Wisconsin Republicans Want to Add the Threat of Secession to Their Platform


The news: Wisconsin's fed up — well, some of Wisconsin. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the state GOP's Resolutions Committee has decided to include the threat of secession in 2014's party convention vote. If approved by delegates, Wisconsin's GOP will announce in early May it "supports legislation that upholds Wisconsin's right, under extreme circumstances, to secede." It also wants to vote on language that would announce the state's right to kill any mandates that go "beyond the scope of the constitutionally delegated powers of the federal government."

Top GOP officials tried to kill the proposal, but instead compromised on a few edits. The secession threat is one of 23 resolutions approved by the committee, including one that began as a criticism of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan (R) and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray's (D-Wash.) bipartisan budget agreement negotiated last year. The criticism of the Ryan-Murray agreement now merely says the state GOP will not support any budget that increases taxes and doesn't slash the discretionary budget. Tea Party Republicans, like 4th Congressional District GOP Vice Chairman Michael Murphy, complained bitterly that the conflicted state GOP watered down the statement, and said about about Ryan: "We can't talk bad about our beloved rock star."

Not everyone's on board: While the secession proposal made it through, top Republicans are already distancing themselves. Gov. Scott Walker (R) says that the resolution isn't a priority, "certainly not with me." The party's executive director shot down secession outright. And despite the frustrations of Republicans nationwide, there's certainly not majority support for the idea. A Huffington Post/YouGov poll conducted at the peak of national secessionist sentiment after President Obama's re-election, while hardly authoritative, found that 43% of national Republicans voiced any sort of support for leaving the Union.

And, obviously, it's not like Wisconsin could just do whatever they wanted. Gov. Walker and any presumptive successor are firmly committed to staying in the Union. The federal government is surely not keen on letting any state secede, and if the state turned into a concentration of die-hard secessionist radicals, Wisconsin would have to pit its Wisconsin Army National Guard of just 7,700 soldiers (many of whom are probably not chomping at the bit to obey order to detach from the Union), the state's 26 known "Patriot" militias and relatively small state police force against some of the more than 100,000 federal military personnel being trained at Fort McCoy every year. Most everyone, including most of the Tea Partiers pushing the resolution, agree that's a fight Wisconsin can't win.

So, what's the point? Why even go through all the rigmarole of arranging the vote? It stems from the standard far-right talking points Tea Party Republicans have been throwing out for years: taxes, big government and RINOs who won't do the tough work of cutting the budget. State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R) admitted as much, clarifying that the measures were strictly symbolic.

"I don't think they speak for the majority of the party with these resolutions," Sanfelippo told the Journal Sentinel. "It certainly isn't anything that, as an elected official, I'm spending a lot of time on."

Murphy says the resolution expresses Republicans' feeling that they've had "enough of big government" and says proudly that, "if that's crazy talk, I would be happy to carry that as a badge of honor." But he conceded that secession resolutions are "more a public flogging, if you will, from our delegation" than commitment to a Cheesehead Republic.

A waste of time: Other Republicans, like GOP 6th Congressional District Chairman Dan Feyen, charged that the motion distracted from the work of fighting Democrats electorally. He said a previous motion in his district had the support of just 25 delegates after a (presumably exhausting) three-hour debate. PoliticsUSA's Justin Baragona suggests that, in a state that nominally leans blue, integrating secession into the GOP party platform would constitute political suicide.

In 2012, Gareth Price, an assistant professor at Duke University, called the movement to split states from the United States a "fantasy." Price suggested that unlike other modern secession movements around the globe, which typically consisted of annexed and marginalized groups looking to form a breakaway state, conservative "secessionists define their states as more American than America itself." ("Real America," anyone?) But he also cautioned that they need to be acknowledged and considered seriously for the ugly underbelly of right-wing discontent they represent.