Thursday, 13 Dec 2018

Wisconsin Republicans shield their voters from the horrors of democratic elections

Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) holds a news conference on Tuesday at the capitol in Madison. (Steve Apps / Wisconsin State Journal / AP)

If you're curious how Republican legislators in Wisconsin rationalize passing last-minute legislation aimed at hobbling the state's governor-elect, Tony Evers (D), allow them to explain.

"Listen. I'm concerned, "Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said at a news conference on Tuesday. "I think that Governor-elect Evers is going to bring a liberal agenda to Wisconsin."

If the legislation is not passed, Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) Warned on Tuesday night, "we are going to have a very liberal governor who is going to enact policies that are in direct contrast to what we believe in."

The fear, from the top-ranking Republicans in the state legislature, is explicit: They are worried that they will advocate for policies and actions that are at odds with a conservative agenda, that it will make decisions that Republicans – "many of us "- disagree with.

Well, yeah. That's how elections work. The person who wins wins from the state of the voters. Many of those voters will not be happy with those decisions, but more of them, presumably, will be. Arguing that the power of the governor must necessarily be curtailed because of an election candidate and will advocate the positions of fundamentally goes against the spirit of democracy.

But the problem is not only Fitzgerald and Your are reacting to Evers's win. Another problem is that the gulf between the two parts on policy issues has never been wider. Another is that elections become more of an election.

To the first point, we can look at the data provided by Pew Research Center polling. Pew has tracked opinions on 10 policy issues since 1994, including things like corporate profits, race, homosexuality and government. The gaps on views of these issues were major groups in 1994 as a major political party. In the years since, though, that latter has widened dramatically.

(Philip Bump / The Washington Post)

In other words: If you are a Republican, you're much more likely to hold a different view if you're a man comparing views with a woman, if you're a young person with an old person.

When we were looking at the effort in Wisconsin on Tuesday, we noted that this overlap with another party is a serious threat to the country.

In this context, Fitzgerald's and your comments take a different light. They are claiming to protect Wisconsinites from political views that many of their constituents deeply disagree with (even in the abstract).

Evers ran as a progressive, advocating for an expansion of Medicaid coverage in the state and for things like the legalization of marijuana. He advocated increased protection for gay Wisconsinites and for reforms to the criminal justice system. These are, by now, mainstream ideas in the Democratic Party, a party that has grown in recent years.

In past elections, like Evers and his opponent, Gov. Scott Walker (R), would advocate more-partisan positions to win party primaries and then move to the middle for the general election. The goal was to persuade swing voters to choose their opponents.

Swing voters still exist, but there are many of them thanks to the country's polarization. Even as the number of self-identified independents increases, most of them still vote along heavily partisan lines (often out of dislike of the opposing party). That's meant that they often focus on increasing their turnout from their own party to win elections. Persuading an independent to vote is a different challenge from someone who shares your politics. The latter effort – how can you go about your own base – can also mean heightening the threat posed by your opponent. That's made easier in an environment in which the other party is seen as dangerous or as holding broadly divergent views.

This is not to say that Evers campaign against Walker was particularly nasty or divisive. But there is a lower incentive in recent years to reach the political middle, where it might be. President Trump proved that you can win the presidency of your political opponents.

Those campaigns become even easier, in which they will win, isolating elected officials from the political opposition.

The comments from Vos and Fitzgerald run against the grain of what is expected in the wake of democratic elections. Historically, losses are treated as chastening, not as rebellions against which bulwarks need to be built. But, historically, the gap in view of members of the party has not been as broad.

Tony Evers ran on a platform that was, to use your words, in "direct contrast to what we believe in." He also won. Elections have consequences, as they say, but in Wisconsin the consequences are not what you might expect.

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