Now that lefty pundits understand that Scott Walker isn’t this presidential primary campaign’s version of Tim Pawlenty, they’re trying to figure out how strong a candidate he’ll be. On Wednesday, two of them suggested that Walker’s hardline right-wing ideology and his hardball political skills make him a front-rank contender for the Republican nomination.
In a Talking Points Memo column, Ed Kilgore mused that Walker may have an “especially seductive” appeal to the party base given that “he won over and over again in Wisconsin without compromising with conservatism’s enemies. Indeed, he behaved almost like a liberal caricature of a conservative villain. And it was deliberate.”
This is catnip to conservatives. They’re being endlessly lectured by mainstream media pundits and political professionals in their own camp that they need to “compromise” with Democrats or “reach out” to new constituencies beyond their base if they are to win presidential elections. That’s almost exactly what Jeb Bush is saying in announcing he’s willing to take some hits in the primaries if it enables him to win a general election. But conservatives naturally resist this kind of tradeoff, which they believe they’ve been asked to make far too often with far too little payoff. Walker tells them they do not have to choose. They can win by confrontation, not compromise or outreach, and his three victories are the proof.
Later, in a blog post at his main cyber-residence, the Washington Monthly, Kilgore identified Walker as a drudge of a type often found in the GOP (emphasis added):
[T]here is something about Walker—not so much ideological fervor but sheer hammer-headed obstinacy—that makes one despair that a Republican Party, much less a (shudder) country under his leadership would be characterized by any fresh thinking...
I had a friend down in Georgia who used to talk about this kind of Republican by saying: “They look at anything and all they want to know is whether they can eat it, f**k it, or put it to sleep.” I’d laugh without completely understanding what that meant, but I think she was saying they entirely lack imagination. Sounds like Scott Walker to me.
And, in Slate, Jamelle Bouie declared that there’s a high likelihood of Walker going “divisive” by running a “rigid campaign of [racial] polarization”:
[I]f the minority electorate looks like it did in 2012—with high black participation and strong Latino preference for Democrats—Republicans will have to either push back or, as [Sean] Trende argues, try to run the table with white voters and win as a fully homogenous political party.
…Unlike Mitt Romney—who was merely adopted by the world of racially polarized politics—Walker was born in it and molded by it. As [Alec] MacGillis notes, Walker’s home turf of metropolitan Milwaukee is home to "profound racial inequality, extreme political segregation, [and] a parallel-universe news media"…
If any candidate could run a rigid campaign of polarization—aimed at winning as many white voters as possible—it’s Walker. His language is already there. In his Iowa speech, he touted voter-identification laws and portrayed disadvantage as a pure product of personal failure…
Walker, in other words, represents the other path: The chance to win without broadening your base or changing your priorities. Victory, but at the price of greater racial polarization. It’s a seductive vision—and an inherently divisive one.