Wisconsin Post-Mortem: Winners, Losers, And What Comes Next

What lessons can we draw from the Wisconsin Recall?

 

Inevitably, the punditocracy is already weighing in on last night’s Wisconsin Recall Election, which saw Scott Walker become the first American Governor to survive a recall, and trying to figure out what it means for the future. The question that seems to be coming up most this morning is what, if anything, all of this means for November. Wisconsin, after all, has not gone for a Republican since Ronald Reagan in 1984 and, before that, had only gone Republican four times since 1960 (twice for Nixon and twice for Reagan). The rise of Republican control of state government and the election of Ron Johnson to the Senate, though, has led some to wonder if Mitt Romney might be able to do what no Republican has been able to do for 28 years. Now, with Walker not only surviving his recall but doing so quite decisively, the question is being asked again. Even before last night, President Obama’s campaign manager said that the campaign now considered the Badger State a toss-up.

Jamelle Bouie isn’t buying any of it:

At this point, there’s little evidence to suggest an easier battle for Republicans in Wisconsin. According to exit polls, Walker won 17 percent of Obama supporters in the state, and overall, last night’s electorate favored the president over Mitt Romney by a significant margin, 52 percent to 43 percent. It’s a smaller margin than 2008, where he won the state by 14 points, but it’s a solid performance, and a sign that — in reality — Wisconsin is less vulnerable than it looks. Indeed, as of last night, President Obama’s Wisconsin effort is in great shape, and conservatives should temper their view of their chances in the state

Bouie goes on to note that the exit polls also showed that 60% of the voters said that they opposed recall elections except in cases of official misconduct, thus explaining how the same voters who say they support Obama in November ended up voting for Scott Walker in June. It’s a valid point. Had this been a regular election between Walker and Barrett, it’s quite possible that these pro-Obama voters would’ve been more likely to vote for the Democratic candidate. Instead, to a large degree, there was at least some contingent of them who were casting a vote against the recall. For that reason, it’s quite probably invalid to draw lessons about November from what happened last night, notwithstanding the fact that both parties won’t attempt to do so. We probably will see the Romney campaign put a bit more of an effort into the Badger State now, but it seems unlikely that it will come to anything unless Romney is headed for his own equivalent of a 2008 landslide victory over President Obama. Right now, there’s absolutely no indication that’s going to happen.

That’s not to say that there aren’t lessons that can be drawn from last night. Politico called the results a blow to Big Labor:

Big Labor went all in on the Wisconsin recall — putting millions of dollars, months of organizing and its reputation as a political superpower on the line to defeat GOP Gov. Scott Walker.

Then they got trounced on Election Day.

Walker’s decisive victory over Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett on Tuesday has demonstrated the vulnerability of a long-formidable movement whose ranks are thinning across the country. The failed recall attempt has energized organized labor’s foes and emboldened lawmakers to pick fights with unions in other states. And it has underscored the fact that unions — a potent source of political power and dollars for Democrats — aren’t going to be the left’s counter to conservative groups’ outside cash in November.

Union officials tried to keep up a brave front after Walker’s win. “In the end, money is pretty formidable,” AFL-CIO Political Director Michael Podhorzer said Tuesday night after the race was called for Walker. “I think that after any election, people have to get a good night’s sleep. But I think when they wake up they are going to see how close we came, and that’s going to keep people going until November.”

But Republicans will draw a different conclusion. “I don’t think we can get pushed around anymore by Big Labor,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.

He and other top national Republicans are chalking up Walker’s win as a clear indication of unions’ dwindling power, and anticipate that it won’t be long before other governors follow suit by targeting public employee benefits across the country.

Walker’s triumph sends a message that “fiscal conservative reforms really work,” said Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-Va.), chairman of the Republican Governors Association, even though “people might have had concerns about some of the specific policies and the tough budget cuts that he made.” He added that Walker’s survival “provides a lot of courage to governors across the country that putting your state finances first and politics second is what people are wanting in this country.”

