Scott Walker's radicalism exposed: Why his immigration policies will be his undoing

The Koch brothers aren't the only prominent donors the Wisconsin governor's draconian stance is likely to alienate

Published April 24, 2015 8:15AM (EDT)

Scott Walker                               (Reuters/Yuri Gripas)
Scott Walker (Reuters/Yuri Gripas)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNet Did you catch the on-again, off-again endorsement this week of Scott Walker’s presidential ambitions by the billionaire ultra-right-wing Koch brothers?

On Monday, Walker went to New York City for a GOP fundraiser and the New York Times reported that he left with a from-the-podium endorsement by David Koch. The next day, Koch modifed his words while his Kansas-based brother, Charles Koch, told USA Today that they like five candidates, including Walker. The press covered this as if it were six weeks before the Iowa caucuses.

Yet as Walker was basking in the limelight, he didn’t strike a more dignified note. The very next day he went on right-wing provocateur Glenn Beck’s radio show and unveiled another extremist stance, saying that America’s legal immigration system is taking jobs away from deserving Americans who need them, especially white southerners.

“I’ve talked to [Alabama GOP Sen. Jeff] Sessions and others out there,” Walker said. “It is a fundamentally lost issue by many in elected positions today, is what this is doing for American workers looking for jobs, what it is doing to wages. And we need to have that at the forefront of our discussion going forward.”

There’s something unprecedented going on here—especially among Republicans. The media is covering every hiccup. Yet there are no campaign commercials to speak of. There are few political consultants or press flacks telling reporters that you didn’t hear what you just heard. And the candidates, with Walker as Exhibit A, are loose cannons in ways that only keep getting more extreme.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is talking tough about cutting Social Security and Medicare. Ted Cruz is attacking Marco Rubio and Rand Paul for not being pro-gun enough. So, either they and the others are pandering in the most shameless ways possible for right-wing slices of the GOP base, or they are showing Americans who they really are.

Even though the Iowa caucuses are nine months away, what we are witnessing today is a remarkable looking glass into who these candidates truly are, in all their extremist, unpolished glory. It’s coming in the start-up phase of the campaign, when candidates are grandiose and have experienced no major setbacks or losses at the polls. And there are no TV ads to hide behind.

Walker is a case in point. As noted, his railing against legal immigrants is “to the right of Ted Cruz.” It’s also at odds with John McCain, Orrin Hatch, Rob Portman and John Thune, GOP senators who supported a failed immigration reform bill that still would have imposed draconian restrictions on legal immigrants—including not being able to vote for years.

If Walker knows what he’s doing—and he has proven in Wisconsin that he is not to be underestimated—then one has to conclude that he’s striking a pose calculated to appeal to rural white right-wingers who loom large in 2016 caucus and primary states, even if these extremists are on the fringes of a national presidential electorate.

The American public isn’t seeing a deluge of slick TV ads telling them what a great guy Walker is. Instead, he keeps showing up at events and on right-wing radio making appeals to the furthest reaches of the right, from Christian evangelicals to white nativists.

In London, he drew the scorn of reporters for saying he believed in both creationism and evolutionary science. At the Conservative Political Action Conference, he compared the protesting teachers unions in Wisconsin to ISIS terrorists, saying his success in rolling back collective bargaining agreements prepared him to lead the American military overseas. In other forums, he's refused to affirm President Obama's patriotism and even questioned Obama's Christianity.

There’s some evidence that Walker is being told he needs to present a polished façade—even if he hasn’t officially announced. Politico reports that he’s pulled back from talking to the mainstream media, “closing off events to reporters and refusing to take questions.” The Wall Street Journal reports that last week Walker returned from another trip to Europe with no press and is now focusing on “Israeli issues.”

Nonetheless, Walker keeps demonstrating that his views are small townish and provincial, not statesmanlike and world-wise. More important, there’s an ugly undercurrent to his campaign that has not yet been papered over by political handlers.

Walker’s harsh immigration stance has more in common with Ronald Reagan's 1980 states' rights speech at Mississippi's Neshobe County Fair than with Mitt Romney’s 2012 pronouncement that undocumented immigrants should self deport. As Roger Bybee has written for AlterNet, Walker already has drawn on racist dog-whistle messaging to appeal to southern whites, such as repeatedly demonizing the poor, unions and voters of color.

Walker’s harsh stance on legal immigration plays to the same politics of resentment. Southern states, like much of the country, saw major manufacturers go overseas for cheaper labor in recent years. Until the relatively recent natural gas fracking boom in several Plains and Midwestern states, there has been little new industry in rural America. Auto makers are one exception.

Walker may be betting that his Iowa roots as a rural preacher’s son and his record as a vicious anti-labor Wisconsin governor will help him win Midwestern primaries. He may be calculating that his embrace of harsh anti-immigrant sentiments will win votes as the nominating contests continue down south.

But no matter how Walker’s early draconian positions get refined or buried in political ads as the 2016 contest unfolds, the race's early start has produced an unexpected and remarkable result: the unfiltered, unspun, extremist views of likely contenders.

In coming months, you can be sure that political consultants will water down the candidate's messages and conceal the men who would be president. But for now we are seeing 2016’s Republican extremists for who they truly are—without a billion or more in television ads muddying the view.

By Steven Rosenfeld

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

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