By Kevin Binversie
Much has been said of the highly edited 38-second YouTube video in which Gov. Scott Walker is caught saying he would “divide and conquer” the state. Listening to critics of the governor, you’d think it was almost like finding the smoking gun still at the scene of the crime.
Democrats say it is irrefutable evidence that Walker is a power-hungry pol. Chief among them is that the governor says one thing in public, and another in private to some of his biggest campaign donors. They point to the video as proof that Walker is set to enact “right-to-work” legislation, and Act 10 was just the beginning.
What’s amazing about the entire video is that documentary filmmaker Brad Liechtenstein refuses to post the entire video. All he’s given the media is a transcript of the entire conversation. Yet, releasing the full video would further provide true context of the conversation between Walker and ABC Supply President Diane Hendricks.
Otherwise, given the current film’s make-up, its reliance on out-of-context editing, and rapid-response from recall backers to fully exploit it, it’s easy to pinpoint its purpose: re-energize liberal turnout ahead of the recall.
Liechtenstein has been around the politico-cinematic block going as far back as documentary work for PBS in 1996 on the Clinton-Dole presidential race. He probably has been around long enough to know when he has video, which would help promote his project. He'd also know if he has video on his hands that can help promote a cause.
The "ConquerGate" video is pure political catnip for the liberal base — meant to re-energize voters who may have been deflated by the recent Democratic primary and a new wave of polling numbers indicating Walker is likely to win.
The reasoning for the video is simple: to broaden the Democratic conversation from the real purpose of the recall — collective bargaining for public employees — to the more universal theme — Walker is untrustworthy and power hungry. Collective bargaining doesn’t move votes. Those aren’t my words; they’re the words of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s Communication Director Graeme Zielisnki in the liberal magazine Mother Jones.
So would it be safe to say that while collective bargaining might not be moving votes, it might move people to the polls? Clearly given the response and faux outrage over Walker’s remarks that clearly appears to be the only reason such a video like this is even released three weeks prior to election day.
Add in news reports that the filmmaker will not allow the full, unedited video available to the public to draw their own conclusion, and it’s hard to argue the video wasn’t built to boost Democratic turnout above all else.
All that trouble for nothing
The smart money going into this past weekend’s annual GOP convention in Green Bay was on the likelihood that the state Republican Party would endorse no one in the U.S. Senate primary. After three rounds of balloting, the smart money won.
Instead, all the campaigns were skunked. Former Gov. Tommy Thompson, former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann, R-1st District, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, of Horicon, and businessman Eric Hovde left with bruised egos, depleted campaign treasuries spent trying to woo delegates and possible changes to the conventional wisdom of the race dynamic.
One begins to wonder if the state GOP is doing itself any real favors by holding these endorsement votes. Yes, they boost convention turnout and generate activist engagement. But the cost is high — the time wasted playing the expectation game, attempts to stuff the ballot box by busing in last-minute attendees and other such shenanigans and accusations of cheating. Future Republican candidates risk alienating not just independent voters with these tactics, but also their own base.
The current system — in which the candidate who captures 60 percent of convention delegates wins the endorsement and is given full access to and support of the party apparatus — has become too gamed and abused. It’s time for the party to consider ending formal endorsements. Democracy in Wisconsin, even intra-party democracy, deserves better.
Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native who has been blogging on the state’s political culture for more than eight years. He has served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, worked at the Heritage Foundation and has worked on numerous Wisconsin Republican campaigns in various capacities, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.