Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Let Us Now Blame Mike Tate

Hatred for the state Democratic Chair is flowing. But is he at fault for the election debacle or was the party’s message lacking?

By - Nov 13th, 2014 10:55 am
Mike Tate.

Mike Tate.

You might call it the Death March of Mike Tate. The Democratic party chair continues to trod this now overwhelmingly Republican state, espousing cockeyed optimism about his party’s “passionate, progressive” potential, even as liberal bloggers and commentators pelt him mercilessly with rotten fruit.

How do they hate him? Let us count the nays.

“He has been a dismal failure,” writes blogger Callen Harty. “Time for Mike Tate to leave. Maybe he could become a Republican and lead them to sure losses on upcoming election days and help even the score a little bit.” Harty went on to offer a devastating list of Tate’s failures as a political organizer going back to 2002.

Blogger Jeff Simpson piled on: “The amount of pain his incompetence has cost this state is almost unimaginable. One good thing to come out of this though, is we finally found a way to bring the state together. Start a petition to get Mike Tate to resign and people from all over the state will gladly sign it!

Aaron Camp calls Tate “an absolute failure as the leader of one of the weakest state-level Democratic Parties in the entire country… I’d like to see him resign immediately.”

Blogger Zach Wisniewski carps that Tate’s “72 county strategy” laid an egg, with just a few more counties going Democrat for Mary Burke than for Tom Barrett in 2010.

Certainly the party has declined drastically. Its leader, from the standpoint of a statewide officer, is now Secretary of State Doug La Follette, who holds a meaningless position and has long served it with appropriate irrelevance. Republicans now hold 19-14 edge in the Senate and a massive 62-36 margin in the Assembly (give or take a seat or two still in dispute), their biggest margin since back in about 1957. Republicans also hold one of two U.S. Senator positions, five of eight congressional seats, and of course the governor and Lt. Governor positions.

But the Democrats’ problem is a national one. As New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks has written, “Republicans now control 69 of 99 state legislative bodies. Republicans hold 31 governorships to Democrats’ 18…When the next Congress convenes in January, Republicans will have their largest majority in the House of Representatives since 1931; they will have a majority in the Senate, dominate gubernatorial power in the Midwest, and have more legislative power nationwide than anytime over the past century.” Wow.

Yes, the national electoral map continues to favor Democratic candidates for president, but off-year elections have become a recurring disaster for Democrats and giddy triumphs for Republicans.

In short, the idea that Wisconsin’s Democratic failures are somehow all the fault of Mike Tate is ludicrous. Yes, Tate may have had too much confidence in Burke (“I think she was a phenomenal candidate and ran a great campaign,” he says); She was simply too opaque as a personality to win over a majority. As she conceded after her defeat, “I don’t really fit the mold of most people who run for governor.”

Yes, Tate hasn’t always been the most compelling party spokesperson. And yes, he foolishly tolerated the outrageous comments of the party’s Communications Director Graeme Zielinski before finally letting him go.

But it’s not as though Democrats enjoyed a golden age when Tate’s predecessor, ex-legislator Joe Wineke, was party chair, from 2005 to 2009. Wineke may challenge Tate for this position, but a simple swap of leaders isn’t going to solve the party’s problem. As Dane County-based Democratic congressman Mark Pocan told the Cap Times, “Quite honestly, Mike Tate’s performance one way or another doesn’t have a lot to do with the outcome of our elections.”

It’s about the message, stupid. Gov. Scott Walker ran on a platform of cutting taxes, always a popular platform, and on trimming the budget deficit. He did divide and conquer, convincing middle class voters it was a good idea to levy huge increases in benefits contributions on middle class public employees. People voted with their pocketbook and a 52 percent majority felt Walker was better on that score.

In contrast, Burke ran as nice business person who would bring us all together. But her message on pocketbook issues was too vague. There was no reason to think she would bring more tax relief and not enough reason to think she’d bring more jobs.

Because so many Democrats hate Walker, they assumed a recall would win, and assumed a reasonably viable candidate would beat him in 2014. As Burke rightly noted, 80 percent of governors win reelection. No doubt the percentage is higher for governors who delivered tax relief.

The central issue for Democrats was neatly captured by Times contributor Thomas Edsall:

“72 percent of whites without college degrees — a rough proxy for what we used to call the white working class — believe that ‘the U.S. economic system generally favors the wealthy.’ …on Nov. 4, these same men and women voted for Republican House candidates 64-34.

