Wisconsin GOP backs away from secession

The Wisconsin State Capitol, as seen from a nearby building in Madison, Wis., on June 16, 2011.
The Wisconsin State Capitol, as seen from a nearby building in Madison, Wis., on June 16, 2011.
There was good news over the weekend for those who'd like to see Wisconsin remain part of the United States for the foreseeable future.

Wisconsin Republicans at their annual convention Saturday defeated a tea party-backed resolution demanding that legislators pass bills affirming the state's right to secede and nullifying federal laws. The GOP's conservative wing in southeastern Wisconsin's 6th Congressional District proposed the measure in March. It called on state lawmakers to uphold the state's right to secede under "extreme circumstances" based on the U.S. Constitution's 10th Amendment, which says powers the Constitution doesn't give the federal government belong to the states. The measure also called for legislation that would nullify President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, the Common Core academic standards, indefinite detention, any presidential order that circumvents Congress and drone use in Wisconsin.

Ordinarily, talk about secession and the ability of states to nullify federal laws they don't like disappeared in the middle of the 19th century -- the underlying issues were resolved by a little something called the Civil War, in which the secession/nullification crowd lost.
But as Republican politics has moved sharply to the right in the 21st century, some Wisconsin GOP activists decided it was time to renew the discussion. A week ago, Republicans in the southeast corner of the state "rather smoothly" approved the secession/nullification resolution, elevating the issue to the state convention.
Randy Molini, a GOP mayoral candidate in Black River Falls and a member of the party's platform committee, told a local paper, "There are groups of us who think $100 trillion dollars worth of current debt and non-funded liabilities is extreme, NSA spying is extreme, and the police state is extreme and I support the idea of law-abiding, hard-working people being able to opt out."
At the statewide convention, however, the argument wasn't well received.
There was a voice vote late Saturday that appeared to defeat the measure, but proponents demanded a head count, party officials agreed, and the resolution failed 303 to 145.
That's obviously not a narrow margin, but it's worth noting that by this count, a third of Wisconsin Republican Party's delegates backed the resolution. Depending on one's perspective, that's quite a few people backing such a radical proposal.
Opposition from Gov. Scott Walker (R), who didn't want another round of headlines making his party look like extremists, likely helped seal the deal.
Even if the resolution had passed, it's important to realize that the practical effects would have been symbolic, at best -- the measure would have urged legislators to pursue state laws on secession and nullification, and in all likelihood, there wouldn't have been any meaningful legislative push.
But the fact that some Wisconsin Republicans even found this worth talking about says something important about the state of GOP politics in 2014.