Ezra Klein seems to agree but also brings up the spectre of  Citizens United:

The Wisconsin recall does have implications beyond 2012. Public-sector unions are a key part of the Democratic Party’s coalition. They provide money, manpower, and votes. Which is why Henry Olson, a vice president at the American Enterprise Institute, frames Walker’s legislation as a “defunding of the Democratic-party shock troops.”
Wisconsin’s new law won’t, on its own, radically change the power of public-sector unions. But Walker’s ability to withstand the recall will likely spur other governors to follow suit, and likely drain the enthusiasm of the opposition in other states. And even if it doesn’t, labor’s inability to win the recall is more evidence of their inability to reverse their own structural decline. They’re not winning on worksites, as the share of the labor force that’s unionized has been dropping for decades, and they’re not winning at the ballot box.

If you step back, then, two things are happening simultaneously among the key interest groups in American politics. Labor is getting weaker. And corporations, in part due to Citizens United, are getting much stronger. The electoral effect of that is obvious: It favors Republicans. But the legislative effect is, perhaps, more significant: It favors corporate interests in Congress, as Democrats will have to be that much more solicitous of business demands in order to keep from being spent into oblivion.

Greg Sargent joins in on the Citizens United bashing. What neither one of them seem to recognize, or at least want to acknowledge, is that the kinds of funding that Citizens United, along with things like SuperPACs are as available for the left to use as they are the right. If there is a lesson for them to draw here, it’s that they have been, and continue to be, out organized in this area, and that their candidates are paying the price. It’s worth noting, for example, that pro-Romney SuperPACs have been outraising pro-Obama SuperPACs for months now. Part of the reason, of course, is that the Romney groups have been organized for the better part of a year thanks to the Republican primary fight, but that’s not necessarily an excuse for the extent to which the left has allowed itself to be outflanked on this one. More importantly, though, what seems to frustrate Sargent and Klein the most is that, thanks to things like SuperPACs, conservative activists are now on an equal footing when it comes to the fundraising advantages that Big Labor used to give to Democrats.

The other big loss for Big Labor, though, is that they tried to frame the Wisconsin race on a referendum on Walker’s collective bargaining reforms and failed miserably. To some extent, the failure started when their preferred candidate did not win the Democratic primary, but as the race went forward it was clear that the messages of last year weren’t working any more. And, the exit polls from last night make it clear that they didn’t:

Gov. Scott Walker won Tuesday’s recall election by topping his Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, among independents, according to exit poll results in the state. Voters were passionately divided on the Republican-backed law that ended collective bargaining for most public employees and teachers.

Just over half, 52 percent, said they supported the changes to the collective bargaining law, and the same share approved of Walker’s handling of the issue. Views on collective bargaining were a dividing line in the electorate, with 9 in 10 who approved of the new laws backing Walker and a similar share who disapproved behind Barrett.

Having lost the battle for public opinion on their signature issue, it’s no surprise that Democrats were unable to convince voters that Walker should be removed from office two years before the next scheduled election.

There may be yet another implication for Big Labor, especially in Wisconsin. Earlier this year, an acquaintance with long experience in Wisconsin politics suggested that the unions in the state were making a mistake by getting behind the Walker recall and that, in doing so, they would end up blowing money and prestige that would be unavailable for November. Arguably that’s exactly what has happened. Now that Walker has survived their vendetta, one wonders what kind of energy and resources they will have for the fights in November for the Presidency, an open Senate seat where former Governor Tommy Thompson appears likely to be the Republican nominee, and state legislative mid-term elections. Perhaps this fight will have implications for November after all.

 

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Labor Unions, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Jeremy says:

    I was debating Greg on Twitter about that. Guy doesn’t seem to understand that yes, while money matters, its what people think that matters more. He just seems to believe that people’s brainmatter doesn’t, well, matter, and it all comes down to cash.

    Look, if you spend $50 million in a campaign, and you’re a Nazi, you’re going to lose, plain and simple. Money has, like all other goods, a marginal utility. At some point it just doesn’t matter how much you throw at it, you’re not going to get much more out of it. In fact, I think the Walker side probably spent a bit too much money and was wasteful; they could have easily cut back to just $20 million or even $12-$15 million and have been fine.

    Money money money. And it’s not conservatives and businesses saying that now.

  2. Bennett says:

    That Barret was outspent 8-1 and managed to make a decent showing gives me hope for when the Democrats figure out how to work the system. That and the fact that the Dems did retake the majority in the state Senate. But it doesn’t wash away what is still a giant ego-boosting win for the right.

  3. DRE says:

    …SuperPACs are as available for the left to use as they are the right.

    The problem with this idea is that Corporate America has far more money available to spend than any left leaning organizations. The only way for the left to compete for money is to cater to corporations or depend on the much more difficult collection of massive numbers of small individual donations. Obama has shown the potential of small donations, but to pretend that Citizens United didn’t shift the playing field dramatically is to ignore the reality of relative resources of large organizations.

  4. legion says:

    As I’ve told other people, anyone in Wisconsin now who is of legal age and isn’t a millionaire better move the eff out. If Walker and the checkbooks controlling him thought there was _anything_ they couldn’t get away with before, that’s over and done. You though Florida and Arizona were the meth labs of Republican political experimentation? You ain’t seen _nothin’_ yet.

  5. legion says:

    @Bennett:

    gives me hope for when the Democrats figure out how to work the system.

    I’d love to be less cynical, but I don’t ever see that happening. In my experience, anyone who knows how to work the system that well either becomes – or already is – a Republican.

  6. mantis says:

    What neither one of them seem to recognize, or at least want to acknowledge, is that the kinds of funding that Citizens United, along with things like SuperPACs are as available for the left to use as they are the right.

    Please. You know they recognize that. Attributing stupid strawman arguments to the people you disagree with just reveals how weak you think your own arguments are.

    The problem with Citizens United is it gives enormously more power to anonymous moneyed interests. The Republican Party has staked out their ground as the party that defends and protects wealth in every conceivable way, and nothing else. They will never, ever consider tax increases on the rich, the closing of tax loopholes, eliminating welfare for the most profitable industries in the world, etc. One party represents the ultra-rich, while the other will try to represent everyone else. However, the rich party will drown out all other voices because it can outspend them 100 to 1. This will self-perpetuate until the wool is lifted from the eyes of many who thought they were voting for Republicans to keep taxes low and defend freedom and jobs, when in fact they were voting to push more wealth to the top, dismantle any semblance of a safety net, destroy public education, build more private prisons, eliminate any worker or civil rights established in the 20th century, and pollute every square inch of the country. At that point it will get very, very ugly.

    That’s the problem with Citizens United, not your absurd suggestion that the real problem is liberals don’t realize they too can spend untold billions in anonymous cash. We know that, and we also know that the only thing such riches are spent towards is gaining more riches, and everybody else can go f*ck themselves. That’s the America Citizens United will bring us. I plan on getting the hell out of this country before it all goes down.

  7. I plan on getting the hell out of this country before it all goes down.

    You’re not the only one who’s thinking along those lines.

  8. jan says:

    @DRE:

    “The only way for the left to compete for money is to cater to corporations or depend on the much more difficult collection of massive numbers of small individual donations.”

    This is such a contrived fallacy of the left, that they are” funded primarily by small donations of the people.” Just look at the 2008 presidential election, as a recent example of who Wall Street and corporations splashed money on. It certainly wasn’t John McCain!

    The left has also had limousine liberals, Hollywood, the academic/intellectual circles, MSM journalists in their camp, filling their pocketbooks, contributing to their causes, through either direct donations, hosting public events, or catering in some way to their ideological stances and candidates.

    Yes, WI outspent the dems, this time. But, with the tremendous labor front sent in to crush Walker, I still see this as a Goliath versus Goliath contest. If Walker’s reforms hadn’t been working, if the people somehow didn’t see these recalls as an affront to his original election, no amount of money would have worked for Walker. And, he would have lost.

  9. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Kathy Kattenburg: I’ll cheerfully contribute for plane tickets for you and mantis.

    May I recommend Greece? Its economic and social policies seem pretty consistent with your own…

  10. Wayne says:

    According to the raw exit polls the race was suppose to be a pretty close. It didn’t happen. One pollster claim that Democrats are more likely to participate in exit polls than Republicans so polls need to be weighted. The poll numbers the left have been throwing out were before the needed adjustments. Those numbers, like the unadjusted exit poll election result numbers, are inaccurate and misleading.

    Amazing enough, the 8 to 1 spending number the left is throwing out is misleading and is propaganda. The 8 to one number is only a comparison of campaign contribution. The unions and outside groups spent a great deal more money and effort to defeat Walker than their campaign money contribution. The labor alone that they put in was equivalent to many millions of dollars.

  11. mantis says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    I’ll cheerfully contribute for plane tickets for you and mantis.

    Ok. I’m happy to give you a paypal account or an address to send a check to. Sound good?

    May I recommend Greece? Its economic and social policies seem pretty consistent with your own…

    I’m guessing you have zero understanding of Greek economic and social polices, and I know you are clueless to my own preferences in that regard, but if you must know, it will be northern Europe (Denmark, Finland, or the Netherlands probably).

    High tech economies, quality higher education, a respect for science, and strong social systems are much more attractive than the nightmare Republicans want to create here in the US. It was a grand experiment, but unless the citizens here wake up to what is happening before it is too late, it will all be over within my lifetime. That makes me sad, but I won’t live in it if I don’t have to.

  12. danimal says:

    This is the latest progression of the demise of labor. This process will accelerate, with public employee unions becoming a main target of state ‘reforms’ across the nation. Once started, it will be virtually impossible for labor to fight back, for a generation at least.

    The decline in wages and benefits for public employees will mean that the better public employees will leave public service and be replaced by lower-skilled workers. The lower-skilled workers will then provide lower levels of public service, resulting in greater skepticism about government and more privitization of government services. When services are privatised, the well-connected partner with government officials to protect turf (aka government contracts). Corruption becomes almost inevitable.

    Private sector employees are beholden to their bosses, not to the public or the taxpayers or to the concept of civil service. The civil service has been a key part of the American success story. The erosion of the civil service will lead to unanticipated consequences.

    Eventually, the usefulness of labor unions, the importance of non-partisan civil service and the protection of workers will be remembered and restored, but I fear the damages unleashed in the coming decade or two will be significant. Conservatives, be careful what you wish for.

  13. Drew says:

    Tee-hee-hee.

    Finally some sane commentary. Thanks, Doug.

    No, I don’t think it’s dispositive of a national trend, or that Wisconsin is now in the bag for Romney. But the left staked out a position here that correctly was shut down. Recall is BS. Gives you a refreshed view of the electorate, despite union thuggery.

    That all said, think about the slumbering giant that is awakening people. Public employees have been in a symbiotic relationship with pols that is unholy for some time now. The electorate is fed up. Wat ch out, lefties. The jig is up.

  14. G.A. says:

    That Barret was outspent 8-1 and managed to make a decent showing

    lol…. he was not outspent 8-1. it was closer to even…

    And if it was not for the massive voter fraud it would have been a real landslide, not just a kind of one.

  15. jan says:

    The 31 Million Bust details the political spending in WI.

  16. jan says:

    @Drew:

    This commentary, by Walter Russell Mead, seems to dovetail into the essence of your post, Drew. When you couple the outcome of WI’s recall with the two races in CA, San Diego & San Jose, who overwhelmingly voted to put pensions on the table for reform (2/3’s margin in SD & 70% in liberal San Jose), it’s a remarkable turnaround, IMO.

    There was also something symbolic about the public sector unions in WI being thwarted, as this is the state in which public sector unions first got started, in the late 50’s.

  17. @Jenos Idanian:

    May I recommend Greece? Its economic and social policies seem pretty consistent with your own…

    Another example of mirror thinking. The catastrophe that is Greece right now is the result of the very economic and social policies you and your right-wing friends have been calling for: austerity, austerity, and more austerity. Austerity has turned Greece into a hellhole of unemployment, suffering, and despair, and still the Big Fools call for more.

    If you want to pay for plane tickets to France, or The Netherlands, or England, or any of the Scandinavian countries, though, let me know, I’ll tell you how to wire the funds into my account.

  18. Drew says:

    @jan:

    You bet, baby. You bet. This is a bitter pill for the left. The spinning will give us a good two weeks of belly laughs.

    The jig is up.

  19. grumpy realist says:

    @Drew: It seems to me that at some point getting rid of anything associated with a union is going to backfire. Employers can push down everything they want until all employees are making $0.50/hour, but you’d think that people would also realize that this means a lack of purchasing power. With the resultant effect on the economy.

    Oh well, the US was a nice experiment while it lasted. Pity a bunch of greedy fools have decided to grab everything in spite of destroying everything else.