“Similarly, the overwhelmingly white electorates of Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota voted decisively in referendums to raise the minimum wage while simultaneously voting for Republicans, whose party has adamantly rejected legislation to raise the minimum wage.”

How is possible the party that favors the minimum wage is not seen as being on the side of the working man? That’s a problem for the Democratic Party to figure out. The wealth gap is arguably the central problem facing this nation, and whichever party is seen as being on the side of the middle class will win election. In 2014 it clearly wasn’t the Democrats.

Short Takes

-Another jaw-dropping statistic: Republicans now hold control of both the governorship and legislature in 23 states, while Democrats enjoy unified control in just seven, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

-The lowest voter turnout in 72 years undoubtedly hurt the Democrats nationally, but this was not as big a problem in Wisconsin, which had the second highest turnout.  A robust 56.9 percent of people in this state voted compared to 36.3 percent nationally and just 28 percent in the somnolent state of Indiana.

-Burke actually got nearly as many total votes as Walker did in 2010, but the state turned out an additional 300,000 votes compared to 2010 and most of those people voted for Walker.

-In counterpart to Wisniewski’s contention that Burke only carried few more counties than Barrett in 2010, liberal blogger Jud Lounsbury writes that she improved the Democratic margin in at least half of the state’s counties. Tate says the Democratic Party is still crunching the numbers to get an exact picture.

-Was Annette Polly Williams simply the “mother of school choice” or more notable as its latter-day opponent? Join the discussion.

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

23 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Let Us Now Blame Mike Tate”

  1. PMD says:

    -“72 percent of whites without college degrees — a rough proxy for what we used to call the white working class — believe that ‘the U.S. economic system generally favors the wealthy.’ …on Nov. 4, these same men and women voted for Republican House candidates 64-34.

    “Similarly, the overwhelmingly white electorates of Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota voted decisively in referendums to raise the minimum wage while simultaneously voting for Republicans, whose party has adamantly rejected legislation to raise the minimum wage.”

    Isn’t that pretty much what Thomas Frank writes about in What’s the Matter with Kansas? It reminds me of something I read after the governor’s race here. Burke did better than Walker when voters were asked which candidate cares more about people like them, yet Walker still won the election.

  2. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    Actually, Bruce shows the failure of Tate with the “white working-class” stats. If these same people vote for a higher minimum wage and the expansion of BadgerCare, and think the system is set up to favor the rich, and they’re voting for Walker, who won’t do anything about those 3 issues except make things worse, then you’ve got a failure at the Dem Party in connecting these two things together.

    Look at the electoral map of NE Wisconsin, and the legislative losses, and tell me how that is remotely acceptable. Not countering the GOP-aganda machine that dominates (and regresses) that part of our state is a major problem , and Tate is clearly not the one to solve it.

    He can do the behind-the-scenes organizing and fund-raising, but Tate can’t be the head of the party anymore

  3. Matt says:

    At some point the burden of proof has to shift to Tate. Just what are the reasons he should stay in the job?……………. Exactly,

  4. A different Matt says:

    The piece has too many state reps in the Assembly by 10. It should be 63-36.

  5. bruce Murphy says:

    Thanks, we corrected it.

  6. Mark Sevelis says:

    Whether Mike Tate is up to the task is for Wisconsin Democrats to decide. Keep in mind that Walker’s 52 to 47 victory was not as close as the numbers indicate.
    That is, if the Dem’s candidate was the proverbial ham sandwich, the results would have been the same. 47% of the gubernatorial votes went to the anti-Walker candidate–not for Mary Burke. And that is your problem to solve.

    It must be difficult to discover what Mitt Romney said about the 47% of Americans receiving government checks is true. I thought Democrats getting four more per cent was going to be a piece of cake.

    The recent election only shows that Wisconsin–as well as the US–is deeply divided. None of the liberal bloggers mentioned how much Obama, the most divisive president ever elected, affected the governor’s race. The punishment for the irrational hatred of Scott Walker and Wisconsin conservatives is four more years of Walker’s leadership. Maybe eight more.

    All those left wing goons marching in the capitol building was truly an embarrassment for Wisconsin. Progressive Madison is no longer a part of Wisconsin. It is isolated on its own island.

