In the prevailing campaign narrative, we are supposed to believe that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is uniquely electable because of his success in a solidly blue state. Instead of demonstrating a Republican path to the White House, the Walker campaign demonstrates why the GOP’s current posture has eliminated it from national relevance. Walker probably is the most electable potential Republican nominee and he would lose his home state – and the election, to almost any Democratic candidate.
The Blue Wall gets its power from a single political phenomenon – the conversion of the former slave and Jim Crow states from single-party Democratic rule to single party Republican rule. A new generation of Neo-Confederates has found vast new room to operate inside a far weaker political organization. Freed from the shackles of a more powerful national party, Neo-Confederates inside the GOP are now dictating terms instead of accommodating.
This has given Republicans in the old Jim Crow belt tremendous new local power, but it has converted the Republican Party into a regional force with little or no appeal beyond aging whites. Success for northern Republicans in state and local races depends on two factors. First, the template of relevant issues is much narrower than in national races, meaning voters are sometimes willing to tolerate or ignore otherwise unpopular positions. Second, candidates in state and local races can often establish a safe distance from the positions of the national party. Those two criteria are impossible to meet in a campaign for the White House.
In Wisconsin, for example, Walker built his appeal on his willingness to break the smothering stranglehold of public employee unions on state and local politics. For all the noise on the issue nationally, that position has always been a winner there for very good reasons and it remains a winner today. That is a purely regional concern that voters in Missouri or Nevada or Texas likely do not even comprehend.
Walker’s first campaign tried to conceal his social conservatism, downplaying abortion and other issues. Voters were keen enough to see reforms in state government to roll the dice on social issues, betting that there was little harm he could do. Despite taking some extreme Tea Party positions, voters have stuck with him by a narrow margin out of fear that a loss by Walker would undo the valuable work he has done. Polls are making clear that those voters are not willing to tolerate his far-right positions in a role as powerful as the White House. Truth be told, after what he has tried to do to the state’s flagship university, they probably wouldn’t return him to another term in the Governor’s office. He’s finished.