Scott Walker is making the wrong kind of sense

Wisconsin Governor and newly-ordained GOP frontrunner Scott Walker got under DC’s skin again yesterday when he compared union protesters to Islamic State militants.

After a Conservative Political Action Conference audience member asked him how he would handle threats from Islamic extremists, Walker gave what was on track to be a standard response before, with the kind of pause-and-smirk that can only precede a prepared one-liner, quipped that “If I can take on a 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.”

Watch below:

Walker’s answer exploded the heads of very smart people across the political spectrum, even drawing a reaction from the National Review’s Jim Geraghty:

…it is insulting to the protesters, a group I take no pleasure in defending. The protesters in Wisconsin, so furiously angry over Walker’s reforms and disruptive to the procedures of passing laws, earned plenty of legitimate criticism. But they’re not ISIS. They’re not beheading innocent people. They’re Americans, and as much as we may find their ideas, worldview, and perspective spectacularly wrongheaded, they don’t deserve to be compared to murderous terrorists.

This misses the point. Scott Walker knows that union workers aren’t terrorists, and he knows how irresponsible it is to make the comparison. His answer is but the latest in a long line of answers to relatively modest questions — What are your thoughts on evolution? Does President Obama love America? Is he a Christian? — that have ranged from intellectually empty to chalkboard-scratchingly insulting. But diehard mainstream political observers would do well to remember that, especially at CPAC, he isn’t talking to them.

This should be especially clear after Public Policy Polling survey released a survey of national GOP voters this week showing Walker surging ahead of his likely opponents after his series of C-minus answers to 8th grade civics and biology questions. As noted by Alex Theodoridis in the Washington Post, as stupid as Scott Walker sounds, his answers place him squarely in line with the median GOP voter, who wants a candidate that can not only win, but will punch the liberal establishment in the mouth while they do it.

As Peter Beinart pointed out last month in the Atlantic:

Walker’s rise illustrates the pitfalls of media coverage of the GOP race. Not many national reporters live within the conservative media ecosystem. They therefore largely assume that in order to win over the non-white, female, millennial and working class voters who rejected John McCain and Mitt Romney, Republican presidential candidates must break from conservative orthodoxy, if not substantively, then at least rhetorically.

…Walker’s rise is a reminder that among Republican primary voters, and especially Iowa-caucus goers, the market for ideological or even stylistic innovation, may be smaller than the media assumes.

For the Jim Geraghtys of the world, who are presumably tearing their hair out over how dumb their current frontrunner is sounding, they really should have seen this coming after nearly sixteen years of their party living in, as Mike Huckabee would lovingly describe it, Bubbaville. Either Scott Walker is the product of the growing know-nothing caucus within the GOP, or he is playing to it. Either way, it’s the soup that any eventual Republican nominee is going to have to swim in.

Scott Walker, via Gil C /

Scott Walker, via Gil C /

And if you’re Scott Walker, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by being the candidate stirring that soup. Smart Republican strategists, a few of whom I would assume Walker has consulted, paid attention in 2012. In that election, conservative activists flocked to Rick Perry, then Herman Cain, then Newt Gingrich and then Rick Santorum before Mitt Romney was able to outspend them all to lock up the nomination. These strategists all noticed the cultural fault lines in the GOP, and they know that a candidate who can exploit these fault lines while still appearing somewhat passable as the party’s standard-bearer is the only kind of candidate that can upend the establishment.

They know that half-concessions like “I don’t know” and “I don’t question the President’s motives” — messaging that has been repeated both by Walker and candidates who have been forced to respond to recent Walker-driven news cycles — let the base know that their candidate is one of them, all while avoiding the national fireworks that would ensue if the base was told what they really wanted to hear.

Scott Walker doesn’t have the brand, nor does he have the money, beat Jeb Bush without first locking up the Crazy Caucus. His path to victory is laden with union-busting creationists who believe that President Obama is an American-hating Muslim, so we should get used to answers from him that speak to this (large) slice of the GOP electorate.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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44 Responses to “Scott Walker is making the wrong kind of sense”

  1. gratuitous says:

    I did; I was agreeing in a rather clumsy way and addressing parties who may or may not be present (I operate on the assumption that the trolls are always watching).

  2. caphillprof says:

    You did note the NOT in my comment?