  7. tim haering says:

    “Somnolent” Indiana. LOL. I laugh as an erstwhile Hoosier from its very biggerest city, which we liked to call Indianoplace. But I suggest Lemony Snicket’s more comical coin – somniferous. And I often use ‘somnificent’ where soporific seems virtuous or redeeming. Not to turn this into “On Language, by William Safire” [RIP. I loved his column.]

    Darth Tater suffers from a misconception held by every party leader since Scooter – that to lead your party, you must reflexively revile and reject the other. He can go, but who of vision will replace him – Count Joe-ku?

  8. PMD says:

    But Obama won Wisconsin in 2012, and the state was long divided by then. I don’t think that had much, if anything, to do with the outcome of Walker/Burke.

    How many of those 47% just voted GOP Mark? Half? More?

  9. Bruce murphy says:

    Just a factual note in response to PMD and Mark. The NYT did a county-by-county analysis of the entire country and found that the counties the highest percent of residents getting some kind of government support were also among the counties with the highest percent of people voting Republican.

  10. PMD says:

    Yes that is no surprise Mr. Murphy. I’ve read that before.

  11. Matt S. says:

    Thanks for this story.

    It’s too bad that it was accompanied by the ad (threat?) to “Sign up for our mailing list or you’re up next for House Confidential.” This type of promotion is profoundly obnoxious and undermines your brand.

  12. Dave Reid says:

    @Matt S. It’s just a joke.

  13. Steve says:

    The only thing you can blame Mike Tate for is the continually high turnout. His programs have worked on increasing turnout each election (apples to apples). Tate can’t control Assembly or Senate recruitment. He can’t control national sentiment. His real function is making sure the party has the resources to support candidates. During the last three elections for governor, the dems didn’t lack in funds nor did they lack a plan to get voters to the polls. Nor can we blame Tate for the fact the GOP has now figured out how to turnout votes too. The high turnouts are two way streets.

    What is scary is the thought of Tate being replaced by someone who sings on their lunch hour rather than work to elect democrats. Or replaced by someone that eschews fundraising because the power of our ideas will carry the day, or replaced by someone who wants to “expand” the party by having their office in Eau Claire or Superior. Do any of those things and watch the party become less relevant.

  14. Hi, I’m from the Wisc. Green Party, truly “irrelevant” in terms of numbers. We do not wish for Mike Tate to go because he is at least compelling many Dems to look for an alternative outlet for their passions. May I suggest you go here, if you’re of this variety of Dem, and click on “Get Involved” and “Join.” First, you should read our 10 Key Values and glance at the Platform.

    Of course Republicans are objectively in full control of most states and now, the Congress. They got there, as the blogster suggests, by appealing to voter values based on empty phrases that do resonate, don’t they. Unfortunately, the economic system on which they stand — gigantic corporate capitalism, now fully fused with government in what they call the Corporative State (Enciclopedia Italiana of 1932), is in a terminal state of decline.

    Not exactly the catbird seat you want to be sitting in while exercising total control of govt. See, lower taxes is a useless value to vote upon, for the 92+ million folks who are labor-force NON-participants. Not only are these folks not participating, even worse, their number grows with each monthly jobs report. Ninety-two million of us will NEVER again participate in the labor force. As in, never. The jobs aren’t coming back, no matter what magical incantation the two-party system leaders may chant.

    So, as far as we’re concerned, keep Mike Tate. The grave economic problems are slowly eroding towards frank full-on crises such as 2008, but with less resiliency in the economy now should they again blow up in another Lehman Bros.-like collapse.

    Good luck, all you voters who voted for the “value” of Big Government Corporate Bosses such as Club for Growth.

    Peace, out.

  15. Adam says:

    What Mike and the DPW can be criticized for is lacking the strong organization that could have turned out the vote. A primary component of Obama’s victory in Wisconsin in 2012 was the massive grassroots organization, with “neighborhood teams” of volunteers across the state aided by field organizers. The DPW played very little role in that. And in my opinion, the Party under Tate’s leadership has failed to build that kind of groundgame. Press releases and social media campaigns aren’t going to cut it. I was never called to ask to volunteer, despite being active in 2008 and 2012. Campaign office locations weren’t listed on the Burke or DPW website until a few weeks before the election — how were volunteers expected to start convincing voters in their neighborhoods via canvassing? While he has done a good job at fundraising, the party’s spending short-term priorities aren’t helping develop a long-lasting Democratic support on the local, neighborhood level. It’s time for Tate to go.

