Scott Walker, Wisconsin, And Union Desperation

After spending tens of millions in what is now the most expensive political campaign in Wisconsin history, the union-led crusade against Gov. Scott Walker is now headed towards the finish line in what is looking to be a likely victory for Gov. Walker, who leads in the RealClearPolitics average by over 6%. Gov. Walker is running against Tom Barrett, the Mayor of Milwaukee and the man that Walker beat in the 2010 governor’s race. Now, it looks like history will repeat itself.

Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI)

Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI)

Walker pushed through a controversial package of reforms designed to limit the power of Wisconsin’s public sector unions, by limiting their collective bargaining powers and ensuring that union dues were not automatically deducted from employee paychecks. The reaction from the left in Wisconsin was instant and vitriolic. By the tone of the anti-Walker protests one would think that he’d rounded up all public employees and had them drawn and quartered on the Capitol lawn. But despite months of protests organized by the unions and left-wing special interests, it looks like by Wednesday morning Scott Walker will remain Governor of Wisconsin and his efforts to limit the power of union special interests will remain. But how did this firestorm of political protest end up backfiring so decisively on the unions and the Wisconsin left?

The unions turned the battle against Walker into a full-on political crusade, first attacking Justice David Prosser of the Wisconsin Supreme Court and forcing a recall election against him. They lost decisively.

Then the union-led forces continued their attack, forcing recalls on 8 Republican state Senators. Republicans pushed back in recalls against 8 Senate Democrats. In the end, the attempt to shift the balance of power to the Democrats failed—while two vulnerable Republicans were recalled from office, the Senate majority did not shift to the Democrats.

Now, the left and the unions are hoping that the third time will be the charm, a wish that is looking to be yet another sure-fire loser for the Democrats. And the fact that they’re facing a losing battle has engendered a level of political desperation that would be almost comical if it weren’t so dangerous.

For instance, the union-led thugs have reached into the classical bag of dirty tricks and accused Scott Walker of fathering a child out of wedlock—an accusation that a reporter quickly and utterly debunked.

But what is happening in Wisconsin goes beyond mere dirty tricks and directly to voter intimidation. Ann Althouse details an incredibly creepy mailed being sent to Wisconsin residents that shows the voting histories of the recipient and 12 of their neighbors. While the information on the mailer is public record, the intent of the mailer is clearly intimidation—not only does the mailer reveal whether someone voted in the past, but it says that whether someone votes tomorrow will also be part of the public record. Althouse gives the right response:

This is an effort to shame and pressure people about voting, and it is truly despicable. Your vote is private, you have a right not to vote, and anyone who tries to shame and an harass you about it is violating your privacy, and the assumption that I will become active in shaming and pressuring my neighbors is repugnant.

Not only is it repugnant, it’s counterproductive as well. Someone who receives that mailer, which was apparently sent by an anti-Walker group, is not going to be more inclined to vote against Walker when they receive something like that. Such a ham-handed attempt at voter intimidation is not going to play well in Wisconsin.

To demonstrate just how badly things are going for the left in Wisconsin, President Obama has failed to offer any more than token support for the recall. He flew from Minnesota to Illinois last weekend, skipping any appearance with Barrett or on behalf of Barrett. The Democrats have been trying to pretend like the Wisconsin recalls don’t really matter—which would certainly not be the case were Barrett cruising towards victory this week. Watch the campaign spin on Wednesday try to downplay the importance of this race. But the truth is far more complicated than the inevitable political spin, and what is going on in Wisconsin signals a potential shift in the political winds of great consequence to Democrats everywhere.

The Unions’ Last Stand

Why have the unions spent tens of millions of dollars (taking money away from the 2012 Presidential contest) to recall Scott Walker? Walker’s bill that limits (but does not remove) collective bargaining for public sector unions does something even more harmful to unions: it cuts off their money. Under the bill, union dues are no longer automatically removed from a public employee’s paycheck. If the public worker wants to be in the union, they have to affirmatively choose to do so. And what the unions have found is that if it’s a choice, public workers would rather keep the money. The Wall Street Journal notes that internal figures show that membership in the Wisconsin branch of AFSCME has declined precipitously:

Wisconsin membership in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—the state’s second-largest public-sector union after the National Education Association, which represents teachers—fell to 28,745 in February from 62,818 in March 2011, according to a person who has viewed Afscme’s figures. A spokesman for Afscme declined to comment.

