It seems likely that if the Pew Research study on America's increased polarization had come out a month earlier, the cover story of this month's New Republic would have had a different thrust. As it stands, the story is ostensibly about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who author Alec MacGillis puts forward as "an early favorite" in the Republican 2016 field. But the story is really about a seam that lies on the outskirts of Milwaukee, separating a very, very blue city from its very, very red surroundings.
Let's address the Walker thing first. Scott Walker is not exactly an early favorite for the GOP nod. In polling, he consistently gets five percent support, trailing Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, and, often Ted Cruz. It's Rick Perry levels of support although unlike Perry Walker isn't all that well known yet. Walker has other problems, too: lingering questions about his use of government resources for his gubernatorial campaign and the possibility of a Paul Ryan candidacy, which would likely undermine Walker's ability to win even his own state.
But the story here is really about Milwaukee versus the suburbs, the "WOW" counties of Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington. Scroll down in the article and there's a striking map of 2012 election results in those areas, Milwaukee a dark blue and the surrounding counties dark red. MacGillis walks through the differences between the two -- differences in wealth, politics, and, particularly, racial composition.
The divide was well articulated in that Pew study released last week. Political partisans increasingly live in places that match their political temperaments, fostering increased polarization. "[L]iberals," the report states, are "about twice as likely as conservatives to live in urban areas, while conservatives are more concentrated in rural areas."
Southeastern Wisconsin, thanks to the history MacGillis outlines, appears to be ahead of the curve on that split. "[T]here is not a single competitive state Senate seat left in the entire Milwaukee media market," he writes. That homogenization has been a boon for Walker, who built strong relationships with local conservative radio that allowed him to maintain support even during the attempted recall in 2012.
What MacGillis outlines is really a vision of what a polarized America does and will look like on a local level. The racial subtext to much of what's happening, as MacGillis outlines it, appears to be an artifact of the history of the area that is exacerbated by the cultural differences between the two regions. The highly popular and antagonistic conservative talk radio hosts he discusses leverage the same split. The proximity of the two worlds means a tension that doesn't exist elsewhere in the country, at least not yet. But that tension is what MacGillis is writing about. There's a wall between the worlds and MacGillis is standing on top of it describing what he sees.
It isn't a story about Scott Walker, Presidential Contender. It's a story about the ever-thinner purple line between two Americas. MacGillis:
Even Walker admits that he isn’t working the middle much anymore: “It was always a divided state but it used to be (that) you’d explain it as ‘40/40/20,’ and 20 percent was the persuadable middle,” he told the Journal Sentinel. “That percent has shrunk now to 5, 6 percent maybe ... or five or six people.”
We refer you to this animation showing that same change happening everywhere else in the country.