In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R) has adopted a strategy that’s worked pretty well for him. Slate’s Jamelle Bouie summarized it simply as “divide and conquer.”
Reporting on the Republican’s message in Iowa, Bouie noted earlier this year that Walker delivered an “effective, unwavering, and uncompromising” message to conservative activists. The governor believes he’s won statewide office – twice, in a state President Obama carried twice – by rallying far-right voters and pushing an unapologetic, aggressively partisan agenda.
It came as a bit of a surprise, then, when the AP reported yesterday that the Walker campaign sees the candidate as a “uniter.”
Scott Walker’s top adviser said Tuesday that the Republican governor who survived an attempt to recall him from office is running for president as someone who can bring together a polarized electorate.“I think he is running as a uniter,” Walker adviser Rick Wiley said during a luncheon hosted by the political website Wispolitics.com.
As proof, Wiley pointed to Walker’s victory in his 2012 recall election. “If he’s able to unite this state and win that recall when it was the most polarized state at the time,” Wiley argued, “his message works.”
It’s a bizarre argument. Walker was so polarizing, pushing such a radical agenda, that a big chunk of his constituents tried to force him from office hallway through his first term. The governor held on, but not before drawing the ire of nearly half of Wisconsin.
“See what a uniter he is?” one of Walker’s top aides effectively asks.
The funny part of this isn’t just how wrong the argument is. There’s also the fact that Walker himself is pushing in the exact opposite direction. Consider this Washington Post report from last week:
The town hall attendee [in Cedar Rapids, Iowa] asked for the microphone to pose this question to newly announced presidential candidate Scott Walker: Americans are fed up with the partisan gridlock in Washington, so what would he do as president to “end the partisanship and parochialism that is really stifling this great country”?Walker is best-known for fighting Democrats, labor unions and liberal activists in Wisconsin, where he is the purple state’s polarizing governor. Many Democrats feel like Walker has bulldozed over them and ignored their concerns in pushing his conservative agenda. Many Democratic lawmakers in Madison are so angered by the governor that they have difficulty making it through a budget hearing, press conference or even a casual coffee without launching into a frustrated tirade about everything he has done wrong in their state.
Responding to the question, Walker told the Iowan that as far as he’s concerned, the real problem is Washington’s ability to function. “What I think people are hungry for from their leaders in Washington – or the lack of leadership in Washington – is they want people who just tell them what they’re going to do and then they go off and do it,” the governor said.
This is important because it speaks to Walker’s entire approach to governance. As the Wisconsinite sees it, the problem with Washington isn’t partisanship, but paralysis. Americans elected a Democratic president to move the country in one direction and also elected a Republican Congress to move the country in the exact opposite direction. The result is a system that only functions when President Obama comes up with ways to govern without lawmakers’ help.
Note, Walker’s response wasn’t about “bringing people together,” “ending partisanship,” or “uniting” disparate contingents, since literally everything we know about him makes clear that isn’t the governor’s style. Rather, Walker believes “leadership” means enacting an agenda, crushing opponents as necessary.
Or put another way, just as soon as the nation has a far-right president and a far-right Congress, Americans will be amazed at how quickly the gridlock will go away.
“Uniting” isn’t the goal, conservative governance is.