The Republican Bait-and-Switch

Detroit Regional Chamber / Flickr

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder opens the Detroit Regional Chamber 2012 Mackinac Policy Conference.

One striking thing about Governor Rick Snyder’s successful push for a right-to-work law in Michigan—and Scott Walker’s similar push against public employee unions in Wisconsin—is that they relied on bait-and-switch tactics. In their campaigns, neither governor announced their support for right-to-work laws, or more broadly, their opposition to labor unions. They both campaigned as moderate Republicans, interested in a straightforward agenda of job creation and deficit reduction.

Snyder, in fact, categorically denied that he supported right-to-work laws at all, as Dave Weigel shows in a helpful post collecting various quotes from the last three years:

The Detroit News, July 30, 2009:

Someone else asked if Snyder supported Michigan becoming a so-called right to work state, where individuals can opt out of joining a worker’s union. Snyder said the issue was a divisive one that’s not on his agenda. Instead, he said, the state needs to examine the compensation it pays public employees and bring it in line with jobs in the private sector. […]

The Grand Rapids Press, September 18, 2010:

Mr. Snyder is a bridge builder. He refuses, for instance, to enter the fight over a controversial right-to-work law, recognizing that the fissures such a proposal uncovers are not worth the potential benefits. […]

The Associated Press, April 6, 2011:

Snyder did not address right-to-work in his presentation but told members of the news media afterward “it is not on my agenda” because it is “divisive.”

To hide one’s intentions and then push through a divisive, far-reaching agenda—without public input or discussion—is betrays a deep contempt for the democratic process. You might present President Obama’s support for an individual mandate as an example of the same—given his opposition during the Democratic primaries—but the similarities end there; Obama may have opposed the mandate, but he campaigned on health care reform. His reversal on the mandate was in service of a goal voters supported.

Not only did Snyder not support right-to-work laws during his gubernatorial bid, but he didn’t campaign as an opponent of labor, making this reversal a huge surprise for Michiganders writ large.

Given Scott Walker’s similar actions in Wisconsin, it seems that this is becoming a favored approach for Republican politicians. Campaign as a moderate defender of the status quo, and then—when the spotlight has moved—unleash a maximist, hyper-ideological agenda.