June 1st, 2012
12:44 PM ET
10 years ago

Clinton blasts 'divide and conquer' strategy ahead of Wisconsin recall

(CNN) – Speaking before an animated crowd in Milwaukee Friday, former President Bill Clinton decried the partisan atmosphere he said was responsible for the bitter recall vote in Wisconsin, saying the Republican candidate had struck upon a "divide and conquer" policy to win political points.

"This is a big deal, and it is not about Republicans and Democrats, or traditional conservatives and liberals," Clinton said, taking aim at Republican Gov. Scott Walker for dividing his state after a bitter fight over collective bargaining rights for union workers. Clinton was campaigning for the Democratic candidate, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

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Walker and GOP allies in the Wisconsin state legislature voted in January 2011 to limit raises for public employees, except police and firefighters, to the rate of inflation. They also moved to bar unions from deducting dues from workers' paychecks.

That bill was signed into law in March, following protests at the state's Capitol.

Unions argued that collective bargaining - a process of negotiations meant to regulate working conditions - has served to protect their wages and health care, as well as enforce workplace safety and serve as a means to arbitrate employee grievances.

Walker, along with other supporters of the measure, asserted union contracts constrain efforts to address Wisconsin's swelling deficit.

Clinton said on Friday the fight over whether to recall Walker was "America's battleground."

"Here's what I want to tell you," Clinton said. "I think I know a little bit about what would bring America back, what would bring economic recovery, what would enable us to have widely spread prosperity. And I'll tell you, if you go anywhere in America today, there are a lot of places that are already back. They are dramatically different but hey all have one thing in common. They are involved in creative cooperation, not constant conflict."

Clinton framed Tuesday's vote as a decision between a collaborative approach favored by Democrats, and hostile confrontation favored by Republicans.

"Everyday when a child in Wisconsin says the pledge of allegiance it is a rebuke to the far right, winner take all, take no prisoners, divide and conquer, constant conflict philosophy of government," Clinton said. "You get a chance, a second chance to do that."

If Democratic voters don't show up at the polls, Clinton said, naysayers would portray the result as a mandate to stem collective bargaining rights in other states.

"I can just hear it now," Clinton said. "All those people that poured all this money in Wisconsin, if you don't show up and vote will say 'See, we got 'em now. We are finally going to break every union in America. We are going to break every government in America. We are going to stop worrying about the middle class.'"

"You tell them no," Clinton said. "You tell them Wisconsin has never been about that, never will be about that."

Clinton will be the most high profile Democratic surrogate to travel to Wisconsin to campaign for Barrett. As of now, there are no plans for President Barack Obama or Vice President Joe Biden to travel to Wisconsin prior to next Tuesday's election. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC Chair, and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, the chair of the Democratic Governors Association, both campaigned in Wisconsin Wednesday.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is slated to team up with Walker in the state Friday. A number of high profile Republicans, including Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey, Bob McDonnell of Virginia, and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, as well as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida have all recently campaigned in Wisconsin with Walker.

In his remarks, Clinton didn't directly reference remarks made Thursday on CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight" in which he labeled presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney's business career as "sterling."

At the top of his speech, however, Clinton made light of his position as former leader of the free world.

"Just in case you think this was set up by somebody else, these are my notes of what I was going to say to you," Clinton said, holding up a few sheets of paper. "The great thing of not being president is that you can say whatever you want. Nobody has to care anymore, but you can say it."

CNN Political Editor Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.

Also see:

Obama campaign launches assault on Romney's Massachusetts record

Obama campaign releases third set of Spanish ads

Gonzales says Romney must make personal connection to Hispanics

Wisconsin guv up in third straight poll

Filed under: Bill Clinton • Scott Walker • Tom Barrett • Wisconsin
soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. demogoat

    Please send the Tea Party packing Wisconsin. Please!

    June 1, 2012 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  2. MaryM

    Go get that poc Walker , President Clinton. Good people of Wisconsin, Vote that lying poc Walker out of office now.

    June 1, 2012 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  3. rla

    Walker divided the state?????? Did you forget the massive and ridiculous take over of the state house by liberal/union crazies and the things that were said.... What tunnel vision

    June 1, 2012 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  4. Ben M

    This is a wake call for the American People. Let Wisconsin show America that money no longer control the election and the people. It's funny that they call adding 65,000 job a bad news. Can they say "ADD"? Not "LOST"...a few years ago we were loosing jobs.....Now we are adding jobs. What about those 65,000 people that now have a job? Do you think they are happy or not? I'm one of them, I'm happy that I'm in the 65,000 job adding poll.

