If you are a progressive and have a couple of bucks to donate to a politician this fall, probably one of the smartest places to park it is with Rob Zerban, who is taking on Paul Ryan this year. Ryan has become such a GOP fixture that he’ll undoubtedly be swimming in SuperPAC money the whole cycle, so it’s a long shot. But the effectiveness of taking down important politicians is, I think, very underrated, especially more ideological and/or partisan ones. Had Mitch McConnell lost in 2008 (which very nearly happened), we would have had a very different past three years. It’s possible to imagine a Trent Lott or a Lamar Alexander actually trying to work with Obama, after having their unabashedly partisan leader dropped. But ’twas not to be. Anyway, a Ryan loss, or even a very close race, would have serious side effects going forward. Either one could damage the enthusiasm for his Plan in Washington. And if that doesn’t get you…
Anyway, this came in the email from Zerban’s campaign today: “[T]he State Senate now has a Democratic majority because of a big win in Racine, one of the main swing areas of Paul Ryan’s district.” Admittedly, this is a special election and a recall election, so who knows if this means anything. Maybe the guy he beat just wasn’t a very good candidate. But in what was, generally, a pretty good Republican day, a loss in Racine like this is…interesting.
Aside from this though, I’m staying away from blogging today. Can’t take all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over Wisconsin. Same complaints over and over again.
Okay, I can’t take it anymore.
I’ve been reading through hilariously dour readings of the Walker & Flunkies recalls failing. Even the normally evenheaded Josh Marshall can’t resist some good doom ‘n’ gloom on this one. Losing to Scott Walker does indeed sting–the guy’s an unrepentant wingnut and a particularly cruel asshole. But to go this far is excessive:
This is also a big loss for public employees unions. There’s no getting around that fact. Just why that happened is another matter. But at the end of the day, victory is all that matters. Walker went big to destroy the public-sector unions in his state. And the labor movement went all out to take him down and lost. Wisconsin’s a pretty progressive, fairly blue-ish state. This result in this state has to embolden Republican governors across the country to think you can go for game-changing attacks on key Democratic constituencies like labor and not pay a price at the polls. Public employees unions across the country have feel like they have crosshairs on their backs. And they do.
The labor movement made exactly one tactical mistake in the recall process. Well, maybe more than one, but one that really mattered: they decided on recalling Walker without having someone in mind to replace him. It’s pretty clear that they hoped Feingold would do it, but they didn’t get a commitment from him, and it turns out that the Dems’ bench in the state is surprisingly weak. They needed to lock down someone who could make their case to the public, could appeal to their sense of fairness and decency, who could give meaning to their struggle against an authoritarian governor.
Instead they got Tom Barrett, the guy who lost to Walker in 2010 and just proved that was no fluke. Barrett was not labor’s man, but rather just an opportunist that the state’s Democrats rallied around equally opportunistically, because he seemed more electable. I somehow wonder if Kathleen Falk would have made a difference–she was, after all, a failed statewide candidate also–but she had one important advantage over Barrett. She hadn’t lost to Scott Walker a year and a half ago. Recrowning Barrett–who, again, was literally the same exact person Democrats ran in 2010–could only have cemented the idea in the electorate’s mind that this was just an attempt to win what they couldn’t win before, which is to say, just politics. Which is not how it started out, but it is what it became. Barrett’s campaign after seizing the nomination was pathetic and incoherent, trying desperately to latch onto something to take down Walker, because he didn’t really believe in labor’s complaints. His polling vs. Walker briefly spiked but started falling once he became the favorite to battle Walker.
So, labor made one mistake. They should have started with a candidate who could win, and lacking that, should have left it alone. Just trying to coast on the public’s disdain of Walker was a poor strategy, especially in a situation as unusual as this one. The assumption that this was going to be a referendum on Walker was unfounded. This fight has arguably strengthened Walker’s position, he’s now a survivor rather than a thug, at least unless (until?) the John Doe investigation comes to fruition. I don’t see how you can label the recall election (the election, not the recall drive) as a blow to labor, since labor couldn’t have been more beside the point once Barrett entered the picture. I couldn’t think of a worse way to frame it if you don’t hate labor.
Jon Chait, after hinting that the entire thing was misguided, echoes the prior sentiment:
But with a narrow victory over Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Walker will keep his job, at least for two more years, for two main reasons. First, heoutspent his opponent eight to one, a staggering margin that is almost impossible to overcome. Second, large chunks of the swing vote bought into his procedural case against the recount, which is certainly not crazy. Exit polls showed the electorate favoring President Obama over Mitt Romney by a double-digit margin, suggesting the fundamental orientation of the state’s electorate has not changed much since 2008. [...] But Walker’s win will certainly provide a blueprint for fellow Republicans. When they gain a majority, they can quickly move to not just wrest concessions from public sector unions but completely destroy them, which in turn eliminates one of the strongest sources of political organization for the Democratic Party.
Sure, if you want to waste a year and a half to achieve a temporary victory. Does anyone really doubt that Wisconsin will eventually elect a Democratic government again and reinstate bargaining rights? This was all about 2012, about defunding Democrats. Walker and Fitzgerald said as much. Why they even bother given SuperPACs I don’t know, though monomaniacs generally don’t just stop when it’s prudent.
And no, SuperPACs won’t be a permanent advantage for Republicans. Lots of times after changes in the electoral system, one party or another might find some obscure feature to exploit and make some short-term gains. But the system will eventually return to equilibrium, and Dems will have their SuperPACs too. Probably soon, as the Walker win will be interpreted as a big wake-up call in this department. This is not good news for fans of clean politics, but from a partisan perspective, it’s hardly going to matter for long.
Who can’t we blame for this loss? Barack Obama. Bill Clinton. Russ Feingold (I think he should have run, but he didn’t want to, and there’s no obligation to run for office). Who can we blame? The pertinent party committees (DNC, DGA) and the state’s Democrats for first hijacking the recall effort, turning it into a quasi-general election and then (in the case of the former two) just bailing. The leadership of the recall campaign, who allowed the movement to get taken out of their hands. And the dense individuals who dislike Walker but voted against the recall. I can see the logic for it, but there’s absolutely no reason to decline to take power when it’s on offer. To do so isn’t noble or honorable, it’s being a sucker. Republicans didn’t stick up for Gray Davis in my state in 2003, and they won’t stick up for a Democrat in yours either.
A new Wisconsin Public Radio/St. Norbert College poll in Wisconsin finds 58% think Gov. Scott Walker (R) should be recalled from office.
That compares to just 47% who said in April that he should be recalled.
Key findings: “The growth in support for a recall came, surprisingly, from Republicans. In the spring, only 7% of Republicans supported recalling Walker but that grew to 24% in the fall. Support among Democrats held mainly steady at 88% in the spring and 92% in the fall.”
Walker’s tendency toward power grabs really is a cancer that needs to be amputated, and it looks at this point as if his state agrees. But what needs to be said at this point is that the recalls of a few months ago–which were roundly perceived as a failure by Dems–have turned out to be enormously effective in constraining Walker. I’ve heard barely a peep out of him since those elections, and the one classic Walker power play since then was blocked when the GOP lost a senator on the issue. This is proof that the recalls were, in fact, a success. And hopefully merely the first…
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