A recent comment from a reader asked …
Oh, and sometime would you to write about the change if the republican (note,little r) party, and its fall from grace when it was still the Grand Old Party!
Upon thinking about it, I figured out the answer, which requires a bit of history. In 1954, voters gave control of both houses of Congress to the Democrats. That meant that Republican presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford had to deal with Democratic Congressional leaders, which limited what they were able to do that dovetailed with what the GOP wanted to do.
Small government is always the correct answer, but it’s easier to tout small government when you’re not in charge. Whatever Richard Nixon was, he was no conservative. What conservative would enact wage and price controls to stop inflation (which only pushed it down the road), and create the Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (both of which metastasized into the most anti-business job-killing agencies of the federal government)? What conservative raises taxes? (See the Tax Reform Act of 1969.)
Then in 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected president and the Republicans took over control of the Senate. My theory is that Republicans enjoyed being in charge in Washington and decided that they liked government the size it was as long as they were in charge. Government did not shrink under Reagan’s presidency, nor did it under George H.W. Bush, nor did it under George W. Bush. (While 9/11 was a reason in the latter case, 9/11 should have been a reason to radically reduce the size of government to get more resources for the war on terror without increasing taxes or the deficit.)
Wisconsin Republicans have really never been small-government conservatives. State and local government is twice the size it should be given growth in inflation and population since the late 1970s. A constitutional mechanism like the Taxpayer Bill of Rights would stop unjustified growth in government, but despite the fact that the GOP has been in total power in Madison since 2011 (and on and off for 25 years before that), there are no constitutional controls on growth in government in Wisconsin, only (weak) legislative controls, which obviously can be overturned by a future Legislature.
My theory proves that there is less difference than one might think between parties — not in ideology, but in the desire to get into office, get more Ds or Rs into office, and keep them in office. The more power government has, the more the stakes are raised in elections, and the more expensive and nastier politics gets. State Republicans obviously believe that the current size and scope of government is just fine as long as they’re in charge of it. Constitutional controls on what government can do would give people one less reason to vote for Republicans, since with the right limits on taxation and spending Democrats couldn’t raise spending and taxes whenever they felt like it.