    June 1, 2012 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  5. NVa Native

    The only way the current perversion of the GOP can and has won any elections is to excite their weak minded base, and a few others, with fear and hate of other Americans.
    But it was so bad under the GOP control during the Bush/Cheney years that almost destroyed our country, and their anti-American effort in Congress since then, that the GOP "hate & fear" machine won't work this election cycle either.

    June 1, 2012 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  6. Myviewis

    This is about Unions missing their income that they in turn pass on to Democrats and Unions demand huge paychecks for employees, huge benefits and in return employees work little hours, get lots of time off, are protected from being fired, do as they please, get huge pensions, huge retirement accounts and the state doesn't have enough money to go around. This is not about the middle class, this is about Unions getting their money and these employees getting lots of goodies on the hard labor of non-government employees, businesses.

    June 1, 2012 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  7. sayer

    Give 'em heck, Bill.

    June 1, 2012 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  8. Rudy NYC

    Unions argued that collective bargaining – a process of negotiations meant to regulate working conditions – has served to protect their wages and health care, as well as enforce workplace safety and serve as a means to arbitrate employee grievances.
    Ironically enough, all of the above first began in the US in ... you guessed it ... Wisconsin.

    June 1, 2012 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  9. The GOP opens mouth and inserts foot

    The law is illegal. Get rid of it and fire the governor.

    Simple enough.

    June 1, 2012 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  10. Don

    Belong to any private work place union you want.
    We need to disband the State Unions who use their polictical clout to ensure their union members get the money they want. There is no negotion when you have the ability to chase elected officials out of the state to hide. Billy seems to not understand the people of Wisconsin voted Walker in as the Gov.. We the people of Wisconsin, we the taxpayer want to have control of our money.
    That's why Walker will win again on Tuesday.

    June 1, 2012 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  11. mike

    'Collaborative approach favored by Democrats'. What a crock of ..... Unions are KILLING this country. Not only are they NOT willing to negotiate down in tough times, they actually want RAISES and increased benefits in an economic downturn. Anyone that stands up to them is decried as a 'bad' person and is rode out of town on a rail.
    Wake up America.

    June 1, 2012 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  12. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    Where were Mittens' hecklers?

    June 1, 2012 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  13. Anonymous

    The Dems need to get more big names out to Wisconsin this weekend and Monday.

    June 1, 2012 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  14. Billy, NYC

    Next Tuesday Wisconsin Recall Election is significant to everyone in the country; not only about the citizens in Wisconsin. It is a battle between People's Power and Corporate $$ Power. Democracy in US is challenged by the BID Super PAC's $$ power in this year's election. People, make your voice heard at the voting booths. Silence = Death of Democracy.

    June 1, 2012 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  15. Dagnytag

    The top 4 state budget deficits are California, Illinois, Mass, and Louisiana. Notice anything in common libs?

    June 1, 2012 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  16. Irma in North Carolina

    I hope the people up there listen to you. And also hope the president get a second term. It is real scary if the republicans get back in the white house.

    June 1, 2012 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  17. Ray E. (Georgia)

    It is of course about State Budgets and tons of red ink. It sounds like Bill Clinton is trying to straddle the fence. It has bee reported that about half of the Public Union Members have quit the Union in Wisconsin. Anybody know why?

    June 1, 2012 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  18. Anne

    Mitt Romney made money because the federal tax policies enabled him to win whether jobs were created or lost. He benefited from being taxed as 15% as his income was considered compensation. How many net new jobs did he create in the USA? I've read that there were not net job gains as they lost as many jobs as they created in the USA. He also utilized accounting procedures that included company pension funds as assets and when companies were broken up & sold, many people lost a sizable amount of their pension. It's one thing to make money and it's another thing to create jobs. Mitt Romney made his fortune as much through job destruction and job creation. And, he wants to continue those same failed economic and tax policies that created his and other 0.01% of Americans. Sorry, I'm not interested. I would rather see my tax money invested in real jobs, infrastructure projects/schools/research and development/50 year renewable energy project/job training/health care.

    June 1, 2012 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  19. Jay

    Divide and conquer?
    What exactly have the Democrats being doing? For decades now they have thrived by persuading women and blacks that they are victims and winning elections as a result.

    June 1, 2012 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |