Half-Right About the WISGOP

Thomas Edsall, writing in the New York Times, quotes Jerry Taylor and Will Wilkinson of the Niskanen Center think tank on Republicans’ political economics. Two quotes from Taylor Wilkinson stand out – one right, and one wrong (at least wrong for Wisconsin).

From Will Wilkinson, a view of cultural issues’ importance:

The G.O.P.’s success in struggling places has given them a false impression that voters who live there will stay faithful as long as they keep feeding them culture-war chum. Trump’s populism offered a false but compelling diagnosis of their economic problems, immigrants and insufficiently protectionist trade policy, which dovetails neatly with rural white anxieties about declining cultural status and relative political power. If you can align threats to identity with threats to material security, as Trump did, it’s pretty powerful.

Yes, that’s right: this is an underlying WISGOP strategy.

From Jerry Taylor, however, comes a view of Republicans’ economic views that isn’t true of the WISGOP at all:

only reliably ensured when government is minimized, taxes are nearly inconsequential, and free markets and property rights are given the greatest scope possible. Marry that with their belief that a rising economic tide will lift all boats, and you can quickly see why they’re at a loss to explain what’s going on in rural America.

The conservatives of Wisconsin are most certainly not small-government advocates; they’re supporters of state capitalism (state intervention as a producer or partner) and crony capitalism (state intervention for buddies & pals) in amounts – literally, in Wisconsin – reaching billions.

The WEDC, Foxconn, and wasteful, nutty capital-catalyst projects like those from the Whitewater Community Development Authority (CDA) aren’t small government, limited government, responsible stewardship, or free-market ideas of any kind.  (FREE WHITEWATER has a category devoted to each of these agencies or projects.)  See also Nationally and Locally: The Big-Government Conservatives Are Economy-Wreckers.

In places like Whitewater, projects like this are an opportunity for pro-government conservatives to play with public money as though they were legitimate private capitalists.  They’re not legitimate capitalists at all; if they cared about being legitimate, they would use only their own money in their own private investments. 

At the same time, for a fraction of the amounts of public money they waste each year, genuine needs – long ignored – might be addressed.  These men have, instead, failed to improve individual and household well-being time and again.  See A Candid Admission from the Whitewater CDA and Reported Family Poverty in Whitewater Increased Over the Last Decade.

Wilkinson may be right about Wisconsin conservatives’ strategy, but Taylor is wholly wrong about Wisconsin conservatives’ economic and fiscal policies.

These are not free-market men; these are well-fed, public-money-sucking, control-what-they-can men.

2 comments for “Half-Right About the WISGOP

  1. joe
    02/19/2019 at 7:34 PM

    We have been assured for years that economic factors matter the most for conservative voters, particularly rural and less-educated ones. I’m becoming increasingly convinced that this is not the case but merely a non-controversial fig-leaf that covers the real motivations of “conservative” voters.

    As Trump makes clear every day, his voters are primarily motivated by two things: Fear and Racism. The Republicans are masters of exploiting both of these primal emotions. That has been the case for many years, but Trump has helpfully made it completely obvious. He doses out his daily ration of fear and loathing to his followers and they are absolutely rock-solid behind him. None of the usual reasons that are cited by the right for their motives, such as economic reasons, family values, small government, and deficit reduction, matter even a whit in the age of Trump. He and his policies are in direct violation of all of the policies/values that conservatives have been claiming that they hold dear forever.

    It was always bullshit. Fear and Racism have always been the real bedrock motivators. Nothing else matters. The Democrats are chasing a chimera if they think they can win these folks over. The only way to do that is to out-fearmonger and out-racist the Republicans, which is not likely to happen.

      02/20/2019 at 6:36 AM

      Agreed, all around. The core of these voters is about half of Trump’s supporters. Clinton was right that half of his supporters are properly sorted into a basket of deplorables. That 23-25% of the electorate is unreachable by any worthy persuasion. In any event, they’re not needed – a large coalition can be built without any of them. To appease them is to debase oneself.

      Portions of The Unelectable Whiteness of Scott Walker highlight the WISGOP’s racial and ethnic appeals very well. MacGillis’s essay also shows how this WISGOP effort is doomed to fail as demographics in the state inexorably change.