How to Beat a Demagogue.

AuthorConniff, Ruth
PositionMIDDLE AMERICA - The mideterm elections - Column

Scott Walker went out with a whimper. Wisconsin's two-term Republican governor became a national rightwing star by stripping public employees of their collective bargaining rights and then turning Wisconsin into a right-to-work state, generated massive public protests, survived a recall election, and ushered in a new era of political divisiveness that helped elect Donald Trump. But he lost his re-election bid on November 6.

Walker didn't even appear at his own Election Night party. Instead, he acknowledged his defeat in a statement released by his office the following afternoon.

How did eight years of attacks on teachers, public institutions, employee rights, environmental protections, and democracy finally peter out? The answer is instructive.

Tony Evers, the soft-spoken, white-haired state superintendent of public instruction, did not beat Walker by taking sides in the culture wars Walker stoked between urban Democrats and rural Republicans. Instead, Evers talked about the rural schools that have been closing, because Walker wouldn't fund them, and the roads up north that were going back to gravel because the state wouldn't pay to maintain them.

As Evers put it in his victory speech, "I'll be focused on solving problems, not picking political fights."

That was welcome news to exhausted Wisconsin voters, who have had enough of Walker's "divide and conquer" politics, and a balm in an era of division and conquest nationwide.

The governor's race in Wisconsin was emblematic of midterm elections across the country. In several other states that helped put Trump in the White House, Republican governors were replaced by Democratic challengers. Democrats captured control of the House of Representatives, even as they fell short in the Senate. The scales tipped on Election Night in favor of the Democrats and against Trump, but the whole country is still teetering on a razor's edge.

The day after the midterms, Trump began stoking the outrage machine that has served him so well. Sounding like a tinpot dictator, he shouted at reporters to "sit down," told CNN's Jim Acosta he was a "terrible person" for daring to persist in asking questions, and then yanked Acosta's White House press pass. He fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and installed his own crony to supervise a Justice Department investigation that has been a thorn in his side. He sowed doubt about the integrity of U.S. elections, accusing Democrats of engaging in "fraud" in Georgia and...

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