2015 Wisconsin losers: Walker and the middle class

By Bill Kaplan

The spectacular collapse of Gov. Scott Walker's presidential campaign, before a single vote was cast, made him the biggest political loser in Wisconsin. The national media and pundit coverage was spot-on: 

• Dave Barry, Pulitzer Prize-winning humor columnist, quipped: Walker dropped out of the presidential race after polls showed him "trailing the late Warren G. Harding" (29th U.S. president);

• The Hill was truculent: "Walker went from hero to zero shockingly fast, even by the standards of presidential politics";

• Washington Post conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin explained why Walker flamed out: "First and foremost, it's not rocket science, but you have to prepare...you need a command of policy matters, both domestic and foreign. Your vision has to be bigger than a single state or a couple of issues";

• Finally, the Boston Globe nailed it: Walker was rated as one of the "biggest losers" in 2015.

Many Wisconsinites had despaired that the national press would accurately cover Walker when he launched his ill-fated "big and bold" presidential campaign. However, presidential candidates undergo intense scrutiny from the national press. But the moral collapse of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, lapdog treatment from a diminishing number of state newspapers and the echo chamber of Milwaukee talk radio left Walker stunningly unprepared for questions from the national press. More than once Walker fell flat on his face, e.g., when asked about ISIS, Walker said: "If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the globe."

The conservative National Review came down hard on Walker: "First, taking on a bunch of protesters is not comparably difficult to taking on a caliphate with sympathizers and terrorists around the globe, and saying so suggests Walker doesn't quite understand the complexity of the challenge from ISIS and its allied groups. Secondly, it is insulting to the protesters....they're not ISIS." The New York Times and Washington Post also gave Walker a "crash course on foreign policy." Soon it was all over.

The end of Walker's presidential campaign has left him diminished, but still a dangerous extremist governor. However, polling shows that Wisconsin is now focused on the Walker state record. He has presided over Wisconsin's having the nation's largest decline in the percentage of middle class families (Pew). Moreover, Walker's promised 250,000 jobs fell short; private sector job growth lags behind neighboring states. No surprise that "Walker's approval ratings are not only among his worst since taking office. They are among the lowest of any governor in the country..." (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). 

Now is the time to figure out how to reclaim our state and turn it around. I suggest for discussion a fusion gubernatorial ticket of former GOP Senate Majority Leader Dale Schultz and current Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling. Both have records of strong support for the UW System, well-funded public schools, access to health care, modern state roads and collective bargaining rights. Moreover, they believe in compromise, negotiation and working across party lines. I will have more to say later. Happy New Year!

-- Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C. for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 - 2009

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