Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Last Night's Biggest Winner/Loser: Scott Walker

So instead of becoming the third governor to get recalled, Scott Walker becomes the first Governor in U.S. history to single-handedly piss away his majority in the legislative branch. He went from a bullet-proof +4 majority in an upper house of 33 to now being down -1 heading into a presidential election year, which Republicans haven't mastered in the state of Wisconsin since 1984. I know redistricting and and the mysteries of Dale Shultz's mustache aren't as sexy as giving a genuinely awful, chest-pounding, cock-waving victory speech in prime time (seriously, Walker must be the least articulate Governor in Wisconsin's history--his speech-writers are as shitty as his ad-makers are good, a true testamentary to his tenuousness with the the truth), but voters in Wisconsin sent him a clear message these last 16 months that ran 100% contrary to lessons he professed to have learned from this whole recall process: you have to work with the other side. Scott Walker has never once demonstrated a willingness or ability to do that and this trait, more than even his potential legal troubles, will give him a world of pain in the next two years (see Walker's spectacular G-tac faceplant). Oh yeah, and all this only cost Walker, et al. $60+ million dollars.

Right now there are two contestable state senate seats: the first is right here in the Oshkosh and Fond du Lac county area, the second is the seat soon to be vacated by Jim Holperin. The race up north might be a lost cause. The one in the Fox Valley is going to be fought tooth and nail, largely between the incumbent and outside groups that have nothing to do with the area, but even if the Dems lose both of the seats Walker will still enter 2013 much, much weaker than he entered 2011. The voters of Wisconsin were clearly not in the mood to recall the governor, but they weren't willing to let his bullshit go unpunished either. Some folks--i.e. Matt Yglesias--seem to think this represents contradictory behavior, but I like to think of it as being a far more nuanced solution to what seemingly appeared to be a black and white option. Maybe this should be chalked up to a "wisdom of mobs" type thing, but anyone who calls the 16 months a vindication of Walker's policies is fooling themselves or lying (or in the case of Charlie Sykes, both).

There are many distressing signs for Democrats, but those are out in the open. The entire state GOP has put their eggs in the Scott Walker basket and if he drops it, many will be screwed. They might not lose their jobs, but any hopes of advancement will be quashed. Despite the Manichean analysis of last night from the East coast, Republicans still have to contend with a considerable deficit in the Presidential race, one that will impact down ticket races later this year. Tales of imminent Armageddon may make good copy and generate a lot of page hits, but they also over-simplify the reality on the ground here.

This may actually become the costliest Pyrrhic victory in state history. If Walker is indicted and the Democrats aren't stupid enough to let him use the charges to paint himself as a victim (I know that's asking a lot, but it's probably something Dems should start planning for). Walker's downfall could have very long lasting effects. There isn't a Republican Facebook page in the state that doesn't have a picture with some volunteer or young go-getter or big shot donor or potential future candidate for office with a flat-angled photo mugging with Walker. Hopefully the Dems are smart enough to scour the internet and get copies of all these pics because those are potentially direct mail pieces that write themselves in 2016, 2018, 2020 and maybe even beyond. That's probably expecting too much foresight on the Dems part, but since this is a job that an intern could probably do in a day or two, it's well worth the effort.

Lastly, and I have nothing to really base this opinion on except anecdotal evidence, I really do think that the very concept of the recall itself was a bridge that a lot of Wisconsinites could not cross. Not once have I seen a poll that really probed this angle with any depth. Dems not only had to make the case for their candidates, but they also had to make the case for the recall itself and there wasn't enough time to do that. The law is set up so that there shouldn't be any need to make the case for recall. The recallee should be preforming so awfully that his unfitness for office should be manifest to everyone. That's probably a good thing.

From here on in Walker will have no foil. Even if he is indicted, it will be very difficult to play off the prosecution as engaging in political retribution because this case has been going on so long. (Don't think that will stop Walker from trying or the Dems from somehow letting him get away with it.) Legal issues are, of course, very sexy, but they really will only amount to background noise to a much bigger policy issue that Walker needs to contend with.

Throughout his career Walker's only successes have come when the odds are heavily stacked in his favor. He definitely deserves credit for frequently picking his fights with a certain degree of timeliness, but if this recall managed to do anything it forced Walker to reiterate at the top of his lungs a promise he will not be able to keep. 250,000 are not going to emerge from the ether by fiat. Dueling jobs numbers is a magic bullet that can only be used once. Now he actually has to produce results. As we've noted earlier, this is not Walker's forte.

So what's the big lesson from last night? There are some truly insipid pieces of commentary, mostly from the Washington I-am-an-expert-on-everything! set, that really amount to little more that "First Wisconsin was a red state! Then it was a blue state! Now it's back to being a red state!" because God forbid human social organization admit of anything other than a binary description. The only real lesson that can be gleaned from last night is that Wisconsin voters are fickle. Very, very fucking fickle.

I haven't bothered to review the state's lefty blogs this morning to examine the finger-pointing and fall-out largely because a lot of that already started a few weeks ago (probably the surest sign of a campaign's imminent demise is when that starts to happen before election day). I'll let other folks worry about who's "fault" it all was. I'm sure there was a ton of piling on the amorphous blob known as "the media" too, but bitching about something does little to explain why it happens or fix the problem. A number of folks are apparently livid at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, but we'll have to save our thoughts on that until another time, largely because there are many of them.

And if last night's event really messed with your head, buck up: at least we'll now be able to get to the bottom of that dastardly voter fraud busing scheme!


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