of luck to the inevitable MAGA extremist who will succeed Don Tracy as Chair,” Democratic party leaders said.

A three-person committee within state GOP leadership will seek their next chairperson.

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