Richard Irvin Ken Griffin
In the race for governor, Aurora mayor Richard Irvin (left) and Ken Griffin are trying to answer the ultimate question: Can MAGA be bought? Credit: City of Aurora; Paul Elledge

With word just breaking that Kenneth Griffin kicked in $20 million to Richard Irvin’s gubernatorial campaign, I guess you can say he passed the audition.

Irvin, that is, not Griffin. No, Griffin’s running the audition. It’s his play, and he’s casting it.

I thought Griffin might abandon Irvin after his inability to answer a straightforward question about abortion posed to him by veteran FOX 32 News reporter Mike Flannery.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s fill in some of the gaps . . .

Irvin is the mayor of Aurora. Oh, don’t act like you heard of him until a few weeks ago, people. Outside of political junkies and, presumably, the voters of Aurora, he was unknown.

In contrast, pretty much everyone has heard of Griffin by now. The richest man in the state and CEO of Citadel LLC, a hedge fund investment company, he’s spent tens of millions in campaign contributions over the last few years to defeat a referendum that would raise his taxes and to elect Republicans who will lower his taxes.

He says he’s “all in” to defeat Governor Pritzker—money being no object.

Apparently, Griffin will never forgive Pritzker for betraying his class and trying to raise taxes on the wealthiest residents like, well, the two of them.

In the battle of the billionaires, Griffin is worth an estimated $26 billion—Pritzker “only” $3.6 billion. Hard to believe this, but Pritzker may be outspent in this upcoming election.

For much of the last year, the Republican candidates for governor have been limited to hardcore MAGA types like state senator Darren Bailey.

Obviously, Griffin concluded that Illinois is not ready to go this far to the right in a general election. Looking for a more electable candidate, he essentially plucked Irvin from obscurity to fulfill his mission of beating Pritzker.

At first, Griffin didn’t come out and say: Irvin’s my guy. He was cagier than that. But somehow the word spread.

And then on Monday, Griffin let his $20 million donation do the talking. Basically, telling Bailey and the others: step back, Jack.

Now the question is—will MAGA voters go along for the ride? It’s a fascinating political experiment—can the allegiances of MAGA, who are supposed to be true believers, essentially be, you know, bought?

Remember, before Irvin runs against Pritzker, he must win the Republican primary in June. And that means winning over MAGA voters without saying too much of their batshit crazy stuff that Pritzker can use against him in the general election.

So far, Irvin’s done a creative job of finessing it. He’s running commercials that say he’s for the police and against looting. Also, he doesn’t like Black Lives Matter. At least, he thinks “all lives matter.” Although he points out that if you say “all lives matter” that means you also think Black lives matter. Though that’s different than saying Black Lives Matter. Got that?

Way to take the tough stands, Mayor Irvin!

He still has nothing to say about Trump—much less whether he voted for him. Won’t say if he thinks the presidential election was stolen. Or whether people should take the COVID vaccine. Or whether the capital insurrectionists were engaging in “legitimate political discourse,” as the Republican National Committee recently voted in a resolution censuring Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger.

It’s not clear what Griffin’s position is on these matters. Having watched him for the last few years, I suspect the issue that really drives him is his tax bill—anything to lower it.

Although Griffin did criticize Florida governor Ron DeSantis for being too politically impractical in taking a hard stance against mask mandates. This criticism came after Griffin had donated $5 million to DeSantis’s campaign.

As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, Irvin’s trickiest challenge is to walk the fine line on abortion.

Most Republican politicians stick to the party line that abortion should be illegal in all instances, rape and incest included.

Cross this line and Republican voters will cancel you—no questions asked. So much for their belief in free expression.

Irvin has not taken a public position on abortion. But his running mate, Avery Bourne, is an avowed antiabortionist who has backed several bills that would essentially outlaw abortion should the Supreme Court overturn Roe. As I think it will.

Joining Bourne to Irvin is like an arranged marriage designed to assure MAGA that Irvin is against abortion no matter what he says, or doesn’t say, on the issue.

And that brings us to Irvin’s disastrous one-on-one interview with Flannery.

For several weeks after he announced his candidacy, Irvin avoided interviews with reporters, letting his commercials do the talking. And then, under heat for ducking the press, he agreed to several one-on-ones. Which is how he wound up sitting down with Flannery.

I figured he’d have been coached on abortion questions. But when Flannery hit him with the A question, well, the exchange went like this . . .

Irvin: I’m pro-life.

Flannery: Any exception for rape, incest, the life of the mother?

Irvin: There are always exceptions like rape, incest, the life of the mother.

Flannery: You would allow abortion in those circumstances?

At that point, you can hear one of Irvin’s aides in the background saying that time’s up.

After a pause, Irvin says: “I think we’re done.”

Folks, I haven’t seen a more embarrassing retreat since the second Durán/Leonard fight of 1980. That’s the one where Roberto Durán, tired of being pummeled by Sugar Ray Leonard, threw up his hands and declared: “No más!”

After “I think we’re done,” I wondered if Griffin might be done with Irvin. Would he round up another puppet, I mean candidate, to run against Pritzker?

But after Monday’s $20 million contribution to Irvin, it’s clear Griffin is standing by his man.

Maybe Irvin can spend some of Griffin’s millions to hire someone to tell him what his position is on abortion.

Enjoy your candidate for governor, MAGA.

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