Tommy Gun

When Tommy Thompson won the GOP Senate primary in Wisconsin over divided conservative opposition last month, national party folk were mightily cheered. Ol’ Tommy might have been a little long in the tooth, but he was a bona fide problem-solving “moderate” GOP governor from the 1990s who had repeatedly won state-wide and didn’t seem at all crazy. Sure, he had to sign onto the usual right-wing national GOP agenda to get that far, but initial polls showed him surging into a lead over Rep. Tammy Baldwin at a time when the Todd Akin fiasco in Missouri had sent Republican prospects of a Senate takeover into a tailspin.

Then Baldwin’s campaign got to work on Tommy’s post-gubernatorial lobbying career (as Thompson scratched to replenish the bankroll he depleted in the primary struggle), and his poll numbers started to go south faster than Scott Walker looking for a labor commissioner.

And now a video has emerged that makes Mitt’s “47%” remarks look downright mushy-middle-ish.

Hoo boy. In case you somehow can’t watch the video, here’s this explanation from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Thompson made his comments at a meeting on June 4 of the Lake Country Area Defenders of Liberty in Oconomowoc. He faces Democrat Tammy Baldwin in the Nov. 6 election.

Democratic groups have been circulating the video saying it shows that Thompson wants to gut the two programs, but a complete airing of his comments to the group is more nuanced.

Presumably referring to his efforts as governor to eliminate Wisconsin’s welfare program, Thompson said “who better than me … to come up with programs to do away with Medicaid and Medicare?”

Now Tommy can back and fill all he wants by explaining he merely backs his Wisconsin colleague Paul Ryan’s plan to dump Medicaid on the states and convert Medicare to a “premium support” system, but it will only draw attention to very unpopular positions while making him look like exactly what he is: a tired old pol willing to pander to extremists to get himself down the yellow brick road to the Emerald City of Washington.

Josh Marshall’s feature on the video has this somewhat judgmental headline: “So long, Tommy!” I wouldn’t go that far this fast, but certainly Thompson now rivals Akin as the Senate candidate most willing to put a gun to his own head and say: “Vote for me or the candidate gets it!”

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.