“What do Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Mexico, and Nevada all have in common?” he said to me after the Dairy Breakfast. “Those are all battleground states that Barack Obama won in 2012—and they also have Republican governors. So why are state Republican leaders connecting with voters in a way that the national party isn’t?” Walker repeated his litany of self-assigned virtues: He and his fellow GOP governors were plainspoken optimists who made the rounds. “Not that any Republican is necessarily going to win the majority among women, younger voters, or ethnic minorities,” he conceded. “But we can do a lot better. I go to places where you’d never dream of seeing Mitt Romney or John McCain.”
The irony of that last statement was surely unintended: In the three breakfasts we had been to that morning, I had seen exactly as many adult African-Americans and Latinos as Confederate flags—namely, one of each. Instead, this was a key slice of Scott Walker country, populated by thousands of white male rural voters. It takes more than them to win; and Walker, whose statewide approval rating has stayed unwaveringly in the neighborhood of 49 over the past two years, has consistently managed to unite a winning coalition even while advocating divisive policies. For a national Republican Party glumly pondering its shrinking demographics, Scott Walker would seem to be offering good news: Fire up the base, pick off a healthy share of independents, and you can continue to grind out victories for years to come. Republicans didn’t necessarily have to persuade voters they were right, Walker maintained—and that had been the case, he said, going back to his very first win, for State Assembly back in 1993: “The bottom line is I was pretty committed to my ideals, and that’s why people elected me. Not necessarily because they were ideologically in line with me, but because people have become cynical about politicians, and they want somebody who actually stands for something.”
Only until all those fucking fossils die off. Then you’re screwed. So what Walker is offering the Republican party is a chance to do more of the same for about five to ten more years. Maybe that’s enough for them. Maybe that’s all they want is power TOMORROW, and not power forever.
Maybe that’s what Bush taught them, that having a Republican majority isn’t worth it to them if they have to be nice to women, gays and minorities at their parties. Maybe basic politeness, an unwillingness to actually build physical internment camps, is a bridge too far, even if it would get them more votes for more years.
Maybe they’d just rather be mean and small and angry and put-upon and have all their problems be the fault of some black people somewhere buying the wrong kind of cereal with food stamps. Maybe that’s just more fun.