The Deadly Embrace Of The Republican Right Wing
February 23, 2015

You probably didn't know there was any room for Scott Walker to move any further to the right, but by golly, he's found it!

Believe it or not, this isn't good news for the Republicans. Because any steps they continue to take to appease extreme GOP primary voters only make that minority faction even more powerful and disruptive. So more Republican legislators are elected from the right-wing fundamentalist fringes, and the business-friendly types like John Boehner (the ones who collect cash from the major donors) have the interesting and frustrating task of herding them -- not always successfully.

Those Republicans who wonder what happened to the relatively mainstream party they used to know stay home in the red-state primaries, and Republican women increasingly vote Democratic in the presidential elections. Which means that Republican candidates who veer right for the primaries are sowing the seeds of their own gridlock. Locked in a deadly embrace, neither group can dance to the center.

I'm torn between wishing to mitigate the really horrible effects of this dynamic on our body politic, and one of my guiding philosophies: When your enemy is drowning, throw him an anvil.

Mr. Walker has quickly vaulted into the top tier of likely Republican candidates in the presidential race, surging on the reputation he earned by taking on labor unions and surviving a bitter recall election in a swing state.

But the governor is also making an aggressive effort to win the hearts of the party’s Christian conservatives. In doing so, he is stressing a much harder line on social issues than he did just a few months ago, when he faced a robust challenge from a well-funded Democratic woman in his run for re-election as governor.

The shift in emphasis and tone is noticeable not only on abortion, but also on same-sex marriage, another issue of intense interest to social conservatives.

A few weeks before the November election, in an interview with The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the governor sidestepped questions about his earlier opposition to abortion, and declined four times to answer directly when asked if abortion should be prohibited after 20 weeks — a position he had previously embraced. He also declined to restate his earlier opposition to abortion in cases of rape and incest.

But in a breakout speech in Iowa on Jan. 24, he drew loud applause from the crowd of conservative activists when he declared that he had passed “pro-life legislation” in Wisconsin and “defunded Planned Parenthood.”

“It was strikingly a different portrayal of abortion than the way he portrayed it in the fall election here,” said Charles Franklin, the director of the Marquette Law School Poll, who closely follows Mr. Walker. “He has consistently played down the importance of abortion in Wisconsin as an issue.”

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