Feature:Opinion

Will Scott Walker cost Republicans the 2012 presidential election?

James Delmont Contributor

In his zeal to reform Wisconsin’s state finances, Governor Scott Walker has overlooked the obvious fact that the prime concern of every Republican, from Mitt Romney down to the lowest precinct captain, should be retiring Barack Obama from the presidency next year. By attacking the collective bargaining rights of public employees in Wisconsin, Walker has replicated Barack Obama’s Big Mistake of 2009: using a temporary legislative advantage to strong-arm unpopular measures through (with zero bi-partisanship), and employing parliamentary trickery as the finishing stroke of the process. As with Obama, this has given rise to a spontaneous, “tea party” kind of movement on the left, has energized the enemy base, and will undoubtedly lead to retribution at the polls, as it did for Obama. In fact, Walker may be recalled even before he can run for a second term.

Worst of all, Wisconsin is surely lost to the Republican presidential nominee next year, regardless of who is nominated.

To defeat Obama and forestall Obamacare, Iranian nukes, open borders and much more, Midwestern states like Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana are crucial to the Republicans. Governors in Indiana and Ohio are following Walker’s example, though Mitch Daniels and John Kasich have not stirred up quite the hornet’s nest that Walker has. Still, Kasich’s bill in Ohio, narrowly passed in both houses of the legislature, will sharply curtail collective bargaining rights for some 350,000 public employees. Anyone looking at the narrow presidential election margins in Ohio’s recent presidential elections is bound to see that a majority of 350,000 votes could swing the state to the Democrats not only next year, but for years to come. Firemen and police officers and other public employees were among the “Reagan Democrats” so important to Republican political interests in the 1980s and after.

Losing the 2012 presidential election would mean that the heavy financial burdens of Obamacare will descend on Ohio, Wisconsin and all other states, wiping out the meager gains that the collective bargaining reforms may have achieved. Tea partiers on the right are full of energy and self-righteousness, but like Colonel Custer at the Little Big Horn, they are attacking at the wrong time, in the wrong place, and with insufficient support. While polls show a general approval of fiscal reforms in Wisconsin, they do not show a majority in favor of tinkering with collective bargaining, which is regarded in the rustbelt states as something sacred, a right hard-won years ago in legendary battles with industrial magnets and uncaring civil authorities.

Walker, Kasich and others may be correct in arguing that the results will not be catastrophic financially for public workers, but in politics, perception is everything. When the Republicans vote down the Dream Act as though it is a summons to cancer, endorse a flat tax in Arizona that lowers the taxes of the wealthy while increasing those of the poor (however slight in each direction), they are exhibiting a remarkable lack of political wisdom. For the general voting public, details are not always important, but perception is. This is the reason that national newsmagazines could get away with presenting Newt Gingrich, after his stunning takeover of the House of Representatives in 1994, as both the Grinch and Scrooge on their covers. By taking up the symbols of Grinch and Scrooge today, the Republicans are falling right into President Obama’s trap — which is based on his doing little and proposing almost nothing in the way of real fiscal reform, while they rush in to chop and slash at programs — many of which impact the poorest Americans. When Gingrich went along with a shutdown of the federal government in late 1995 and again in early 1996, he and the Republicans were blamed. President Clinton emerged as the winner and the gloss was gone from the 1994 House victory. Results today would be similar — Obama would be the winner.

This should have been a Year of Education for the public, with Republicans as patient teachers. Rushing into the breach in an orgy of political martyrdom has been a mistake. How big a mistake could become obvious late next year.

James Delmont is a widely published journalist and college teacher with a PhD in history. He has recently finished a book, The Great Liberal Death Wish.