  3. UncleBucky says:

    It’s DemocratIC (adjective) and Democrat (noun). Simple. I don’t care who says it. Especially when you report it. Then you use the right form and you quote and write [sic] after the incorrect term.

  4. Mike F says:

    Did you not see where I stated that the Democratic (there, happy now?) candidates THEMSELVES used the word “Democrat” on their OWN campaign material?

    Democrat-Schmemocrat, Republican-Schmepublican…they’re all the same corrupt bunch of ****ing corporate tools anyway.

  5. UncleBucky says:

    It’s DemocratIC. Democrat, except as a noun, is code speech. YOU stop it. Eh?

  6. Bill_Perdue says:

    On November 8, 2016 vote Socialist or Labor, vote for good referendums and if there aren’t any left candidates write in Chelsea Manning or join the majority in sitting it out.

    It’s always better not to vote at all than to vote for our enemies, Democrats and Republicans.“It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don’t want and get it.” – Eugene V. Debs

  7. ComradeRutherford says:

    Correct. The TeaBircher base lovingly fondle their machine guns every day, praying to their god every night Rush Limbaugh to finally say that it’s time to kill their liberal neighbors. So any Serious Republican has to make dog-whistle statements about the mass murder of everyone that so Liberal that they think they should be paid for their work.

  8. FLL says:

    Here are some examples from Bill Perdue’s ongoing campaign to disrespect the vast majority of union members and their elected leadership. First is a classic example of Bill talking out of both sides of his mouth. Bill lauds the AFL-CIO in his comment below about the Wisconsin rallies, but in an opinion piece in December, 2012 from Railworkers United Blog (link here), Bill condemns the AFL-CIO because of their endorsement of Obama in his reelection campaign against Mitt Romney, saying “The leadership of the AFL-CIO enabled this sellout [Obama].” To make an even bigger fool of himself, Bill signed the opinion piece as “Brother Bill Perdue, TCU/IAM, Las Vegas NV,” TCU/IAM being the union that represents railroad, mass transit and airline workers. Now read what the elected leadership of TCU/IAM—Bill’s own union—wrote as part of its endorsement in 2012:

    President Obama appointed a Presidential Emergency Board that recommended record wage gains for our freight railroad members. Can you imagine what a Romney Presidential Emergency Board stacked with his corporate cronies would have done, after hearing the railroads testify that rail workers were 80% overpaid? 

    President Obama has appointed friends of labor to every federal agency. His OSHA has leveled unprecedented fines against railroads and reinstated employees who were wrongfully dismissed for reporting injuries and unsafe working conditions. His FRA no longer turns a blind eye to rail safety concerns. 

    On the other side stands Romney who is on record attacking every regulation, law and benefit that rail workers and retirees depend on.
    Romney has vowed to end Amtrak. 20,000 union brothers and sisters would lose their jobs. The effect on railroad retirement would be catastrophic.

    Bill, if you’re going to mention the names of unions like AFL-CIO and your own union, TCU/IAM, at least show our readers the courtesy of admitting that their leadership and the vast majority of their union members disagree with your insulting, Republican-friendly strategy of suggesting that union members refrain from voting—at least voting for any candidate whose name actually appears on the ballot.

  9. Bill_Perdue says:

    There was a big rally in Wisconsin yesterday.

    Wisconsinites Rally to Stop ‘Right-to-Work’ Bill – ‘I am not a terrorist’ is common theme at Saturday’s protest against ‘right to work’ bill. On Saturday, the Wisconsin AFL-CIO is rallying thousands of workers from around the state at the state capitol against the impending adoption of the law that would ban private sector workers from being required to join a union or pay dues.

    The Wisconsin AFL-CIO says the protesters will also demand an apology from Governor Scott Walker after he said fighting against 100,000 protesters during the Act 10 debates in 2011 prepared him to battle terrorists as president. Walker made the comment at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Thursday.

    Late Wednesday night, the Wisconsin Republican-led state Senate voted 17–15 to advance a “right to work” bill that has been widely criticized as harmful to the working families of the state. Thousands rallied in Madison outside the Wisconsin Capitol on Tuesday and Wednesday in opposition to the legislation.

    The bill would make Wisconsin the 25th state to adopt a so-called “right-to-work” law. It is supported by Governor Scott Walker, a likely GOP presidential candidate.