Much of that decline came from Afscme Council 24, which represents Wisconsin state workers, whose membership plunged by two-thirds to 7,100 from 22,300 last year.

Union money is crucial to the Democrats, and without the massive amount of cash from public employee unions, the Democrats are at a decided disadvantage. That’s why the unions went after David Prosser, why they spent tens of millions to try and wrest control of the Wisconsin Senate, and why they’re trying again to unseat Scott Walker—because Walker has gone after their gravy train. The real reason for these recalls has little to do with the rights of public employees and everything to do with making sure that money flows into the Democratic Party.

And that’s why tomorrow’s likely defeat of the hapless Democratic Mayor of Milwaukee is such a major blow to the unions—not only did Scott Walker win, but it’s exposed a harsh reality for unions: their source of money and power is in jeopardy.

Is Wisconsin In Play?

The next question is whether this means that Wisconsin is in play in 2012 for the Presidential race. In 2004, Kerry only barely won Wisconsin, slipping past Bush by a fraction of a percent. In 2012, however, Barack Obama crushed John McCain in a 14-point blowout in the Badger State. The 2012 polls have been all over the place, but some have shown Romney closing in on Obama. But even polls showing Walker comfortably ahead also show Obama with a strong lead.

But here’s where the Democrats made a mistake: the Republicans have been out organizing in three recall elections. They’ve developed a much better ground game then before. The electorate in Wisconsin have had to put up with three Democratically-led recalls and are getting sick and tired of all the constant political ads. The Democrats and the unions have put their best game on, but have fallen short. Instead of defeating Scott Walker, they’ve raised his national standing, and concomitantly his ability to raise money for Romney. All these factors redound to the benefit of the Republicans in a state that is seemingly in play.

It’s still unlikely that Romney can win Wisconsin, although it’s within the realm of possibility. But what Romney can do is force Obama to defend it. Not only that, but Romney can use the main media markets in Wisconsin to reach into parts of Minnesota and Michigan, also putting Obama on the defensive there as well. Romney doesn’t have to win Wisconsin to win the election, but if Romney could pull away Wisconsin and Iowa, he could lose Ohio and still win. Even though that’s a highly unlikely scenario, it shows just how in flux the 2012 race could be.

The Lessons Of The Walker Recall

What is most troubling about this recall election is how dirty it is. The unions, the “progressive” left, and the Democrats have demonized Scott Walker. They’ve invented a narrative in which the Koch Brothers have engineered a takeover of Wisconsin. The rhetoric against Walker is ridiculously over-the-top, and has demonstrated just how obsessed the left has become in trying to crush their opposition. The mailer that Althouse posted is just the tip of the iceberg—there’s a very good chance there will be attempts at direct voter intimidation tomorrow. The left has put all of their chips down on a quest to defeat the object of their hate and derision: what will happen when they lose a third time, and on their biggest target?

The Democrats have tried to turn this race into an attack against Scott Walker, but after pouring millions of dollars into the race and filling the airwaves with attack ads, they’ve failed. Now they’re resorting to desperate allegations of a love child to try and sway the electorate away from Walker. Yet nothing has worked.

And herein lies a lesson for other Republican candidates, especially Mitt Romney. Gov. Walker did not run away from his principles. He did not bow to Democratic attacks, he did not campaign while on the defensive, and he kept his message clear: his reforms led to lower taxes and more private-sector growth for Wisconsin. He kept on message, stayed on message, and did not give an inch against relentless Democratic attack. And he’s likely to win tomorrow because of it.

The Democrats ran a classic attempt at an Alinskyite campaign, and it failed. That is exactly the strategy that the Democrats have used and will use against Mitt Romney in the fall. The GOP has got to be ready for such tactics, and as Scott Walker has ably demonstrated if the Republicans can stand firm on principles, elucidate a clear message focused on jobs and the economy, and recognize the campaign landscape, they can win.

Can Romney Win? Yes, He Can!

The New Yorker warms the hearts of Republicans everywhere by asking a question no true-blue liberal Democrat wants to even contemplate: can Mitt Romney really beat Obama?

In my neck of artisanal, hormone-free Brooklyn, the latest CBS News/New York Times poll, which shows Mitt Scissorhands leading “The First Gay President” by three points, landed with a nasty thud. “I can’t believe he might lose,” my wife said when she spotted the offending numbers on the Web. “People are really willing to vote for Mitt Romney? They hate Obama so much they’d vote for Romney?”

