Secession, a tournament for GOP


March’s NCAA playoffs are behind us but the madness continues.

From Wisconsin, cradle of the Progressive movement, comes news that the state Republican Party — the party of La Follette! — has advanced a pro-secession agenda.

The party’s Resolutions Committee voted earlier this month in favor of a platform saying the GOP “supports legislation that upholds Wisconsin’s right, under extreme circumstances, to secede.” The resolution will now get a vote at the state party convention next month, raising the alarming prospect of a breakaway Badger State uniting with Ottawa in a military alliance that could disrupt the fragile balance of power in the Great Lakes.

Called the “state sovereignty” resolution, it is driven by the same sentiment that drives Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy to ignore federal law and court orders on grounds that they do not apply in the “sovereign state of Nevada.”

Wisconsin’s Republican governor, Scott Walker, opposes the resolution. He has in mind being president of the United States, and that ambition could be frustrated if his state were no longer part of the union.

But maybe Wisconsin’s secession plans could help Walker. The Republican National Committee has been working to streamline the party’s labyrinthine nominating process. What could be simpler than an NCAA-style tournament in which secessionist regions face off against regions firmly committed to the United States.

Pro-secession Wisconsin would host the Midwest region, where Walker and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, though neither is a secessionist, would have to emphasize their states’ sovereignty positions, as would Cinderellas in this bracket: Govs. Mike Pence of Indiana and John Kasich of Ohio.

Pro-secession Texas, where Gov. Rick Perry once hinted at breaking away, would host the West region. Perry would be evenly matched with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has demonstrated fierce hostility toward the federal government, and both might be upended by Sarah Palin.

In the pro-union East, top seeds would be New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, though dark-horse challengers include the itinerant Senate candidate Scott Brown, assuming he still lives in the East in 2016.

The South region, often a secessionist hotbed, would have a strong pro-union bracket featuring former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Govs. Bobby Jindal (La.) and Nikki Haley (S.C.). Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) would likely compete here, although he did have a staffer who favored secession.

The top candidate from the secessionist Midwest and West regions would compete for the GOP nomination against the champion from the pro-union East and South.

Games aside, the March Madness format could allow the GOP to answer honestly and openly a key question facing the party and the conservative movement: Is it for limited government, or is it just against government?

In Washington, the choice is often framed in abstract policy terms. Are Republicans about repealing Obamacare, blocking comprehensive immigration reform, and opposing government spending and debt limit increases even if this brings about a government shutdown and default on the federal debt? Or do they have an alternative governing plan? Are they trying to limit the scope of the federal government, or to stop it from functioning?

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the choice is more earthy. A cattle rancher, Bundy, has been ignoring federal court orders for the better part of two decades. Worse, he’s backed by the state’s Republican governor and its Republican senator. This is where small government becomes no government — where opposition to Washington becomes anarchy.

Bundy has been having his cattle graze on federal lands for decades and has refused to pay grazing fees. He has ignored court orders, and lost an appeal. When federal authorities finally moved recently to impound his cattle, Bundy threatened violence, leading the feds to back off.

And what says Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval? “No cow justifies the atmosphere of intimidation which currently exists nor the limitation of constitutional rights that are sacred to all Nevadans,” he said, objecting to the treatment of Bundy’s armed supporters.

How about Sen. Dean Heller? He said he told the federal Bureau of Land Management “very clearly that law-abiding Nevadans must not be penalized by an overreaching BLM.”

The complaints might make more sense if Bundy himself were “law-abiding.”

Perhaps Sandoval’s reaction shouldn’t be a surprise, though. He has been talked up as a long-shot contender in the pro-secession West region of the GOP-NCAA tournament. His support for Bundy might get him a higher seed.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

© 2014, Washington Post Writers Group

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