    Better bone up on my Japanese again….

  20. Terrye says:

    Ann Althouse makes this point in regards to the story by Sargent:

    I mean, here we have Sargent writing “outside groups supporting Walker vastly outspent unions, thanks to Citizens United,” but Citizens United was about the free speech violation in restricting unions — along with corporations — as they spend their own money getting out whatever it is they’d like to say about politics. If unions were outspent, it wasn’t because of Citizens United. It was because they had less money to spend or chose to spend less money.

    Sargent is getting his column very widely distributed, because it’s in the Washington Post. Would he welcome a government regulation that restricted the distribution of the Washington Post to create greater equality among opinion-writers? Or would the concept of free speech acquire some substance for him at that point?

    As for the exit polls, well, they were off. If I were Obama I would not be taking Wisconsin for granted.

  21. G.A. says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mBB_HJ9J8I&sns=em

    You got to hear this jam!!!!!!!!!

  22. G.A. says:

    PIXYDUST AND STARS…… LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  23. jan says:

    @grumpy realist:

    When I read your posts they reflect major gloom and doom when events don’t go the way of the social progressive agenda. However, it certainly has not been rose petals distributed via our social progressive administration for the last 3 1/2 years. We are at a standstill at the very best, and losing ground in the long run.

    Ironically, under Walker, having a chaotic governorship for 18 months, he has stabilized the state, considerably, not yielding to the public sector unions in creating and standing by reasonable reforms. For, the dems, though, anything less than what they already have been given is ‘unreasonable,’ which, IMO, is the crux of many of our problems.

    I strongly feel that, given the opportunity, to open markets, curb regulations, restructure our tax structure to fairly involve everyone, dissolve and consolidate various government departments, promote polices which encourage self-reliance, rather than government dependence (food stamps, UE benefits, welfare), much of the malaise we are experiencing could be turned around.

    It’s exciting to even contemplate. And, after what happened in WI, there is definitely reason to believe in hope for change.

  24. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Kathy Kattenburg: The catastrophe that is Greece right now is the result of the very economic and social policies you and your right-wing friends have been calling for: austerity, austerity, and more austerity. Austerity has turned Greece into a hellhole of unemployment, suffering, and despair, and still the Big Fools call for more.

    To paraphrase Duchess Thatcher, “the problem with Greek socialism is that you eventually run out of German money.”

    How austere have the Greeks been?

    Early retirement age: 55 (Germany 65, USA 62)
    Standard retirement age: 65 (just raised from 58; Germany 67, USA 65)
    Roughly 2 in 9 workers in Greece are in the public sector (USA about 1.5 in 9, Germany unknown, but significantly lower than US)

    That’s just three areas. And the “austerity” you cite? That’s other nations saying to Greece, “if you want our money, you gotta do some things to make us believe we’ll get it back some day.” Greece can always say no and go it alone…

  25. bandit says:

    All the losers say they’re going to leave but they never do. But please, this time you can get off your lazy asses and really do it. You can do it – just don’t come back.

  26. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @bandit: You know, you raise a good point. I’m trying to remember any prominent right-wingers who said they’d leave the country if Obama/Kerry/Gore/Clinton won… and I’m drawing a blank.

    But Bush and Romney… they seem to have pushed a LOT of leftists into such proclamations.

    Could be fun… set up a fund to buy one-way tickets for those who make the threat. Oh, there’d have to be catches, like they’d have to agree to it at least a month before the election, agree to renounce their citizenship, and so on…

  27. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Kathy Kattenburg: OK, if you don’t like the socialist heaven that is Greece, how about Mexico? They just LOVE us right now, with the Obama administration covertly arming the drug gangs with military-grade weaponry…

  28. G.A. says:

    Ironically, under Walker, having a chaotic governorship for 18 months, he has stabilized the state, considerably, not yielding to the public sector unions in creating and standing by reasonable reforms.

    Could this be the reason I hear so many crickets on what should be a super thread?

    🙂

  29. G.A. says:

    A sad day has truly come when I have to do the “Jon Stewart nails it” bit around here…..

    http://www.mediaite.com/tv/msnbsad-jon-stewart-laughs-through-all-the-stages-of-grief-in-wisconsin-coverage/