Gov. Scott Walker’s base loves him unconditionally. In the five surveys conducted by Public Policy Polling since Walker took office, his support among Republicans has grown from 86 percent to 92 percent. This slight gain has occurred despite the state having experienced the greatest political polarization in its history. Under his leadership, Wisconsin endured a six-month period of job losses that were among the very worst in the nation – and some months the absolute worse. Meanwhile, a John Doe investigation into corruption by Walker’s staff during his tenure as Milwaukee county executive inches its way closer way to the governor’s doorstep.
Yet Walker remains a virtual hero to the religious right, big business and the Tea Party. “I Stand with Scott Walker” yard signs flourish like ragweed on the lawns of Waukesha, Brookfield and other right-wing bastions.
As long as Walker continues to pursue policies that punish all sexual behavior outside of heterosexual marriage, to enact policies that reduce corporate taxes and to dismantle state services and regulatory polices, he’ll continue to inspire his acolytes.
On the other end of the political spectrum, feelings toward Walker are starkly different: Only 7 percent of Democrats approve of his job performance. The Mariana Trench of a chasm between his supporters and detractors make Walker the nation’s most polarizing governor.
Oddly, this fact only adds to his allure among supporters. Rather than being concerned about the destructive impact that polarization has had on the state’s economy and quality of life, his followers seem to be proud of it.
Given the entrenched nature of Walker’s supporters as well as his detractors, the impending recall election between him and an unknown Democrat will be determined by a sliver of independent voters in the middle.
The challenge for Democrats is to find a candidate who has enough crossover appeal to win over a majority of independents. In addition, they need a candidate with the kind of poise and record to withstand an unrelenting assault financed with limitless cash. And they need a candidate closer to the middle than the left.
While there’s an almost suicidal urge among progressives to fall on the sword over ideological purity, they’re going to have to hold that tendency in check during this election.
If Democrats select the right candidate, there’s a good chance they’ll win. Despite corporate super PACS having spent millions of dollars on pro-Walker ads over the past several months, only 43 percent of independent voters have a favorable view of the governor.
While all of the prospective Democratic candidates have viable poll numbers at this point in time, that’s going to change rapidly when Walker’s advertising strategy shifts from spinning his record to attacking his opponent. If Democrats want to eliminate Walker, they’re going to have to hold their noses during the Democratic primary for this race and vote for the candidate who’s more likely to win than to agree with them.
Otherwise, we might wake up one morning this summer realizing that we blew a historic chance to reverse a course that the entire state – Republicans and Democrats alike – could come to regret someday.