The Wisconsin presidential primary will be held tomorrow. For the past week the state has been overrun with Republican candidates and their spouses. Ann Romney and Calista Gingrich have been campaigning for their husbands at low-key social events, while their husbands have turned out to more formal speaking engagements.
Long time GOP operative Ralph Reed, who transformed the scandalized Christian Coalition of the 1990s into the Faith and Freedom Coalition, hosted Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney at a convention this past weekend. Santorum was also a featured guest at the Koch-sponsored Americans for Prosperity “Defending the American Dream” rally a week ago.
About 300 people turned up to see Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan speak at a "town hall" event in Middleton, WI yesterday afternoon. The event was highly staged and the audience was restricted to the Republican faithful.
Several people who have been known to protest Scott Walker over the past year gained admission, but were quickly asked to leave after being identified as protesters by the Secret Service. According to one person who was kicked out, they were using a list of names provided by a group called “Verify the Recall” to block the entrance of people who had signed recall petitions against Scott Walker.
Two protesters did slip in and quietly displayed their messages. One donned a "Recall Walker" headband, and the other displayed a neon green poster that said, "Romney ♥ John Doe." That is a reference to the months-long investigation into alleged misconduct in Scott Walker’s administration as Milwaukee County Executive that has already yielded fifteen indictments
She held it up for about 15 seconds and then rolled it up and put it away. A photographer from the press section alerted Secret Service agents to their displays. Much discussion ensued among the agents and finally two were stationed behind the protesters. When the event concluded, the agent violently grabbed the sign from its maker. She was left with a small scrap of neon green in her hand.
While billed as a town hall question and answer event, Romney and Ryan spent most of the hour honing their anti-Obama speeches, and didn’t once mention the political elephant in the room: Scott Walker. Ryan and Romney put especially fine points on the Affordable Health Care Act and the tax code. Romney said, “If the Supreme Court doesn’t do their job, I’ll kill Obamacare on day one of my presidency.”
Romney also promised to increase the size of the Navy and Air Force, and to spend trillions in building more ships and planes. This was just before he slammed Obama for too much government spending and driving up the national debt.
Irony abounded in his speech as he railed against social safety net programs’ “"perverse incentive against marriage.” He said, “We need to encourage people to get married."
Unless you’re gay, that is.
The most bizarre moment came when an audience member asked an obvious set-up of a question. He asked Romney how he will respond to Democrats raising “false issues” of Republican wars on women and on immigrants. Romney’s first comment was to say that he was going to work hard “to protect our first right – the right of religious freedom.” He then went on to say that he wished his wife Ann was there to answer the question. She has been traveling around the country talking to American women, and what they are telling her is that they’re not concerned about access to contraception. What they’re really worried about is the national debt.
Romney’s handlers are going to have to work on that part of his speech a little more if they want to stem the tide of Republican women fleeing the party due to increasingly misogynistic policy positions and statements from party leaders.
Pleading for votes on Tuesday, Romney ended with a frenzied appeal to American exceptionalist sentiment, saying, “America is the greatest nation in the history of earth. We have freed more people from tyranny than any other country in the world. We really are the shining city upon a hill, as Ronald Reagan said.”
Outside the convention center, protesters bid farewell to Romney fans with signs and chants of, “Recall Walker!” Even though this was a Romney presidential event, the election that presses on the minds of most Wisconsinites is the one that will take place on June 5. That’s when four Republican senators, the Lieutenant Governor and Governor Walker himself will face the electoral consequences of their well-orchestrated, merciless attacks on the fundamental rights of their constituents.
Rebecca Kemble is an Anthropologist who studied decolonization in Kenya. She serves on the Board of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and is a founding member of the Wisconsin Citizens Media Cooperative.