Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Walker Bets on the Radical Right

He plans to beat Bush and Rubio from the far right. But his success could make him unelectable in the general election.

By - Jun 2nd, 2015 11:57 am
Governor Scott Walker Signing Right to Work Legislation (Photo from Governor's Office)

Governor Scott Walker Signing Right to Work Legislation (Photo from Governor’s Office)

Scott Walker isn’t going to let any Republican candidate outflank him on the right. The latest evidence of this is his remarkable stance opposing reforms to restrict NSA surveillance, which seemed to stun Wisconsin Republican congressman F. James Sensenbenner.

Sensenbrenner, the author of the “Patriot Act,” which was used by administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama to collect data from all Americans’ phone calls, has condemned this practice, and championed the “Freedom Act” (sheesh, these names) to restrict this practice. The bill would require the NSA to seek specific telecom records subject to court review (though probable cause would not be required). Yet Walker told Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Craig Gilbert he opposed the reform.

“I was absolutely surprised” to hear of the governor’s position, Sensenbrenner told the newspaper, “because all of the Wisconsin Republicans in Congress have voted for it,” including even the very conservative new GOP representative Glenn Grothman.

For that matter, so did 81 percent (196 of 243) of Republicans in the House of Representatives. All told, the bill carried by a total vote of 338 to 88, and those opposing it were mostly from the far left of the Democratic Party and the Libertarian wing of the Republican Party. These were representatives who agreed with Dane County-based Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Tea Party darling Thomas Massie (R-KY), who had introduced an alternative bill, H.R. 1466, which sought a complete repeal of the Patriot Act. (“This is the best way to fully protect Americans from another invasion of privacy by our government,” Pocan argued.) In short, there are precious few members in the entire House of Representatives who would agree with Walker’s stand.

Nor does the majority of Americans (though that is less sweeping): a recent poll found 59 percent of respondents totally opposed keeping the federal government’s current surveillance programs in place without any changes.

Walker, however, has said “I would prefer to have something closer to the Patriot Act intact (with) some sort of balance to make sure the Patriot Act doesn’t run out.”

To which Sensenbrenner replied that Walker was “misinformed” on the Freedom Act: “it does give the NSA access to the materials they need, but the privacy of Americans is protected because the government is not storing the data… Continuing the present program is not the proper balance between privacy and national security. There is no privacy if the government ends up collecting trillions of phone records made by Americans and storing it for five years.”

Beyond the policy arguments here is the fact that Walker is so unbothered to be standing with a small minority of politicians nationally on this issue. Why? Because he wants to be the candidate on the right in the Republican presidential primary, the alternative to the more moderate Jeb Bush, the presumed front-runner. And that means he needs to be seen as more conservative than a candidate like Mario Rubio (who is in a near dead heat right now with Walker and Bush, as Real Clear Politics’ analysis of the polls shows) and at least as conservative as candidates farther behind in the polls, like Mike Huckabee or Ted Cruz.

Walker has shown remarkable intestinal fortitude in hewing to this approach. Rejecting the federal funding for Medicaid expansion has meant a loss of several hundred million dollars that could easily have paid for the huge cuts in UW System funding and avoided a ton of negative publicity for the governor in Wisconsin. But this stance has made Walker every bit as anti-Obamacare (which depends on the expansion of Medicaid) as a firebrand like Cruz.

It’s truly stunning how far Walker is willing to go to buttress his right-wing credentials. He resisted support for the Right-to-Work law for more than a year, but finally embraced it. He has recently indicated support for a state ban on abortions even for victims of rape and incest, which a 21012 poll suggested only 14 percent of Americans support and a 2014 poll found 11 percent would support.

Walker, of course, has always been very anti-abortion, so that stance matches his philosophy, but strategically speaking, he is aligning himself with a small minority of Americans who happen to be a dominant portion of Republican primary voters. That seems pretty risky.

