This certainly doesn’t sound like a state party whose presidential candidate leads by six points, as the WaPo/ABC poll yesterday declared. This report from Politico sounds like a state party proactively setting up excuses for failure — and searching for a scapegoat whose name doesn’t rhyme with Shmoe Shmiden. Wisconsin Democrats have begun setting up Gov. Tony Evers for that role, calling him a potential “liability” for Joe Biden after the Kenosha riots got out of hand and Evers seemed paralyzed over them:
Evers is drawing heat from some in his own party for not moving quickly enough to tamp down rioting in Kenosha. Like Walker before him, Evers is facing a nascent effort to recall him from office. He’s been steamrolled by Republicans who dominate the legislature and have repeatedly blocked his initiatives, including police reform.
And while Evers is still above water in polls, his approval rating slid 6 points after his handling of the Kenosha unrest. …
But interviews with more than two dozen activists, strategists, local officials and voters surfaced serious concern that in such a pivotal year, in such a pivotal state, Evers is diminishing what should be a significant advantage for the party. Rather than act as an attack dog or savvy politico who helps amplify Joe Biden’s message to combat President Donald Trump, they say, Evers instead has allowed Republicans to cast him as weak and ineffective.
“I don’t think that he has his pulse [on] what is going on in this state. He doesn’t have a forceful personality. He doesn’t have, in my view, the qualities of a great leader and that’s what we need now,” said Terry Rose, a former county supervisor and Democratic Party chair in Kenosha County. “We need a Winston Churchill, not a Neville Chamberlain.”
Wisconsin Democrats have a long list of complaints about Evers, some of which don’t have anything to do with rioting or the election campaign. They’re unhappy that the Republican-controlled legislature is running roughshod over Evers, but that’s a situation of their own making. Democrats conducted a scorched-earth campaign against Scott Walker for years, transforming the state’s political atmosphere into bitter trench warfare. Evers’ attempts to rule by decree during the COVID-19 crisis didn’t help matters either, making him neither Churchill or Chamberlain but more of a dime-store Huey Long without the personality.
Blaming Evers over the Kenosha riots may be fair to a degree, but not entirely. The Black Lives Matter protests and the Antifa rioting have been cheered on by Democrats’ progressive wing, not just in Wisconsin but nationwide, limiting Evers’ political options for dealing with them. If the state party wants to blame anyone for that conundrum, perhaps they’d be better off looking at Joe Biden himself, who’s been pretty milquetoast about condemning the riots and the violence.
That’s not the only way to blame Biden for a bad performance in Wisconsin. As former Democratic governor Jim Doyle tells Politico, the real problem in the state is the utter lack of a ground game. That’s on Biden, and it’s also on the state party:
Control of Wisconsin’s governorship has provided an edge to Democrats in the past. Former Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, recounted in an interview how his political machine helped John Kerry and Barack Obama carry the state in 2004 and 2008, respectively.
“In both of those elections it was really my political organization that was kind of at the heart of where most of the work was done — most of it was ground work,” Doyle said.
That’s not going to happen this time. Whatever power a governor’s political operation might have supplied in 2020 is greatly diminished, Doyle said, largely because Covid-19 curbed in-person politicking by Democrats. Republicans, though, have taken part in door-to-door persuasion. “When you don’t have this huge ground game, it’s a different kind of atmosphere,” Doyle said.
Interestingly, Politico doesn’t follow up on that point, even though it goes to the crux of the issue in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Biden doesn’t have a ground game, and apparently the state party doesn’t either. That’s a unilateral disarmament in a political battle, and it’s going to be costly. Just how costly depends on a lot of factors, but even Doyle says that Dems only held Wisconsin for as long as they did through person-to-person retail politicking. When Doyle left office, Republicans took control of Wisconsin even with Doyle’s organization still largely in the field.
If Biden loses in Wisconsin, that will be the reason, not Evers. The state party is setting Evers up as a scapegoat, but that will only be a distraction from their own failure to organize an effective campaign themselves. And the fact that they’re already trying to manufacture those excuses tells us plenty about where Wisconsin Democrats expect to end up after Election Day.