President-elect Donald Trump will enter the White House under circumstances similar to what Gov. Scott Walker faced in Wisconsin six years ago — with his party in control of the legislative branch and a big, bold to-do list.
And with Walker and his allies taking on key national roles, it’s possible the 2011 Wisconsin Republican blueprint for upending the balance of political power will also be front-and-center in the new administration.
However, there remains plenty of uncertainty about how Trump will govern and whether Republicans’ 52-48 majority in the U.S. Senate will be enough to push through some of the major changes Walker was able to advance in Wisconsin. It’s also unclear whether Trump will pursue policies that inflame liberals, such as taking on labor unions, or stick to more populist fare, such as tax cuts and infrastructure projects.
The Wisconsin blueprint included a range of aggressive policies that punished opponents and rewarded allies — the dismantling of public-sector labor unions (a key funding source for Democrats), tax cuts for manufacturers and farmers, limits on liability lawsuits, a new voter ID requirement, concealed gun permits and funding cuts for abortion providers, among others.
The law that blocked collective bargaining and made it harder for public sector unions to organize, known as Act 10, sparked massive state Capitol protests in spring 2011 and an attempted recall of Walker in June 2012. Republicans have since expanded their legislative majorities and for the first time since 1984 won Wisconsin’s 10 presidential electoral votes.
“It’s the best model (the Trump administration) can have,” said David Keene, a Wisconsin native and opinion editor for the conservative Washington Times. “Once you’ve won those one or two big things, the other things aren’t as big in the minds of the people who are protesting.”
Shortly before the election, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said if Trump wins, Washington could become like Madison, referring to the 2011 conflict. Trump’s victory has already sparked demonstrations in cities across the country.
“(Trump) has got a Supreme Court appointment and a couple of other things he can do very quickly — that’s going to get the attention of everybody,” Keene said. “In that sense Newt was probably right. It’s going to get pretty ugly.”
Labor issues in play?
So far Trump hasn’t made labor a focus of his first-100-days agenda — but Walker also didn’t campaign on Act 10. He later said one of his mistakes was rushing to pass the law without clearly explaining his intentions.
Grover Norquist, president of the conservative group Americans for Tax Reform, said the passage of Act 10 was directly linked to Republican success in Wisconsin as the number of union members here dropped by more than 100,000, draining tens of millions of dollars a year in dues from union coffers, which helped fund Democrats.
“The fight in Wisconsin drained resources from all around the nation,” Norquist said.
Norquist said he expects the labor issues to primarily play out at the state level as more states pass right-to-work laws and follow Wisconsin’s model on collective bargaining with public employees. But Trump might also effect change through appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, making it harder for unions to recruit new members.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said her members are “very concerned” that Trump could pursue an anti-union agenda in the mode of Walker’s Wisconsin. But she said Trump ran on a platform of helping improve the economic situation for workers, and a national stagnation in wages has tracked with a decades-long decline in union membership.
“Donald Trump did not run for president against unions. Donald Trump ran for president trying to get working class folk to believe they were going to raise their wages,” she said. “At the end of the day, someone who wants to be a great president wants to actually deliver on that which they promised people.”
Priebus, Walker, Ryan
Trump announced Sunday that former Republican Party of Wisconsin and current Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, of Kenosha, will serve as his chief of staff. On Tuesday, Paul Ryan, of Janesville, was re-elected by his party to serve as House speaker.
And this week, Walker took the reins as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, where he is advocating for Washington to pass through more funding and control of that funding to the states.
During his short-lived presidential campaign, Walker advocated for eliminating public-sector labor unions, dismantling the National Labor Relations Board, passing nationwide right-to-work legislation and repealing the Davis-Bacon Act, which would end prevailing wage laws for federal highway and other public works projects. Walker said such actions would “drain the swamp” in Washington, a rallying cry that Trump adopted near the end of his campaign.
In a radio interview last week, Walker said just like in Wisconsin in 2011 “it’s truly put up or shut up time.”
“If they don’t go big and bold, they’ll be out on their heels two years from now,” Walker said. “If they do, this could be a lasting change in American politics.”
Ryan has called for Congress to take “big and bold” action through his Better Way agenda, which doesn’t take on labor unions. He urges revamping Medicare and Social Security by moving toward privatization rather than government management.
Priebus has said voters want Trump “to take the country in a bold new direction,” though there is some uncertainty as to which direction and how far Trump will go.
Conservative groups such as Americans for Prosperity are hoping for tax cuts, the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act and the reduction of government regulations on business.
“We’d love to see Washington take a similar approach to Wisconsin and other states and take a big, bold approach toward reform, whether it be health care, taxes, regulation,” said Sean Lansing, AFP chief operating officer. “The opportunity is there for big and bold reform and we’re going to advocate for them to go for it.”
UW-Madison political science professor Barry Burden is skeptical that Trump would work arm-in-arm with congressional Republicans in the same way that Walker was able to work with his Legislative majority in Wisconsin.
“Trump has less room to wiggle if he loses very many Republicans,” Burden said. “They’re just not on the same page ideologically on a lot of issues.”
Julia Azari, a Marquette University political science professor, said the Wisconsin Republican anti-union agenda created a lot of polarization and rancor in the state. If there’s a sense that Trump needs to build a broader coalition, then it wouldn’t be smart to stir up that fight, she said.
But it’s possible Wisconsin could be a model given how many Republicans from the state are involved and the way Trump won the election by using a Rust Belt strategy that focused on rural voters in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, she said.