Donald Trump will appear in Wisconsin this week with the man who is now working as ambitiously — and as embarrassingly — as anyone in the country to advance the president’s agenda: Scott Walker.
Walker is loyal to a fault, as events of recent days have confirmed.
The madness of King Donald blew up on him last week — when an international outcry finally forced the president to issue an executive order undoing some (though, sadly, not all) of the cruelest elements of his own program of separating immigrant children from their parents. Trump backed down as governors across the country were distancing themselves from his draconian policies.
Democratic governors, led by Oregon’s Kate Brown, announced that they would not facilitate Trump’s cruelty by dispatching National Guard troops to the southern border. And so, too, did some Republicans.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican who is seeking re-election this year, decided to cancel a scheduled deployment of Massachusetts National Guard troops to the border amid horrific reports of crying children being grabbed away from their parents by federal authorities who were under orders from the president. “Governor Baker directed the National Guard not to send any assets or personnel to the southwest border today because the federal government’s current actions are resulting in the inhumane treatment of children,” announced his office.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, another Republican, ordered a Maryland National Guard helicopter crew to immediately return from the region and declared: “Until this policy of separating children from their families has been rescinded, Maryland will not deploy any National Guard resources to the border.”
Trump also faced harsh criticism from religious leaders, experts on immigration policy, and anyone else who has a heart. It is fair to say, however, that the explicit criticism by Republican governors of his separation policy — coupled with a commitment to act on that criticism — helped to hasten a presidential retreat.
Even Republican governors who did not have National Guard troops on the ground or scheduled to deploy, like Vermont’s Phil Scott, signaled publicly that they were not inclined to assist the president.
But Trump was not entirely on his own. He could still count, of course, on the most vitriolic Republican governors — like Maine’s deliberately abhorrent Paul LePage.
More significantly, and troublingly, he could count on Scott Walker. The governor of Wisconsin is a supposedly more mainstream and measured conservative than Trump or LePage. Even when he is attacking labor rights or the environment or public education, Walker tries to present himself as a vaguely reasonable Republican.
But this Wisconsinite’s loyalty to Trump trumps any inclination — even in what could be a tough re-election year — to do the right thing.
Walker, who was humiliated by Trump when both were bidding for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, and who left that race with a none-too-subtle dig at Trump (“I believe that I’m being called to lead by helping to clear the field in this race for a positive conservative message to rise to the top of the field”), has now remade himself as the president’s most willing accomplice.
Embracing his role as Trump’s toady-in-chief, Walker has cheered on Trump’s “get-tough” immigration policies for months. Then, on June 18, as the separation crisis was at its peak, Walker’s administration announced that roughly two dozen Wisconsin National Guard troops would be dispatched to work with the Arizona National Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol along the border with Mexico.
When tapes of sobbing children surfaced and as religious leaders decried the president’s policies as “immoral” — with Pope Francis suggesting that anti-immigrant populism was “creating psychosis” — Trump was increasingly isolated. But not entirely so. He could count on Scott Walker.
“Governor Walker’s plan to send Wisconsin National Guard members to the southern border is a misuse of state and federal resources, and only serves to give President Trump air cover for his outrageous and cruel plan to separate immigrant families,” complained Congressman Mark Pocan, the Wisconsin Democrat who traveled to the border to witness firsthand the crisis that was unfolding.
Pocan’s point was well taken. At a moment when Trump was being called out by Democrats and Republicans, Walker provided the president with encouragement to cling for a few more days to a cruel and unusual standard that Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States, decried as “immoral.”
Thirty of Wisconsin’s Democratic legislators urged Walker to rescind his proposal to send the National Guard troops to the border. “At long last,” wrote the legislators, “when children are being ripped from their parents by the thousands, you need to draw a line in the sand and stand up against cruelty.”
Walker drew no line in the sand. The governor remained what he has chosen to become: a cheerleader not just for Donald Trump but for this president’s cruelest policies.
In April, Walker hailed Trump’s hard-line approach, writing, “I welcome President Donald Trump’s aggressive actions to secure our nation’s southern border.”
So it was that, even after it became clear that the president’s policies were being enforced with brutal disregard for the welfare of crying babies, Walker stuck with Trump.
There are many forms of loyalty, some courageous, some unthinking. But the loyalty that Walker gives Trump is the most dangerous of all. Even when the president was wrong, even when other governors were telling the president he was wrong, even when other Republicans were telling the president that he had to abandon policies that were (and are) harmful to children, Walker signaled his approval of Trump and Trumpism.
Scott Walker has made himself an enabler of Donald Trump’s worst instincts. As such, Walker makes what is wrong with a very bad president very much worse.
John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org and @NicholsUprising.
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