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Scott Walker has led his state from 11th to 44th in job creation, designed a health care plan that will cost Wisconsinites millions and spent much of his term embroiled in a campaign investigation, but he’s still a frontrunner for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.

A Walker 2016 candidacy sounded like a fantasy penned by Ayn Rand when Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball named the governor the frontrunner for the nomination. But the union-buster’s trip to Iowa over the weekend suggests such speculation has to be taken seriously.

The Hill‘s Cameron Joseph reports:

While the beltway presidential buzz has focused on Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), Walker’s admirers say his record as a conservative warrior, folksy Midwestern demeanor and big fundraising connections could make him a contender.

“Gov. Walker has a lot going for him and he’d be a very appealing candidate in a state like Iowa for the caucuses,” says Bob Vander Plaats, an influential social conservative kingmaker in the state. “Not only is he right on a lot of issues, he’s been very bold and courageous on his leadership on a lot of those issues. And being a neighbor to Iowa doesn’t guarantee you success but it certainly doesn’t hurt.”

How you feel about Scott Walker’s record likely reveals where you are on America’s political spectrum.

While the left may see his tenure as proof that austerity and attacking public workers don’t improve a state’s economy, conservative activists love that Walker defeated — with the help of lots of out-of-state donors — a recall effort and thus rubbed his dramatic attack on public-sector unions in labor’s face. Walker even has a narrowly positive approval rating of +4, even though he hasn’t come close to creating the 250,000 jobs he promised.

In his spare time, the governor also defunded Planned Parenthood, rejected federal funding for Medicaid expansion and is now pushing tax cuts that mostly benefit the rich. Basically he’s checked every conservative box and he’s won two statewide elections in an actual swing state.

Though activists rightly see Walker as “sort of a boring version of Michele Bachmann,” he proved in his recall battle that he at least knows how to nod to the center. And unlike Mitt Romney, he has the conservative credentials that will give him the freedom to do so.

The few Republican governors from states President Obama won with positive approval ratings — Chris Christie (R-NJ), +42, Bob McDonnell (R-VA), +32 and John Kasich (R-OH), +16 — all have committed some act of conservative heresy — like trying to get poor people health care, compromising on something or hugging President Obama. Wisconsin’s governor isn’t wasting his political capital trying to get immigration reform passed, and he doesn’t waste his time positioning himself against fellow Republicans as Cruz and Paul do.

Scott Walker is an ultra-orthodox conservative with a passion for taking on unions that extends back to his first bill as an elected official. That’s a passion he shares with many of the right wing’s biggest donors. And if they have their way, what happens to America after 2016 will resemble what’s happened to Wisconsin since 2010.

AP Photo/Morry Gash

Photo by expertinfantry/ CC BY 2.0

At this moment, the president of the United States is threatening to "throw out" the votes of millions of Americans to hijack an election that he seems more than likely to lose. Donald Trump is openly demanding that state authorities invalidate lawful absentee ballots, no different from the primary ballot he mailed to his new home state of Florida, for the sole purpose of cheating. And his undemocratic scheme appears to enjoy at least nominal support from the Supreme Court, which may be called upon to adjudicate the matter.

But what is even worse than Trump's coup plot — and the apparent assent of unprincipled jurists such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — is the Democratic Party's feeble response to this historic outrage. It is the kind of issue that Republicans, with their well-earned reputation for political hardball, would know how to exploit fully and furiously.

They know because they won the same game in Florida 20 years ago.

During that ultimate legal showdown between George W. Bush and Al Gore, when every single vote mattered, a Democratic lawyer argued in a memorandum to the Gore team that the validity of absentee ballots arriving after Election Day should be challenged. He had the law on his side in that particular instance — but not the politics.

As soon as the Republicans got hold of that memo, they realized that it was explosive. Why? Many of the late ballots the Democrats aimed to invalidate in Florida had been sent by military voters, and the idea of discarding the votes of service personnel was repellent to all Americans. Former Secretary of State James Baker, who was overseeing the Florida recount for Bush, swiftly denounced the Democratic plot against the soldiers, saying: "Here we have ... these brave young men and women serving us overseas. And the postmark on their ballot is one day late. And you're going to deny him the right to vote?"

Never mind the grammar; Baker's message was powerful — and was followed by equally indignant messages in the following days from a parade of prominent Bush backers including retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the immensely popular commander of U.S. troops in the Desert Storm invasion that drove Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait. Fortuitously, Schwarzkopf happened to be on the scene as a resident of Florida.

As Jeffrey Toobin recounted in Too Close to Call, his superb book on the Florida 2000 fiasco, the Democrats had no choice but to retreat. "I would give the benefit of the doubt to ballots coming in from military personnel," conceded then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Gore's running mate, during a defensive appearance on Meet the Press. But Toobin says Gore soon realized that to reject military ballots would render him unable to serve as commander in chief — and that it would be morally wrong.

Fast-forward to 2020, when many of the same figures on the Republican side are now poised to argue that absentee ballots, which will include many thousands of military votes — should not be counted after Election Day, even if they arrived on time. Among those Republicans is Justice Kavanaugh, who made the opposite argument as a young lawyer working for Bush in Florida 20 years ago. Nobody expects legal consistency or democratic morality from a hack like him, but someone should force him and his Republican colleagues to own this moment of shame.

Who can do that? Joe Biden's campaign and the Democratic Party ought to be exposing the Republican assault on military ballots — and, by the same token, every legally valid absentee ballot — every day. But the Democrats notoriously lack the killer instinct of their partisan rivals, even at a moment of existential crisis like this one.

No, this is clearly a job for the ex-Republicans of the Lincoln Project, who certainly recall what happened in Florida in 2000. They have the attitude and aptitude of political assassins. They surely know how to raise hell over an issue like military votes — and now is the time to exercise those aggressive skills in defense of democracy.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.