Josh Marshall’s headline to this TPM report tells it well:
Walker to Dems: Come back to Wisconsin or the schools get it.
That seems pretty much what Walker is saying, and it also seems that he is heading into deep political trouble because of it. So then why is he doing it this way? The unions have already made concessions on wages and benefits: Walker could have won a major political victory, and then gotten out. So he is just foolish?
Well, maybe. More likely, it is because to the extent that the Republicans win here, they will succeed in their long-term goal of smashing whatever remains of the labor movement. But it seems to me that something more basic is at work here. Ever since Ronald Reagan, conservatives have been imbued with the idea that the country is “really” behind them, and that only a strange conspiracy of liberal elites is stopping them from achieving the will of “the people” — which of course maps neatly onto the policy preferences of movement conservatives. They have enormous confidence that they can do these sorts of things because they “know” that the public will back them.
Thus, Walker and his supporters can argue that he campaigned on destroying public sector unions because they “know” that that’s what people really want, even if it wasn’t really a significant part of the campaign. The Gingrich Congress could shut down the government because they knew that that’s what the public really wanted; ditto the current Congress. The 1995 shutdown was a disaster, but in retrospect, the official history reads, that was only because Gingrich was an incompetent Speaker. Similarly, a midterm election in the midst of the Great Contraction was really about enacting Grover Norquist’s wet dreams.
Both parties do this to some extent, but the Republicans do it far, far more. The examples used by right-wing pundits to demonstrate similar “overreach” from Democrats simply pale in comparison. Obama ran on something very close to the ACA, for example. Ditto on financial reform. He supported TARP, and then applied it General Motors — a policy which has turned out to be a stunning success.
There is something practical to be said for the GOP’s sort of confidence, not least of which is that if someone is able to enact their policy program, it becomes part of a status quo that is more accepted. People’s preferences change depending upon they see as part of the “baseline normal” situation. Moreover, given the multiplication of veto points in the American system, it is difficult to undo. But it could lead to electoral disaster for them. We can hope so.