In The News
Looming Walker defeat alarms locked-out moderates in GOP
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press
Posted May 7, 2012
The election calendar created by Scott Walker’s minions is working against Wisconsin – and even his own party – preventing a more moderate quick recovery and civility.
Could that be what this embattled governor is counting on? His speeches and interviews sound like he wanted that uncivil gridlock and is relying on it. He keeps emphasizing how he has sowed the ground so extremely with his views that disarray will follow his defeat – and surely that spectre will keep his waning supporters in line. Tyranny is always more predictable than messy democracy.
The redistricting games the GOP majority concocted at first sapped energy and some Blue Dog will from Democrats running for office, but the devoted rebounded. But that refiguring along with the election calendar is now upsetting the more responsible members of the Republican Party. By heritage they look to their own team first for leaders and once thought conservatism represented the more balanced philosophy. Walker destroyed that sense of balance and drummed out of the party any who favored moderation, leaving very few independent GOP thinkers brave enough to announce for the state legislature. Therein lies quite a story.
The GOP redistricting, it turns out, just protected a few right-wing districts. It made Democratic districts more Democratic and tried to make swing districts more Republican. But what it mainly did was leave those swing districts open to moderates of any stripe – third party, independent, even Democrats, while party politics put GOP moderates on the shelf.
District politics are, after all, local, local, local, not label, label, label. When it’s your pocketbook involved you look for who can actually move solutions forward. Republican voters may not bolt to the Democratic side but they will jump toward responsible voices – and many responsible members of the GOP now feel locked out by the calendar.
Recall Walker happens June 5. Defeat once seemed a longshot, but now both sides concede Walker is no shoo-in, actually behind in some polls. Walker already talks about what he could do A.R. (After Rejection). “With rich friends, there is a lot a college dropout can do,” one GOP insider laughingly told me. The GOP didn’t count on that swoon at the polls when it sought to delay the elections until the summer while fulfilling federal absentee concerns to move the fall primary up into August.
The resulting cutoff for nomination papers for the Assembly and Senate is June 1 – days before the GOP discovers who the governor is. And the governor’s race is suddenly the most determinative factor in electing a new legislature.
If Walker goes down, one politician suggested to me “watch the rats start scurrying.” If that is too distasteful an image, consider what another GOP strategist conceded. “If you are married to power, the bottom drops out if you lose it. The faithful will be stuck explaining extremism without the governor around to blame. Their excuse is gone."
The issue doesn’t arise in Milwaukee County or most Dane County districts, where the primary contests will be among Democrats in most cases despite redistricting. It deeply affects many other districts around the state, particularly those that cut across diverse counties. The few dark red may not feel the pain, but the swing districts that the GOP hoped to protect by redistricting no longer seem so safe. Nor, frankly, do those newly designed districts that reached into conservative Waukesha for protection.
All bets are off when Walker loses. Several of those districts were not made Republican enough and several Republican conclaves are undergoing change already and will be further spurred by a Walker defeat to do what they must for this election cycle.
Those districts also have community leaders and municipal and school board officials who would have run for the legislature as experienced and more moderate GOP voices. But most didn’t file, they told me off the record, because the GOP party machine would make them pay.
But only now are they realizing that their voters care more about getting things done than about party labels. That durned calendar was created when the GOP could scoff and scorn at Democrats and impose harsh discipline on its own members. But not now. And where these moderate votes will go now that they feel scorned is open to debate.
These boxed-out moderates, many observers note, did it to themselves. They saw what happened to moderate and independent Republicans who enjoyed GOP majority power but dared to raise questions about some of the most extreme bills.
In some cases, these mild resisters were goaded into retiring. In others they were flatly told the state GOP would run someone against them. Remember, too, how it was Republicans and the Tea Party, with a little push from sympathetic media, that scoured and scrutinized recall petitions, assuring that any Republican they found would be called out. Meanwhile talk radio labeled anyone with doubts as a RINO (Republican in Name Only) even including some of the most experienced and thoughtful members of the party.
It was that implacably cold polar world that froze out moderate Republicans who wanted to run, several told me. They feared that getting in would bring excommunication by the state party machinery and its Tea Party leanings. Only now that there is a genuine possibility that Walker will lose are they understanding they had more to gain than to fear– and frankly they are kicking themselves.
As one Madison election expert told me, “They had a way out – man up.” But Walker created an environment in which manning up seemed too dangerous.
There has not been much news coverage about this bizarre calendar – discussing it does expose the fabrication that all Republicans are in lock-step behind Walker.
The media right now is dominated by “gotcha” games and “who’s on top” speculation, focusing on which of four Democrats will emerge May 8 as the Walker challenger June 5. The smart money says Tom Barrett. The internal polls say he and Kathleen Falk are running neck and neck. The real question comes down to turnout, not just May 8 but most notably June 5.
Anyone who listened to the Democratic debates realized that there was not an extremist among the four Democrats. No one despite Walker’s TV ads represents the same sort of reach to the left that he embodies on the right. All clearly oppose Walker’s approach -- but so do basic economic facts (Wisconsin dead last in job growth while destroying the primary tool for job growth – education funding).
When the Democrats promise unity May 9 whoever wins, that’s not the most popular attitude. Those angry at Walker clearly want these candidates to get as nasty and personal as possible.
But none do. They take the mature high road of preaching respect and comity across the aisle.
That June 5 is a tossup seems quite remarkable given the earthshaking $25 million in campaign cash on Walker’s side. Since half that money hasn’t made a dent improving his standing, what can he do with the remainder to deflect the mounting passion against him?
Look for more ads that exaggerate his achievements, which right now you need a microscope to find. Look for ads and political coverage emphasizing his swollen coffers, suggesting it is futile to fight his mythical “silent majority.” Look for ads inflaming the conservatives to hang onto power and beat back those evil foreign union hordes flooding in from Florida and (my God!) Illinois, though it is the conservative out of state hordes that funded two-thirds of his campaign. (It all reminds you of Walker’s biggest problem – those farflung big money financiers can’t vote in this contest.)
Clearly the passion is on the Democrats’ side. But the election calendar? It kept at bay the Republicans most interested in working for improvement and forced the Democrats to seek moderate voices in these districts who could win. Redistricting may protect some Tea Party members, but extremists will look even more out of touch and obstructionist without Walker than they now do with him.