I just finished a short piece for the next issue of the magazine about Republican efforts to push through structural changes that either permanently defund the left or reduce its voting strength. In the past, that included efforts to defund public interest law groups, ongoing battles to degrade the power of private sector unions, promotion of "pack and crack" redistricting that limited the influence of minority voters, and support of tort reform rules that hurt trial lawyers. More recently, it's included their assaults on public sector unions, the defunding of ACORN, and tenacious efforts to pass voter ID laws aimed at making it harder for minorities, the young, and the poor to vote.I'll definitely look out for that article.
But then he asks: why?
I don't know the answer, but I'm willing to speculate a bit. I have two plausible explanations, one based on representation and one based on politicians and learning.
The representation answer is pretty straightforward: it's about promises. As Richard Fenno explained, the "promises" that politicians make when they run can be about policy and public policy, but they can also be about behavior ("I'll listen to the district"; "I'll use my business expertise") or even about identity. Of course, pols don't explicitly promise to "be" African American or Polish-American or a "real" Yooper, but that's the implicit promise many politicians make (and, by the way, I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing at all). To the extent that GOP politics has become identity politics (and I thought the comparison of Sarah Palin to Al Sharpton was nice), then Republicans are mainly running on vague notions of "taking the country back" and their campaign promises have little to do with policy; indeed, policy, for such candidates, becomes symbolic of identity, rather than substantive. The next step is pretty obvious: if they've promised to their supporters that the other side is not legitimately entitled to share in governing, then the way to fulfill that promise is to focus on politics, not policy.
Learning? This explanation would center on two alternatives of how to take advantage of a good electoral cycle. One would be to focus on enacting as many policy priorities as possible while large majorities last; the other would be to begin by trying to lock in majorities, and then pass policy priorities only once those majorities are as safe as possible. I'd argue that neither strategy is necessarily the correct one, and that neither is inherently liberal or conservative. However, perhaps just as a chance result, the two most prominent Republican electoral strategists of the last thirty years -- Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich -- both happen to have been strong believers in locking in majorities. You'll recall that Rove was always yapping about William McKinley and the "permanent" GOP majority that he (and Mark Hanna) supposedly created. Newt, too; if I remember correctly, Newt was quoted repeatedly in John Barry's terrific "The Ambition and the Power" talking about his fear that Speaker Jim Wright would "consolidate power." Politicians learn from same-party experts, even if, as in this case, the claim of expertise is pretty dubious. So it's not surprising, then, that Scott Walker and other GOP politicians in 2011 are following the beliefs of Rove and Gingrich.
Again, this is speculative, but I suspect that the answer is found in some combination of those two possibilities.