Scott Walker for President: A Nightmare Vision for the Labor Movement

There’s a long ruminative piece by Dan Kaufman up at the New York Times Magazine site about Scott Walker’s anti-union crusade that’s worth a read, though it’s not a happy story and doesn’t much add to our understanding of Scott Walker as a hammer-headed and occasionally double-dealing union-basher. Like earlier progressive accounts, this one notes carefully that Walker used to court private-sector union members even as he privately admitted he was pursuing a “divide and conquer” strategy by targeting public-sector unions. We also read again that Walker gave little or no warning he was going to propose the destruction of collective barganing rights for public employees, and later, that he was suddenly going to whip a right-to-work law through the legislature and into law–even though he has been on the campaign trail almost non-stop since 2010. And like Donald Kettl’s piece in the new issue of the Washington Monthly, Kaufman’s documents how little Walker’s anti-union agenda has done for his state, other than damaging the economic status of the union members he targed.

But Kaufman ups the ante by contemplating what a President Walker might do on this front with a Republican Congress:

Many union leaders worry that if Walker is elected president, Congress could pass a national right-to-work bill. In January, Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, introduced such a bill in the House; it now has 98 co-­sponsors. In February, Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, sponsored a similar bill, which now has co-­sponsors in Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, and 15 other Republicans.

In this sense, passing Act 10 [Wisconsin’s right-to-work law] was a kind of audition for Walker. “If we can do it in Wisconsin, we can do it anywhere — even in our nation’s capital,” he wrote in his 2013 book, “Unintimidated.” The origins of Wisconsin’s right-to-work bill, meanwhile, showed whom he might have been trying to impress. As revealed by the Center for Media and Democracy, a watchdog organization based in Madison, Wisconsin’s law was a virtual copy of a 1995 model bill promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization based in Arlington, Va., that disseminates model legislation for a consortium of corporations and conservative private backers, including the Koch brothers.

What progressives may not have quite grasped when wondering how a nasty piece of work like Walker has become a serious presidential candidate is that the anti-labor agenda is very very popular among Republicans of every stripe–including those who might disagree on cultural issues or foreign policy. This dynamic was especially evident in Wisconsin, as the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel‘s Craig Gilbert explained back in February (h/t Amy Walter of Cook Political Report):

Walker got 96% of the GOP vote in the 2014 election, as high as any Republican governor in a race where exit polling was done. In recent years, Walker has polled better within his party than virtually any other big-name Republican does with their home-state partisans.

Walker’s near-universal appeal among GOP voters may be his signature attribute in Wisconsin politics.

Three years worth of polling by the Marquette Law School shows how the governor’s popularity cuts across different types of GOP voters in the state.

Walker was viewed favorably by 88% of all Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (a total of 9,725 voters) surveyed by Marquette between 2012 and 2014 — and unfavorably by just 10%. His popularity is highest on the right, but his negatives are low among almost all Republican groups:

* he has a 95% favorability rating among “very conservative” Republicans, a 91% favorability rating among “conservative” Republicans and a 78% favorability rating among “moderate” Republicans (pooling Marquette’ s 27 surveys since 2012).

* he has a 96% favorability rating among Republicans who like the tea party and a 75% favorability rating among Republicans who don’t like the tea party.

* he has a 90% favorability rating among Republicans who are frequent churchgoers (Walker is the son of a minister and an evangelical Christian) and an 85% favorability rating among Republicans who seldom or never go to church.

* he has a 92% favorability rating among Republicans who are opposed to abortion (Walker is staunchly “pro-life”) and an 86% rating among Republicans who favor abortion rights.

Republicans really hate unions, folks. And that’s really the tale not just of Walker’s national appeal, but of how he was able to pull off his anti-union coup to begin with. He and his party managed to win three very narrow non-presidential elections (one of them the defeat of the effort to recall hin in 2012, a special election) in four years, elevating and then keeping Walker in office and giving Republicans narrow control over the legislature. All that was required was iron party discipline–easy when the whole party was itching to go after unions–and enough money and lying to keep the public at least ambivalent.

You better figure Republicans elsewhere have taken notice, and aside from what this might mean for his presidential campaign, it means trouble for unions everywhere the GOP gets a toehold.

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.