I wonder what it’s like working on Gov. Scott Walker’s staff these days. It has to be a heady time to be with a man who suddenly rocketed to the front of the Republican party’s conga line for the presidential nomination. The guy survived three elections in four years, a series of protests comparable to the Vietnam War outrage and is now looked upon as a conservative media darling. He essentially controls the whole state, as the Republicans dominate the State Legislature and every Democratic gambit since his election in 2010 has failed to slow his roll.
He’s the son of a Baptist preacher who never finished college and is now meeting with the heads of state and chatting up his brand of political “boldness” across the pond.
And yet, part of me thinks that there’s an awful lot of scotch and ibuprofen being consumed at the state capitol these days, and not just by Walker’s adversaries.
Walker and his crew had to know that the $300 million cut to the university system would cause howls of pain. In the past, the cuts were buffered by trims to inefficiencies or reworking of standard practices. When the last set of financial whacks took place, Walker and the Republicans were able to undermine the outrage by “exposing” a supposed $1.6 billion slush fund that was just lying around. Of course, it wasn’t true, but when the UW administrators and PR officials fumbled about for a decent explanation, it looked like they got caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
This time is different in that the UW has done a better job of explaining the reality of those funds and pushing out on the line that this cut is tantamount to a 13 percent reduction in overall state funding. Add that to the public-affairs brilliance of Madison’s chancellor, Rebecca Blank, who has been meeting with support staff and maintenance crew to explain how this will kill them, and you get a much different picture this time around. You also have a few Republicans saying, “Hey, this isn’t going to be good…”
Walker’s staff has not only dealt with this shift from “Everybody Loves Scooter” to “Uh… Dude?” but also in his ability to bounce around from idea to idea on this whole UW System plan.
One of Walker’s greatest strengths as far as his constituents go is his ability to be absolute and rock-solid sure on things. He never gave an inch on Act 10 and he constantly paints things in perfect black/white contrast so even the most feeble-minded of his followers can see it. We have a “taker vs. taxpayer” argument that works well. We have an “Unintimidated” governor who is standing strong among the wafflers. We have an “Act 10 for the UW system” pitch that pits rich professors who don’t work for shit against people with three and four jobs.
Those dichotomies and absolutist strategies have boded well for him in racing to the front of the line for president. However, for the past several weeks, he keeps throwing out random ideas about the UW cuts that have forced his staffers to try to reconfigure the message while still telling people who love the “straightforward” Walker that this is EXACTLY what he had in mind all along.
First was the “you’ll have more flexibility, which means you can solve all these problems you say we are giving you,” argument.
Then, when it was clear the flexibility couldn’t solve the problem, he noted that the universities didn’t have to take the $150 million bite out of each term, meaning they could push all this off to the second year of the budget and pray for a lottery win or something.
Then, when the university folks explained that a huge cut now for freedom later wouldn’t work, he had his staffers put out the word that he could easily see flexibility and such coming earlier, so “There’s nothing to see here…”
After that, people in his own party became skittish that the UW would jack tuition through the stratosphere if they had any freedom, Walker floated the idea of giving people freedom but putting a cap on tuition, the only “freedom” that actually would actually create additional revenue. In addition, the University folk pushed back with a “Here we go again” argument about Walker and his horse-trading.
At each point, the PR arm of the Walker campaign has gone into “bob and weave” mode while trying to Jedi-mind-trick people into thinking this isn’t abnormal.
If Walker wins the presidential nod for the Republicans, this isn’t going to be a huge problem for him. He basically gets to fart in the elevator that is the state of Wisconsin and walk out at the penthouse, leaving the rest of us to live with the stink as we go all the way back down to the lobby. However, if he swings and misses to represent the Elephant Party, he then has to actually deal with the people he screwed to get this situation into shape.
For his staff, however, all they can do is walk behind the elephant and quickly sweep away whatever randomly falls out, hoping that no one notices or that they don’t get hit by it.