    Nationally, big corporations and their front groups, the Democrats and Republicans, are trying to destroy the union movement and they’re only succeeding in creating a more militant movement. In Chicago that militancy takes the form of a fight to defeat Rahm Emanuel, the chief Obot in the country and part of the earlier efforts to destroy the UAW and the Chicago Teachers Union.

  10. rmthunter says:

    By all means do, but direct your comments to your local paper — or WaPo, NYT, whatever source you choose — and let them have it for their slack coverage (or lack of coverage). Nicely, of course — I always just ask questions, like “Why didn’t you mention this issue or this aspect of the story?” or “What about this study that you didn’t mention?” Makes them crazy, and alerts other readers/commenters to the fact that they’re not getting the full story.

  11. ComradeRutherford says:

    The GOP sees everyone that gets paid for their work as a terrorist. According to the Conservatives, America will only be Free when only the CEOs are paid and everyone else is a slave. That’s the goal of the Koch Brothers.

  12. gratuitous says:

    Perhaps not. But I’ll continue to speak up as I have the strength to do so, and let the results take care of themselves.

  13. cambridgemac says:

    Not worse, I think, but more of a “clear and present danger.”

  14. cambridgemac says:

    Actually, Walker’s in line with a long American government tradition of using assassination and massacre as tools against striking workers and unemployed veterans. Go check your history books or wikipedia. If drones had been available to American governors during any number of strikes in the 19th and 20th centuries, they would have been used. Even in the 60s, the FBI was trying to get Martin Luther King to commit suicide, turning a blind eye to police & KKK murders of civil rights activists, and worked with the Chicago police to assassinate Fred Hampton.

    Walker isn’t saying he’ll treat ISIS the way he treated union members; he’s really saying that he’ll treat union members they way the US gov’t treats ISIS. And that’s exactly what his base wants to hear.

  15. Bill_Perdue says:


  16. Mike F says:

    Stop it. There is a primary election for various aldermanic wards here in St. Louis, and on many of the yard signs denoting party affiliation of the candidates, the word “Democrat” is almost always used when noting which party which candidate belongs to. As STL is a mostly Democratic Party town, I’m taking it that the candidates are not slighting themselves.

    So tired of these petty little spats here.

  17. UncleBucky says:

    “Democrat” ?

  18. MoonDragon says:

    Mr. Walker, if you truly believe that bloodthirsty, murderous, medieval, heavily armed thugs can be dealt with in the same manner as relatively peaceful, mostly law abiding, unarmed American citizens who gather in a Constitutionally protected manner to protest policies with which they disagree, you have just shown yourself to be unqualified to serve as president. That, and you’re absolutely delusional.

  19. Indigo says:

    With that kind of stupid, he definitely speaks the Party Mind.

  20. The_Fixer says:

    Missing in Walker’s flippant remarks is the fact that he didn’t handle the 100,000 protesters very well at all. He barely managed to survive a recall election election, and a subsequent reelection against a milquetoast candidate. He’s been in and out of court trying to defend himself and I seriously doubt that he’ll get another term as governor, let alone any office higher than that.

    To suggest that he has the ability to “handle” ISIS based on his experience with the protesters is ridiculous. The protesters, while an upset and angry bunch, certainly weren’t out to kill anyone. While some were well-organized, they didn’t have a command and control apparatus built on the idea of murdering people to get their point across.

    Once again, Waker proves that he’s not capable of running the show, any show. He’s worse than a standard-issue sociopath – he’s a stupid sociopath.

  21. rmthunter says:

    “We” have no impact on public opinion. Let’s face it, the readers of this blog, or Crooks and Liars or Hullabaloo are not a significant portion of the American electorate. The general public is being fed the line that people like Walker, Bush III, et al., are presidential material. Most people are not going to look farther than that — which is why Romney managed 47% of the vote. (Well, that and the ads funded by billionaires.) Can you imagine WaPo giving a piece like this any prominence, if, indeed, they would run it at all?

  22. benb says:

    …that will punch the liberal establishment in the mount…and anyone else, for that matter. The Tea Party seens as immune to reason as is ISIS—we have this clown show of GOP Presidential Candidates showing up at CPAC to show how aggressive they will be at the same time the Republicans think someone is gonna negotiate with them if they hold DHS hostage.

  23. Colin says:

    Hey Scott er uhm MR. Walker, here’s a little help I think you need

  24. artmofo says:

    No way Walker gets the nomination. He’s not even running for it, really. He’s running for name recognition and (perhaps) VP slot.

