"Walker: The race strategy"

By Bill Kaplan,

It's finally official: Gov. Scott Walker is running for the GOP presidential nomination. But what is Walker's strategy to beat his fourteen (and counting) rivals and then prevail in the 2016 presidential election? Contributing New York Times op-ed writer Thomas Edsall got right to the point a few months ago: 

"As Scott Walker has transformed himself from a three-time statewide winner in blue-leaning Wisconsin to a hard-right Republican primary candidate, he has jumped to the head of the pack in Iowa.... 

Walker's re-creation of his political identity is a test of whether a Republican presidential candidate can win on the basis of decisive margins among whites (while getting crushed among minority voters)." 

Edsall, a former award-winning Washington Post political reporter (I met him in 1982) and noted author of several books on class, inequality and race, is a prescient political observer. Edsall wrote insightfully: "Even as he shifts to the right, however, Walker, a preternaturally careful candidate, is avoiding any explicit suggestion that he is the champion of disaffected white voters. Still key policy positions - particularly his changing stance on immigration and his attacks on public sector unions - reveal a thoughtfully directed appeal." 

Take Walker's flip-flop on immigration, going from supporting to opposing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and now restricting legal immigration. Seems calculated to appeal to conservative Christian and Tea Party GOP caucus voters in Iowa (92.5 percent white) and their anti-immigrant GOP Rep. Steve King. Under persistent prodding from the press, Walker finally said "I respectfully disagree" with Donald Trump (i.e., his racist rant against Mexican immigrants). And, all the while Walker talks about "the American worker and American wages", ignoring corporate greed and loss of U.S. jobs from unfair trade deals. 

It's the same with Walker's attacks against public employees. False allegations of indolent and overprivileged government workers are central to Walker's "divide and conquer" strategy. And, with blacks and minorities more likely to be employed in the public sector than whites nationally, gives Walker an opportunity to tap into fears, insecurities and prejudice of whites. It has the whiff of a bygone era. 

Moreover, there are other dog-whistle issues that Walker is emphasizing in his presidential quest: drug testing of safety net program beneficiaries, requiring voter ID and sidestepping the display of the Confederate flag (he belatedly reversed course). And, if none of the above works Walker can go back to pretending that he does not know if President Obama is a Christian and patriot. 

Finally, New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin said: "Walker would try to capture a band of Midwestern and Great Lakes states filled with the sort of working- class white voters he reflects." However, Walker is about to discover an America that is far more diverse than Wisconsin, and with hindsight, more clearheaded about him. 

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

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