  16. Pete Bord says:

    Missing the point completely. everyday another revelation about Obamacare drops, and folks are paying attention. even those who don’t pay attention are waking up to the disaster. It’s casting a long dark shadow on all dems. Of how I’d love to see Barack to deal with his own failed website….

    Now add to that the feckless “leadership” in Milwaukee (they could’ve built City Hall three times over for what it’ll cost to ‘salvage’, and why aren’t you digging into THAT story, btw?), and the clueless Milwaukee Legislators who seem to bide their time until they can glom onto a better job.

    Now add to that most folks outstate are tired of Milwaukee’s hand out, and Madison’ insufferable arrogance. “we have bike paths and arugala? Why don’t you?”

    It’s surprising dems did as well as they did. But that’s o.k. – just keep making excuses for them Urb Mil.

  17. kATHY says:

    Let’s see: Scott Walker is in charge of the state and bad things have happened to Wisconsin since he took over. He didn’t fulfill his promises, so we wanted him to get a new job.

    Mike Tate is in charge of the Democratic party and bad things have happened to the Wisconsin Democratic party since he took over. He didn’t fulfill his promises, so we want him to get a new job.

    Can I make it more clear for anyone?

  18. PMD says:

    “everyday another revelation about Obamacare drops”

    Revelations like these?

    -Gallup: Good reviews for Obamacare coverage

    “71 percent said their coverage through the exchanges was good or excellent”

    “those newly insured through the exchanges are more satisfied with the cost of health care — with 75 percent saying so — versus 61 percent of all insured respondents who said they were satisfied with the cost of health care”

    Those are some interesting revelations Pete.

  19. Gary says:

    Wisconsin Democrats are missing, and will never have, the historic cultural component that Republicans have rolled in since the 1990s: evangelicals. Wisconsin Democrats just have to work harder and/or take our lumps and wait for the Republicans implode. (It’s our cross to bear 😉

  20. Jim says:

    What? Bruce Murphy implies, and Mark Pocan comes right out and says, that “Quite honestly, Mike Tate’s performance one way or another doesn’t have a lot to do with the outcome of our elections.” How does that square with the hundreds of emails I’ve received from Tate’s DPW telling me HOW IMPORTANT the work they’re doing is, and I MUST send them money today (or else DISASTER will strike!). How does that square with Tate’s $122,000 salary? As clearly and methodically laid out in Calen Harty’s piece, “quite honestly,” Mike Tate hit the Peter Principle before he graduated from college.

  21. I have to agree with Adam and Gary’s responses here. The massive grassroots effort you mention, Adam, is critical. I’m calling it “radically local” politics, and it’s something that Wisconsin Green Party and the Democrats both have lacked in the last few cycles. People should be running for your City Councils, Village Trustee spots, Township Boards, County Boards, County Clerks and so forth–and even beyond that, in the civil society, positions like your farm or electric co-op board. There’s too much disengagement and frank apathy, then we wonder why these turkeys show up in the Legislature time and time again.

    Start small, start local, and develop your own leadership skills, then no one can take that away from you. Use a platform such as the Green Party’s, or the Natural Step for Communities (the eco-municipality program) and other coherent and holistic sets of ideas. That’s how you’ll defeat big corporate government and their muppet candidates with empty phrases such as the Governor spouts, every single time he opens his mouth.

  22. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    we love Mike, t’ nice to deal with someone who is not exactly a Rhodes scholar. Check with us on Facebook: Wisconsin Conservative Digest

  23. Jan Pierce says:

    The entire Wisconsin machine needs a reboot. And, as Edsall has noted, the party is floundering nationally because of its inability to connect with what should be its base. But with respect to Tate’s responsibility, I don’t think you can understate the impact of his failure to muzzle Graeme Zielinski. It was a de facto ratification of Zielinski’s embarrassing and offensive conduct, and it caused the party to lose credibility with everyone but the Apparatchiks. Then the Kool-Aide ran out and everyone started pointing fingers. While Tate needs to go, throwing him under the bus may actually allow the party to avoid what’s really necessary – serious self-reflection and soul searching. It needs to learn how to connect with the rank and file voter, someone that it has become terribly out of touch with.

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