  25. artmofo says:

    This is the best analysis I’ve seen of Scott Walker’s sudden surge and appeal. Congrats to Jon Green for that.

    However, it is Christie the Democrats truly fear. He’s the GOP candidate who can pick off more independent (and some Democratic) votes than anyone else. I know Dems who will vote for him over Hillary.

    Jeb Bush is about as exciting as watching snow melt. Christie is the danger; a surge for anyone but him is good for the Dems.

    (And Walker has about as much charisma as your average desk clerk at an airport car rental stand — no offense, desk clerks!)

  26. Bill_Perdue says:

    One of the goals of the left is to replace the Democrat dependent AFL CIO leadership with a healthy, anti-scab leadership.

    Huge gains are being made in the number of hours worked, pay and work rules for fast food workers and workers at big box scores. There are two many to list but if you follow you’ll see the impact of that and of the fight for $15. An online sub is fee.

  27. Naja pallida says:

    This is the belief of all fascists.

  28. Houndentenor says:

    I have a union. Because of the transient nature of my singing work, some of the jobs I take are in union houses and others not. There is a clear difference between pay and conditions between union and non-union companies. But it’s disappointing to see time and time again hos spineless my union is and the disdain shown by patrons of the company that we expect to be paid at all much less paid enough to live on. So while I enjoyed reading your comments, I don’t see much in the way or results either in my own union or in others. There has to be a floor beyond which the union busting cannot continue but we don’t seem to have reached it yet, and the public, for the most part, doesn’t seem to give a damn. In fact the commonly repeated comment “unions used to do good things but then they got to greedy” is said in my presence often and without any further comment. Never mind that whatever moment that comment might have been true was at least 30 years ago. The result of the weak unions is stagnant wages and deplorable working conditions. Working people used to be able to buy a home and take care of a family on their wages. Maybe it wasn’t high-end living but it was decent living. That is gone and I am baffled that people can’t look around them and see that.

  29. Bill_Perdue says:

    Walker, Obama, Kascish, Coumo, Rahm Emanuel, Brown in California and a whole host of right wing scab politicians have tried to bust unions, with a degree of success.

    Unions are getting more miltant and learning to fight back. “Many thought Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union Act 10 would be a death sentence for Wisconsin’s public sector unions. … But teacher unions around the state, while objecting to a law that ties two hands and a leg behind their backs, have taken the law’s obstacles and turned them into organizing opportunities.

    The UAW, after being busted by Obama and Rahm Emanuel, was forced to accept a two tiered system of pay, work rules and benefits that was meant to divide union workers by genertion and seniority. The same thing happened to UPS teamsters, postal workers, rail workers and others.

    At the same time unions are being busted the loss of membership is being offset by organizing drives in fast food and big box stores and by the socialist/union left drive for a full work week, a decent, instead of Obama’s indecent, minimum wage and for union work rules. The labor movement has been growing by organizing. “The Truth About Union Organizing: It’s Much Better Than You Think”

  30. BeccaM says:

    This is just another step down a long road I’ve been calling “the Goon-ification of the Republican party.”

    A goon has nothing but disdain for education, science, and critical thinking. A goon values disproportionate violence over debate or discussion or negotiation. A goon would rather obstruct or destroy than to compromise in any way, because to the goon, giving up even a single millimeter is equivalent to total surrender. A goon paints those who disagree with him as enemies to be crushed utterly. A goon dehumanizes anyone who isn’t like him, who doesn’t believe exactly as he does. A goon has no mercy, no empathy, no human decency, no tolerance because these traits have been labeled as deficient. A goon criminalizes dissent. A goon will criminalize anything he is not. A goon has no problem with the deaths of innocents provided they’re not members of his tribe. A goon relishes the idea of torturing and killing others. A goon prefers war over peace.

    Yes, I know: The words from Walker and the rest of the CPAC howler monkeys aren’t meant for the left or the moderates or even the sensible center-rightists. This is bloody red meat for the radical hyper-conservatives, the ones who actually would prefer to outlaw liberalism and turn the U.S. formally into a Christo-fascist state.

    Nevertheless, as I remarked in my comment to Nicho, this kind of eliminationist language is dangerous. This portrayal of American citizens legitimately (albeit raucously and inconveniently) exercising their right to protest as equivalent to the inhuman ISIL butchers is the rhetoric of political terrorism.