Evidently so—not that you’d know it from a casual read of the print edition of today’s Times. The editors buried the lead in the fifteenth paragraph of a down-page story on A17. (I’ve got a helpful suggestion: if Romney’s ahead in next month’s poll, maybe it could go in the Metro section—the one that no longer exists.) Not surprisingly, conservative news sites made rather more of the story. Under the headline “Kaboom: Romney Leads Obama by 3 in New CBS/NYT Poll,” Guy Benson, the political editor of, pointed out several other noteworthy findings [i]n the survey, including the facts that Romney leads Obama by two points among women (so much for the gender gap) and seven points among independents. Two thirds of the survey’s respondents said the economy was in “very bad” or “fairly bad” shape, and Obama’s favorability rating is still stuck in the mid-forties—at forty-five per cent, to be exact.

Now, the piece does explain why Romney still has a long way to go to win, but the fact that The New Yorker is running a piece worrying about Obama’s electoral chances is in itself telling.

But there’s even more interesting data. Wisconsin was a state that Obama won handily in 2008 and Kerry very narrowly won in 2004. Wisconsin hasn’t really been on the radar as a swing state – but a poll commissioned by the ultra-liberal ghouls at the Daily Kos finds that Obama is leading Romney by only a single point in the Badger State. That result is somewhat shocking, but perhaps less so when you consider that the unions have spent tens of millions to recall Gov. Scott Walker and that same poll shows Walker beating his Democratic opponent by a 4%. Wisconsin is a state where Romney might have a chance, especially given massive voter fatigue on the left.

And there’s gay marriage. While it wasn’t clear whether the gay marriage issue would hurt or help Obama, the polls show that it’s hurting him. As The New Yorker piece mentions, a supermajority of voters think that Obama’s sudden “evolution” on gay marriage was little more than a political stunt. More people dislike Obama’s newfound old position on gay marriage than like it. And North Carolina, the site of the 2012 Democratic National Convention and a potential swing state, is starting to look redder and redder. None of this news is fatal to Obama’s reelection chances, but the slow drip of bad news for his campaign, combined with the Obama campaign’s relatively ham-fisted attempts to shape the narrative suggest that 2012 will not look much like 2008.

Behold, A God Who Bleeds!

This is all starting to remind me of a classic Star Trek episode (as many things often do). In that episode, Captain Kirk’s memory is wiped and he ends up being treated as a god by the local Native American stereotype aliens. One jealous alien manages to cut his hand, and exclaims, “Behold, a god who bleeds!” The same thing is happening here: during 2008 Obama was the epitome of cool, a demi-god in American politics with a following that bordered on a cult of personality.

Today is much different. Obama is just another politician. The American people don’t buy his gay marriage conversion. Obama has a record now, and cannot be what he was in 2008: a blank slate upon which voters could project their hopes and dreams. Instead, Obama has to run on what he’s actually done: and Americans are not feeling the “hope and change” any longer.

That’s the problem with being a cool cipher – the minute you start losing your mystique, the game is over. The same quasi-messianic messaging that worked so well for Obama in 2008 will not work for him in 2012—now it just comes off as creepy. The American people are seeing an increasingly whiny President who is running a tight race against someone who is ostensibly a weak candidate and saying “Behold, a god who bleeds!”

But Romney Has To Define Himself

But don’t count Obama out or Romney in. The American people have soured on President Obama to be sure, but that doesn’t mean that Romney is in the clear. He still has to define himself, and Romney has thus far failed to do so. Voters know that they don’t like Obama, but just that is not necessarily going to be enough for Romney to pull ahead. Voters need to have a clear answer to the question “who is Mitt Romney?”

This is Romney’s Achilles heel—he does not have the “common touch” of someone like Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. He’s hard to relate to on a human level because he doesn’t open himself up in the way that other politicians do. But to win national election, Romney has to define himself as a person. He doesn’t have to be the guy you have beers with, but he has to be someone who voters can trust and relate to. Ann Romney has helped humanize her husband, but Gov. Romney can’t rely on surrogates to make that connection.

The Obama campaign is already running ads trying to define Romney to voters—if Romney can’t define himself first, he’s going to have a lot of trouble winning in the key states he needs to win.

One thing is certain, however: if the Democrats are thinking this will be another 2008, they’re wrong. The political environment has changed, and it has not changed in a way that benefits President Obama.