Sunday, February 20, 2011

Walker's Behavior: All Strategic, Not Internally Sustainable

Watching Scott Walker these last few days reminds me of his patterns and politicking when he began his service as Milwaukee County Executive.

His running after Tom's Ament's recall over the county pension scandal was something of a head-scratcher, as up to that point, he'd been a failed campus politician at Marquette, then an undistinguished back-benching Tommy Thompson loyalist in the legislature who held a safe Republican seat in Wauwatosa from which he barely made a peep.

And who showed zero interest up in local government, which, especially with regard to the feisty County Board, was to many politicos an unattractive option.

But it became clear almost from the beginning that Walker was using the County Exec's position as a base from which to run test-drive a basic GOP message - - cut taxes, cut spending, cut government, joust with public employees - - in order to run for Governor.

And line up the personal calculus with the talk radio agenda - - bash rail transit, attack Democrats, fret about voter ID - - the whole list of conservative Republican talking points, nine yards long.

A few years ago, I asked three friends - - one who had a professional relationship with Walker, another a County administrator and a third a Walker political supporter - - the same question:

"Am I wrong, or is everything Walker says and does aimed at generating copy in a political ad?"

The person with the professional relationship with Walker said, "You have no idea."

The person in County government said, "Absolutely right."

The Walker supporter simply chuckled and said, "well, he is ambitious."

What's my point?

While Walker surely didn't bank on the huge and uncontrollable outpouring of resistance to his attack on collective bargaining, I believe he indeed calculated the political benefits he'd build within the state and national GOP base, as Scott Walker, Union-Buster, and unleashed the hounds.

He wanted that label for both upcoming campaign ads, and on news releases and advance posters when he heads out on the GOP rubber-chicken circuit.

There he will collect IOU's, bank political capital, and boost his national profile for a possible national run in 2012 or 2016.

We'll see if this over-reach is fatal. Walker may win some short term advantages with the base, but longer-term, he will not be seen as a leader, yet alone necessarily remain as Governor past the 2012 recall deadline.

Following through as a fiscal conservative is one thing: refusing to negotiate, to talk, to debate - - that's another.

Obstinacy can't be political platform.

Politicking that is all talking points'-driven strategy is heartless, stunting, unappealing and one-dimensional. There's nothing there to sustain it internally except an echo chamber and "atta-boys" from the inner circle, and Walker may have to run again, but earlier than he'd thought - - as a recalled Governor who went too far in his first 60 days in office.

Ambition is certainly a two-edged sword.


Mike Plaisted said...


A very interesting post. And, I must say, you have been essential reading in the still-dawning Age of Walker. Doing a bang-up job. And the "you have no idea" comment from the insider is precious.

I don't see Walker as necessarily ambitious for himself as he is a loyal foot-soldier for whoever pays his bills. He is not running his agenda -- he is an empty suit following the company script. Sure, if his handlers think he would be useful as a national candidate -- assuming they are looking for someone with no personality -- he'll do it gladly. In that way, he'll be like Junior Bush, pretending to drive the train from the caboose.


James Rowen said...

Thanks for the note, Mike.

I was also remembering how the derisive term "cipher" was thrown around the old Journal newsroom by some folks at others.

There it was a simple insult.

With Walker, descriptive.

Hal said...

The poetic justice of a recall would be sweet. He was resilient in Milwaukee despite never delivering on a campaign promise here. Talk radio support made sure of that. I think those of us who lived with his bullshit in Milwaukee for the last eight years wondered how long it would take for the rest of the state to see him for who he is.

Anonymous said...

Very insightful blog posting, Mr. Rowen. Your readers are glad for your long experience as a journalist-in-the-know and a political insider to help us understand what the heck is going on with our strange, strange governor.

rich said...

Which state Republican Senators are vulnerable to recall, and who's spearheading that process.

Don't have to wait a year for those guys.

James Rowen said...

To Rich; There has been much talk about Alberta Darling.

I would assume there is some information in this article by Dan Bice that addresses your questions.

DairyStateMom said...

I don't think he cares in the long run about a second term as Governor. The "my way or no way" non-negotiating stance, the immediate tax breaks for corporate buds, the sweetener to police and firefighters in the union-busting budget bill, all say "Give me money and I'll reward you; I'm interesting in smashing opposition; I don't care about building community."

James Rowen said...

I disagree. No one runs for office, let alone the years that Walker organized for it, to have the one-and-out mentality.

If he were a known idealist, maybe, but Walker wants more, more, more.

DairyStateMom said...

Fair enough. But what I really meant and wasn't artful enough to say first time around is that I think he only sees Madison as a springboard to national office -- in that sense he doesn't care about a second term as governor. His BFFs the Koch brothers certainly will find him useful in Wisconsin, but even more so nationally.

krshorewood said...

Walker is like the catfish of politicians. No flavor of his own, but he takes on the taste of his breading.