    I won’t pretend this has been the first step down this road. This particular journey to Hell has been long underway. The dismaying part is how those would lead us all to those infernal gates are increasingly no longer hiding their intended destination.

  31. FLL says:

    There is only one thing worse than a bad speech, and that’s a long, bad speech, so I won’t link to the over 1-hour-long speech on foreign policy that Jeb gave at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on Feb.18. Instead, here is a link to the article from The Daily Beast summarizing Jeb’s jaw-droppingly stupid speech. Tea party favorite Scott Walker my indeed win the Republican nomination. Most likely reaction from the average American voter? “Gag me with a spoon.”

  32. BeccaM says:

    Yes, that’s exactly what he’s saying. Americans exercising their civil rights to protest are, in his mind, enemies of the state.

    It is the rhetoric of political terrorism

  33. Houndentenor says:

    But Jeb Bush is exactly the kind of candidate that they keep picking and who keeps losing. the base is under the delusion that the problem is that McCain and Romney weren’t conservative *enough*! So I think that while the money is after Bush, he might do so badly in the first few races that the money comes to whoever the frontrunner turns out to be. It is expensive to run in all the primaries but it’s not that expensive to run in Iowa, NH and SC. The Koch Brothers and their ilk have funded Walker and the like quite well and will be happy to pour in the money if he looks like a winner.

  34. 2karmanot says:

    Plus, Jebbie has close ties with Cuban terrorists.

  35. Naja pallida says:

    Not really sure I buy that, he might win a few early primaries and straw polls, as the nutjobs always do, but Jeb Bush is soaking up pretty much all the big, serious money. Even Romney got scared away by the lack of available cash so early on. But it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Walker as Jeb’s VP choice. Most of the party consider Jeb to be a weaselly moderate, picking someone like Walker would be a solid attempt to lock down the crazy-wing vote, while not actually having to stray too far outside his comfort zone.

  36. Houndentenor says:

    The only thing Jeb Bush has going for him over Walker is name recognition and it’s not a name that’s going to help him. Neither party tends to win with “the usual suspect” as the nominee. There are exceptions (Nixon in 68, for example), but the “next in line candidate” (Mondale, Dole, Kerry, McCain, Romney) almost always loses. Walker is their best bet and I think the money people will realize that after Jeb stumbles. There’s a TON of dirt on JB (extramarital affairs, etc.) that will come out if his campaign actually starts.

  37. Houndentenor says:

    Unless he does something incredibly stupid (meaning stupid to the GOP base, not to the rest of us) he’s the nominee.

  38. Indigo says:

    As long as people like that are insulting the public, they take delight in the reactions of those who see the ignorance behind it. The Know-Nothing Party is back with fresh faces and a new name. But it remains nothing more than a snickering of ignorance.

  39. emjayay says:

    It doesn’t seem to be all that small-d democratic to be all boastful about saying FU to 100,000 of your constituents. But, right wingers are by definition not really fans of democracy, but of authoritarianism.

  40. nicho says:

    If you really drill down into the logic behind the statement, “If I can deal with X, then I can deal with Y,” the implication is that X is worse than Y. You might say, “If I can put up with a root canal, then I can handle a filling.” But you wouldn’t say, “If I can handle a filling, then I can handle a root canal.”

    He is, in effect, saying that workers are worse than ISIS.

  41. 2karmanot says:

    “Scott Walker doesn’t have the brand, nor does he have the money, beat Jeb Bush”—–Interesting. Walker is The Koch’s factotum in Wisconsin, a state owned by the brothers, as are many others. There is also vice Lord Adelson of Nevada. These men alone have the power and wealth to buy America and they seem intent on doing so. However, I agree that Walker doesn’t have the brand and his history has enough muck in it to make his run difficult.

  42. gratuitous says:

    And we should get used to calling out panderers like Scott Walker each and every time. It’s not too difficult to draw the line: Today Scott Walker said people who disagree with him politically are comparable to ISIS militants. Maybe you agree with him. But what if you cross Scott Walker tomorrow? Will you be as comfortable then with likening political differences as tantamount to terrorism?

  43. caphillprof says:

    No, we should not get used to pandering to the crazies.

  44. nicho says:

    Someone needs to cut Geraghty’s salary to $8 an hour and see how “wrongheaded” he thinks the unions are then.

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