Within hours the Press Gazette announced on it's web site that it was endorsing Johnson's opponent, Russ Feingold. The incident proved to be portentous.
Johnson has largely flown under the radar, thanks to the polarizing policies of Scott Walker, and he's escaped a great deal of the scrutiny and criticism that come with his office, both from the media and the state Dems, who have devoted all of their energy to Walker. In the absence of that kind of attention, it's easy to appreciate just how poorly Johnson's first year in office has gone.
Johnson's approval ratings as of November are a dismal 36% or 37%. What should trouble Johnson more is the fact that between 30-40% of respondents don't know who he is or aren't sure what to make of him yet. These are people who will learn about Johnson from his performance in office, and to date performance has been awful.
Here's a quick look back on Johnson's first year in office:
- In January Johnson took to the pages of the Journal-Sentinel to write an open letter to President Obama sarcastically welcoming him to Wisconsin ahead of a visit. It was an uncomfortable moment for someone who was still unknown to many in the state and held very few public events during his campaign for office.
- In April, shortly after Rep. Paul Ryan released his controversial budget plan, a plan that was so toxic that the GOP leadership wouldn't even touch it, Johnson said it didn't go far enough.
- In May Johnson voted to continue massive tax breaks for the major oil companies.
- In late June FEC reports revealed that Johnson gave himself a $10 million severance package when he left PACUR, a sum that seemed suspiciously close to the $9 million Johnson spent on his own campaign for Senate. Johnson did not answer questions regarding the matter very convincingly and the only reason the issue hasn't been a bigger deal is because the FEC is essentially a toothless enforcement agency.
- A few days later, Johnson tried to take ownership of budget deficit issue and failed miserably. First he published an incoherent op-ed (seriously, just look at the chart) at the Daily Caller that, far from suggesting a solution to the budget problem, seriously called into question his own understanding of the deficit.
- A week later he tried to bring the business of the Senate to a screeching halt over raising the debt ceiling and was rebuked by the GOP Senate leadership in a private conference on the Senate floor. Johnson's temper tantrum seemed to personify the recklessness of the GOP's game-of-chicken strategy which caused the public to blow a gasket.
- Two weeks later, Johnson flip-flopped and began a full-throated advocacy of a budget proposal he earlier dismissed as draconian.
- In August, Johnson laid out 12 economic policies that he called "necessary components" to "get our economy moving again." To date Johnson has shown barely any progress on any of these policies.
- Johnson has developed a reputation for hyper-partisanship:
In the interview, Johnson insisted that he’s open to working with Democrats and “that if you want to accomplish things in this country, … you have to work with the other side.”But even on the select occasions McConnell has been forced to work with the other side to keep the government running and raise the national debt ceiling, Johnson objected.
- That being said, one of only three bills Johnson authored this year is the so called Regulation Moratorium and Jobs Preservation Act of 2011 which is a deeply cynical bill without any actually policy value designed solely to embarrass the President politically.
- Johnson's decision to block to appointment of Victoria Nourse to the federal bench has been widely criticized, even by members of his former campaign staff.
“Johnson is always a big critic of how things are being run, but he has yet to show that he understands how to get things done in Congress,” a senior Republican Senate aide said. “Just being a vocal critic may not be enough of a selling point to a caucus that wants to see real results on some very tough issues.”
- In October Johnson teamed up with a former banking CEO and fellow Ayn Rand fan-boy to write a brazen op-ed that announces in no uncertain terms that Johnson represents the interests of the banking industry.
- Later that month the Journal-Sentinel revealed that Johnson had purchased a $1 million house near Capitol Hill.
- If that wasn't enough, Johnson capped off a busy October by writing an op-ed in the Washington Post arguing for a "return" to super-majority rule in the Senate, a position that will surely come back to haunt him if the GOP takes over the Senate (as some people believe they will) next year.
- In December Johnson was defeated for a leadership position in the Senate.
- Then he voted against widely popular bills to end Congressional insider trading and the payroll tax extension that the GOP subsequently got steam-rolled over.
Most importantly, Johnson has been on the losing end of the three biggest GOP legislative disasters of the last year: The Paul Ryan budget, which Johnson claimed didn't go far enough; the debt ceiling debacle, which Johnson behaved petulantly during; and now the payroll tax imbroglio, which Johnson voted against. Each of these incidents brought measurable and immediate declines in GOP congressional approval ratings. Don't think for a second this stink hasn't already rubbed off on Johnson, who enjoyed an approval rating of 44% as late as July.
Even one of Johnson's two most visible legislative successes -- the bipartisan expansion of the APEC travel card program -- is essentially a program that allows frequent business travelers to circumvent long security lines in airports when flying to participating countries. It's a perfectly legitimate program that's just smart policy, as anyone who's traveled overseas lately can attest, but at the same time it is a program that literally lets the rich folks cut in line ahead of the rest of the hoi polloi.
And that's a perfect metaphor for what appears to be Johnson's governing principle.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Johnson's first year is his utter and complete lack of patience and rather pronounced desire to have things done his way. These are not good qualities to have in a legislative body designed to be lumbering and deliberative. Johnson remains a very sarcastic voice with a conspicuous contempt for those who disagree with him, combining those qualities with a questionable competence and deeply unpopular policies is a recipe for a one-term career filled with irrelevance.