A month ago, Republican Tommy Thompson felt pretty good about winning the U.S. Senate race in Wisconsin and helping his party reclaim the majority in the chamber. He’s the former four-term governor of the state, and polls showed him leading Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D).
In this clip, Thompson is seen telling a Tea Party group over the summer that he’s the ideal person to “come up with programs to do away with Medicaid and Medicare.”
As an electoral matter, the release of videos like these six weeks before Election Day is devastating. Thompson was already struggling, and now he’s on record arguing – indeed, bragging – that he’s uniquely suited to take away health care benefits from the elderly, the disabled, and the poor.
But as a strategic matter, this is a symptom of a larger problem. Tommy Thompson used to be a relatively moderate Republican, at least by contemporary standards, uncomfortable with far-right extremists. As his party has become radicalized, however, Thompson has been forced to scramble to convince his base that he’s sincere in his support for an extreme agenda.
Indeed, note the context of the clip – it was recorded in June, during a Republican primary in which Thompson and his GOP rivals were competing to prove their fealty to a right-wing vision of government
Thompson would never make these comments today, but it’s too late – his party forced him to pander to the fringe to win a primary, and now he’s poised to pay a steep price with the mainstream.