Of course, if this approach does win Walker the Republican presidential nomination, he would then try to pivot to the center. It’s time honored way for candidates of both parties to campaign, and you could see a version of that at work in Walker’s gubernatorial election, when he downplayed his anti-abortion history and portrayed himself as someone “helping” women seeking an abortion. In the candidate debates he posed pretty much across the board as Mr. Moderate.

But the degree of pivoting required of Walker to move more toward the center in the presidential race could tax the most elastic gymnast in the world. And Walker won’t be doing his political pirouettes in a small-media state like Wisconsin, where the newspapers aren’t that probing and are shouted down by talk radio. The national media scene will generate far more stories and commentary.

Take Walker’s recent comment that it’s “just a cool thing” for parents to see images of the baby the mother is bearing, as a way to justify legally forcing women seeking an abortion to watch an ultra-sound. The comment set off a firestorm of controversy, with New York Magazine writer Alex Ronan noting “the difference between a photograph marking the early stages of a wanted pregnancy and unnecessarily inserting a dildo-wand in someone’s vagina to make them feel guilty for choosing abortion.” New York Times columnist Gail Collins awarded the “2016 Todd (‘Legitimate Rape’) Akin Award for Sexual Sensitivity” to Walker. And a Washington Post story noted research showing that requiring women to view an ultra-sound doesn’t result in fewer abortions.

It’s always difficult to predict which issues will stick in the voters’ minds, but the ultra sound issue seems potent because it’s easy to understand and quite personal for women voters. As Collins noted, Walker was “conflating the vision of happy parents getting their first glimpse of their baby-to-be with what’s appropriate for a woman who has made the stupendously profound and private decision to terminate a pregnancy.”

Walker, based on his experience in Wisconsin, has learned he can get away with flagrantly right wing comments (like his “divide and conquer” statement about going after both public and private unions), and then modulate his persona in the general election. But amid the unrelenting scrutiny trained on a national election for president, that will be much harder to accomplish. Democratic consultants, you can bet, are already putting together comments like “it’s just a cool thing” for dramatic 30 second ads, should Walker be the opponent. The more such comments Walker offers to die-hard right wing primary voters, the more roadblocks he may erect for his anticipated journey back toward the center.

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

22 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Walker Bets on the Radical Right”

  1. PMD says:

    I guess the strategy makes sense if he feels the need to differentiate himself from Bush, but it also seems like a sure way to not get the GOP nomination. Regardless of how far right many GOP primary voters are, when is the last time a far-right candidate was the GOP nominee? Don’t you have to go back decades? In the end, it’s always someone perceived as able to win a general election. Will 2016 be any different? Or is Walker perceived as more moderate than he actually is by voters outside of Wisconsin because he governs a blue state?

  2. David says:

    Maybe I’m missing something. Why is it that many talking heads (Krauthammer), info-tainers (Rush, Belling) and local buffoons (WCD), believe that the Republican candidate needs to be Tea Partier / far right, to win the nomination? I certainly do not follow politics as closely as others, but it seems to me that its a recipe for never winning the White House. I do believe Walker will say or do anything to win the nomination.

  3. PMD says:

    Some on the right contend that they’ve lost the last two presidential elections because the candidate wasn’t a true conservative resulting in many normally Republican voters staying home.

  4. Willie Ray says:

    “…. plans to beat Bush and Rubio from the far right.”

    I’m afraid that, if after all the “cool things” Walker has done at home to impress the GOP right wing and still fails to get the nod, he’ll return home ready to do many more “cool things” to Wisconsin in order to sooth a national rejection.

  5. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Bruce, you ar so full of crap sometime. Walker is a Reagan conservative like the rest of us, the Ron Paul acolytes, libertarians and a few others constititute the right wing in this state and they do not like Walker, they like Rand Paul.

  6. PMD says:

    Reagan would not be conservative enough for today’s right wing.

  7. tim haering says:

    Chance will be returning to his garden, not the Rose Garden.

