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Paul Fanlund is editor and publisher of The Capital Times. A longtime Madisonian, he was a State Journal reporter and editor before becoming a vice president of Madison Newspapers. He joined the Cap Times in 2006.

Walker Trump (copy for Fanlund column)

In their core approach to governing by pitting voting blocs against each other, President Donald Trump and Gov. Scott Walker are alike.


As the one-year mark on Donald Trump’s election passed, the anniversary stories followed predictable patterns.

At Fox News, the administration’s de facto mouthpiece, celebratory trash talk continued. A story headlined, “Trump’s first year: Liberals keep screaming (and dreaming),” ridiculed anti-Trump protests and said they should be ignored, adding: “Unless, that is, you are the mainstream media in today’s United States, which regards anything negative about the president as front-page news.”

On the left, my favorite analysis was by Max Boot in Foreign Policy magazine and was headlined: “America will survive Trump, but it won’t ever be the same.”

Boot, who recalled feeling “poleaxed” on election night, said Trump has failed on his most outrageous promises because (a) “Trump really doesn’t believe in much beyond his own awesomeness,” (b) is “utterly incompetent,” talking like a strong man, governing like a weak one, and (c) is “surrounded by people who, by and large, don’t share his xenophobic, isolationist, protectionist ‘America First’ outlook.”

But here was Boot’s money quote: “What most troubles me about Trump’s presidency is the extent to which he is dividing Americans … in service to his own political ambitions.”

That also precisely describes Scott Walker. Indeed, Wisconsin’s governor had a six-year head start on Trump in the art of prevailing by dividing.

For years, Walker has been sending the same message to voters that Trump sent in 2016: “Your life isn’t what you’d hoped for, and it’s those people — public workers, liberals and people of color — who are to blame. And I will stick it to them.” And he has.

Heck, Walker was executing the politics of division back when Trump was preoccupied with lying about Barack Obama’s birthplace.

In a Washington Post story this week about Walker’s “comeback” from his dreadful presidential campaign failure, he brushes off his low poll numbers and narrow victories.

“We didn’t just do stuff on the margins,’ he said. “We did fundamental, transformational things that will really make a difference. … Some people don’t like that,” Walker said. “I’ve always felt that you’re able to govern whether you win with 50 plus one, or you win with 55 percent or 60 percent. Legally, you get to govern no matter what.”

Or, in short, screw any bipartisanship and collaboration.

Another similarity between Trump and Walker is that both regard women as targets, albeit in different ways. Trump famously bragged of grabbing women and is an alleged serial sexual harasser. Walker hurts women through his policies — he defunded Planned Parenthood, placed extreme restrictions on doctors providing reproductive health care and championed repeal of a law requiring equal pay for equal work.

About Walker, the state Republican Party pointed journalists to a flattering Christian Science Monitor story that frames his 2018 race as a test of conservatism nationally.

This passage must have tickled everyone in Walker’s camp: “Wisconsin, one of the first states to introduce income taxes and elect Socialist politicians, has undergone a wholesale reinvention — shifting from a model of government largesse to one of individual responsibility and accountability.”

Yes, perhaps, if your definition of this bygone “government largesse” included one of the nation’s strongest K-12 public education systems; a world-class research university unimpeded by political meddling; protection of natural resources from predatory developers; well-maintained bridges and highways; meaningful protection of worker and consumer rights; and reasonable safety net programs.

Pre-Walker, Wisconsin had also been a state in which local governments were left to manage their affairs. Recall that adage about the best government is the one closest to the people? That’s changed, as Walker and legislative allies have hammered away at local autonomy, especially Madison’s.

Before Walker, Wisconsin politics were spirited yet civil, but have been replaced today by scorched-earth, single-party governance so toxic that Walker refuses to appear in public before any skeptical audience. Sycophants only, please.

Looking to 2018, one can imagine Walker’s brain trust is nervous about his vulnerability on issues such as education and job creation.

So, after decimating K-12 education and the UW System by radical defunding and incessant interference, Walker increased funding for both this cycle and then toured the state posing for photo ops as a pro-education governor.

And on jobs, there is Foxconn. The $3-billion deal with the Asian tech giant feels like a Hail Mary, or, mixing sports metaphors, a swing-for-the-fences gambit to divert attention from Walker’s mediocre jobs record. If it fails utterly, we won’t know until after the election, but it will have served Walker’s near-term political purpose — to make the case that he’s a can-do leader in contrast to gridlocked politicians in Washington, D.C.

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Happily, though, that may not be working out as intended. Public support in polling for the staggering investment has been tepid, so the governor downplayed Foxconn during his formal campaign kickoff.

Back in 2010, Walker boasted to the Cap Times editorial board that if elected he would refuse federal money for a high-speed rail system, which he did. Walker wanted the anti-rail talking point to foster resentment among outstate residents who were not in a geographic position to benefit.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if the Foxconn deal for southeastern Wisconsin blows up politically and is widely regarded as “profligate” government spending whose biggest statewide impact is putting “hard-working” taxpayers everywhere at risk?

What if, instead, our state government had opted to invest $3 billion or at least some significant amount to expand on the model of the Badger Fund of Funds?

The Badger Fund is an initiative funded by the state and private investors to help startup companies throughout Wisconsin. (Full disclosure: The Capital Times Co. is a Badger Fund investor.)

The Badger Fund, though, with $25 million in state funding and another $10 million from individual investors, pales in scale to Foxconn.

Instead of Foxconn, how about an ambitious and geographically diverse business startup program employing concepts from the Badger Fund, leveraging skilled young professionals managing venture capital funds by tapping into regional investment capital and expertise? But that approach probably lacks the near-term political sizzle Walker sought.

In the Christian Science Monitor’s ode to Walker, there is this quote from Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc: “If you despise Scott Walker, you do not understand him.”

I don’t actually despise Walker, but I think I understand him. He is a career politician whose own political fortunes come first, always.

Trump and Walker only win by dividing us.

That, I do despise.

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