As Washington wondered what kind of truths Pope Francis would be delivering in his address to Congress, presidential candidate Scott Walker faced his own reality this week. The Wisconsin governor, widely considered the strongest conservative alternative to Jeb Bush before you-know-who got in the race, suspended his campaign, saying, “I am being called to lead by helping to clear the race” (i.e., helping to accelerate the process of determining who will be the anti-Trump candidate).
Two days before Walker withdrew, The New York Times ran a piece on how the large field of GOP candidates could finally, at long last, result in a brokered convention: “Republican leaders and strategists said rather than having a presumptive nominee by early 2016…it was doubtful that a candidate would be in place before late spring—or even before Republicans gather for their convention in Cleveland in July.” I’d like to believe it’s possible that, rather than hoping to duck out in the shadow of the pope’s visit, Walker wanted to embarrass the Times for running such a ridiculous analysis. I’ll say it again: The next contested convention will come when a presumptive nominee dies. No matter how many candidates declare for president, almost everyone will be gone after the first few primaries.
Walker’s supposed appeal to conservatives rested largely on his record of busting labor unions in Wisconsin, and he recently tried to revive his campaign by proposing to, as the Times reported, “[make] it illegal for federal employees to join unions, extend right-to-work policies across the nation and eliminate the federal agency that investigates unfair labor practices.” But perhaps, the Washington Post’s Lydia DePillis writes, “fighting unions…didn’t resonate as much with Republican primary voters as it had with the conservative intelligentsia” (not to mention big campaign donors like the Koch brothers).
Fighting unions is, in fact, old hat. Public employee unions are under siege everywhere, including blue states like Illinois, New Jersey and New York. They make a great foil for Republican candidates for governor, such as Walker in 2010 and 2014, but it seems like overkill to also put a union buster in the White House. If you’re the CEO of a company with a national workforce, you might get excited over a national right-to-work law, but 25 states already have laws against compelling workers to join unions even when they’re covered by collective-bargaining agreements. I don’t know why rank-and-file Republicans in the early-voting states of South Carolina and Nevada would care about a federal law that would help make wages cheaper in New York and Ohio. They don’t want jobs to flow back north!
Tough talk for thee, but not for me
Walker’s troubles helped take some of the spotlight off Donald Trump, who got in some trouble for not correcting a supporter at one of his rallies who repeated the myths that President Barack Obama is Muslim and foreign-born. Trump tried to shrug off his critics by tweeting, “Am I morally obligated to defend the president every time somebody says something bad or controversial about him? I don’t think so!”—a brain-teaser response that had many of us trying to come up with anything Trump would feel “morally obligated” to do.
Trump is celebrated by his supporters for tough talk and straight-shooting, but voters like other people, never themselves, to be the target of such language. Trump’s appeal is that he shuts up, or at least infuriates, people who don’t already agree with him that America has too many immigrants and should just push aside any countries that object to our foreign policy. The National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, no champion of political correctness, wrote, “he does have a moral obligation to dissent from bigotry and correct false statements made over his megaphone,” but Trump supporters want a yes-man for their beliefs. Expecting him to correct someone wearing a Trump T-shirt is like waiting for Madonna to attack her concertgoers for their taste in music.
To some extent, this is true of all politicians, albeit with some differences between the parties. Republican candidates don’t like to challenge their core supporters’ beliefs that global warming is a hoax and that the United States can easily impose its will on the rest of the world. Democratic candidates don’t like to admit the costs and the disruptions associated with new social-welfare programs (hence, Barack Obama’s infamous promise that “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it,” even with the passage of the Affordable Care Act.) Trump is condoning untruths of a more blatant and corrosive kind; the major parties are likely to end up with nominees who simply deal in false impressions.