Democrats Underestimate Scott Walker At Their Own Peril

By Gene Lyons, NEA Columnist

Economically speaking, all 237 GOP presidential candidates are selling the same Magic Beans.

Everybody knows the script. Tax cuts for wealthy "job creators" bring widespread prosperity. Top off Scrooge McDuck's bullion pool, and the benefits flow outward to everybody else. The economy surges, budget deficits melt away, and the song of the turtledove will be heard in the land.

Almost needless to say, these "supply side" miracles have never actually happened in the visible world. State budget debacles in Kansas and Louisiana only signify the latest failures of right-wing dogma. Hardly anybody peddling Magic Beans actually believes in them anymore. Nevertheless, feigning belief signifies tribal loyalty to the partisan Republicans who will choose the party's nominee.

However, with everybody in the field playing "let's pretend," a candidate needs another way to distinguish himself. I suspect that Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin may have found it. See, Walker won't just put money back in "hardworking taxpayer's" pockets.

Like a latter-day Richard Nixon, Walker will also stick it to people they don't like: Lollygagging schoolteachers, feather-bedding union members and smug, tenured college professors who think they're smarter than everybody else. If he lacks charisma, there's an edge of ruthlessness in Walker's otherwise bland demeanor that hits GOP primary voters right where they live.

No less an authority than Uncle Scrooge himself -- i.e. David Koch of Koch Industries, who with his brother Charles has pledged to spend $900 million to elect a Republican in 2016 -- told the New York Observer after a closed-door gathering at Manhattan's Empire Club that Walker will win the nomination and crush Hillary Clinton in a general election "by a major margin."

Viewed from a distance, the determination of prosperous, well-educated Wisconsin to convert itself into an anti-union, right-to-work state like Alabama or Arkansas appears mystifying. To risk the standing of the University of Wisconsin system by abolishing academic tenure, as Walker intends, is damn near incomprehensible.

Attack one of America's great public research universities for the sake of humiliating (Democratic-leaning) professors over nickel-and-dime budgetary issues? Do Wisconsinites have no clue how modern economies work?

Maybe not. But Walker's supporters definitely appear to know who their enemies are, culturally speaking. Incredulity aside, it would be a mistake not to notice the craftiness with which he's brought off the transformation. Not to mention that Walker's won three elections since 2010 in a "blue" state that hasn't supported a Republican presidential nominee since Ronald Reagan.

Wisconsin's 10 electoral votes don't mean much by themselves, but throw in Michigan and Ohio, Midwestern states also trending similarly, and you've definitely got something.

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