David Michael Miller
There was a rare moment of progressive joy in Wisconsin last week when the latest Marquette Law School poll saw Gov. Scott Walker’s approval ratings plummet. Large majorities registered opposition to his cuts to K-12 schools and the UW System.
Unfortunately, while Walker may well be losing his luster in his home state, it doesn’t really matter.
First of all, some of this drop can be expected for executives. Gallup took a look at the average approval rating of presidents, and found that almost all of them became less popular in their second term. The only presidents who became more popular were Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, who not coincidentally experienced economic booms during their second term.
Still, it is somewhat shocking how little work Walker is doing to sell his new budget to the voters of Wisconsin. His machine did masterful messaging in 2011 by selling people on the idea that massive cuts could be entirely paid for by asking employees to pay a little more. That messaging completely buried that employee wage cuts were still not going to be enough, particularly for rural districts, and that the fiscal constraints were going to force waves of districts to go to referendum.
The messaging to Wisconsin voters this time around is lackluster because Walker never again needs the voters of Wisconsin. Even if Walker becomes the presidential nominee for the Republican Party, he will likely not be counting on winning Wisconsin. Wisconsin is a red state for almost every midterm election but has gone blue for every presidential election since 1988.
Walker has never had a magic wand to win over a purple state; he’s just had the virtue of good timing. So many more people vote in presidential elections than the midterms in Wisconsin that Mitt Romney got more votes in Wisconsin in 2012 than Walker got in any single election, and Romney still got walloped by Obama. It’s not like being from Wisconsin will help him much — there was no Paul Ryan bump in 2012.
If the Walker campaign makes it that far, it will want to keep Wisconsin in play but it will be much more concerned about Ohio and Florida.
The cuts in Walker’s budget are not meant to win over the people of Wisconsin. They are there to win over Republican primary voters. He can tout his record of fiscal conservatism to the 49 states that haven’t felt the brunt of it. It’s the same strategy he employed in 2010 when he campaigned for governor on the cuts he was responsible for as Milwaukee county executive.
Cutting government sounds good to many voters until they actually realize those cuts will affect their lives.
Walker has put us in the rearview mirror. We are nothing more than a line on his resume, and we can’t do anything about it. At least we can take solace in the fact that Ron Johnson is almost certainly a one-term U.S. senator.