  8. Joe says:

    WCD – please don’t call people who are principled in their support/defense of the Constitution (and desire to return to it) acolytes of a politician or right-wing. We are neither. Walker, like all the Republicans who got the nod before him, is not a principled person. He’s an expedient politician. It’s not that people on the “right” are looking for someone more conservative. We are looking for a principled person. Reagan may not have been as “conservative” as the so-called conservatives running today, but he took strong, principled stands (for better or for worse).

  9. PMD says:

    Joe is Rand Paul that strong, principled person for you?

  10. Joe says:

    PMD – I find him a bit whiny, and I don’t like the chip on his shoulder (although I understand where it comes from). I’d like to see him be more positive. I do find him to be more principled in terms of the Constitution, the role of government, etc, so, for now, I lean in his direction. It may be time to go third party.

  11. PMD says:

    Interesting. I find him detestable. The man grandstands like it’s the only way he can keep himself breathing. Even for a politician he’s a massive bloviator who never met media coverage he didn’t crave. He’s way too cozy with religious crazies. He’s very selective when it comes to government intrusion in private matters. He’s a loony.

  12. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Yes guys, all of you liberals, should be voting for Bernie Sanders, he will solve all the worlds problems, not by creating wealth but just by taking money from Soros, Kochs, Buffett and Microsoft and handing it out to everyone else. Great ideas.

  13. PMD says:

    Whereas the GOP way is reverse Robin Hood, take from the poor and give it to the rich. Great idea. That will solve all the world’s problems.

  14. Joe says:

    WCD – do you really think that the government spying on its citizens is a conservative idea? Did I say anything that would indicate that I’m a liberal, much less a socialist? Don’t do that. You do a disservice to any and all on the right when you argue in such a manner. When Walker is wrong, you have to be able to call him out. Your refusal to do so just means you’re just another hack partisan with no real critical thinking skills. It’s too easy to be critical of the left and their policies. It’s essential to be extra critical of those who say they’re going to try to correct some things. Walker’s position on the Patriot Act is wrong. If you cannot bring yourself to say it, you’re not the conservative you think yourself to be.

  15. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    I know who the radical right is and even better the Radical left in wisconsin. Walker is neither and never has been. One issues does make a philosophy. Tact is the Radical right in wisconsin is after Walker all the time. The Radical right is opposed to patriot act all together. i would think that Murphy would know that, do I have to teach him everything? they support Gary Johnson and Rand paul.

  16. Joe says:

    WCD – are you purposely misunderstanding what I’m saying, or are you just avoiding it? No one called Walker a radical anything. No one said his entire philosophy was wrong. He’s wrong on the Patriot Act. His position betrays his philosophy of smaller government. That contradiction is an indication that he is not principled, but political. The question to you remains…..are you in favor of your government spying on you?

  17. Other Jo says:

    Nice commenting Joe. The calm, rational, yet persistent Spock-like attitude is like refreshing breeze of logic wafting in from Planet Vulcan. Aaaah. It sure did smell weird in here before, didn’t it?

  18. Joe says:

    Other Jo – thank you. I am glad not to be alone anymore. It’s nice to have some humor added in. Thanks for that. Live long, and prosper.

  19. Jake says:

    The WI Right is always making excuses for Walker and wiping his ass and always ignoring the fact that Walker is unprincipled, unethical, and a liar.

    The only thing WCD cares about is as long as Walker and his cronies punish those the right hates. Be it women, minorities, liberals etc….

  20. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Jake, take some clozapine.

  21. Joe says:

    Jake, did you read the comments? I thought it was exceptionally clear that I was saying Walker is not principled, but I’d be considered in the WI Right. Please do relax. There’s really no need for the venom.

  22. PMD says:

    I’m really impressed by Walker’s ability to court women’s votes. Stating that rape victims are really only concerned about pregnancy in the initial months shows how in-tune he is with females and how deeply he understands the issue.

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