With the delivery of more than a million signatures to the state capital in Madison earlier this week, backing the recall of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Democrats may think they have set the stage for an epic battle in which they will reverse the outcome of the 2010 midterm elections. Walker became a symbol of the GOP victory when upon taking office he took his campaign pledges and with the aid of new Republican majorities in the Wisconsin legislature, set about reforming state government in a way that infuriated unions and other Democratic constituencies.
Despite walkouts and other tactics that failed, Democrats could not stop Walker from undoing a collective bargaining process that had allowed state worker unions to put that state on a path to bankruptcy. But with the recall effort, the left is set to take its revenge for that loss. If successful, and right now it’s difficult to argue that Walker is not in trouble, they would not only knock off a GOP governor but also issue a warning that any other Republican who dares to try to deal with state employee entitlements will meet the same fate. But what Democrats have not thought about is the consequences of a Walker victory.
Democrats have spent the last several months depicting Walker as a rapacious enemy of working people. But the recall election, which will probably take place in either the late spring or early summer, will allow the governor a unique opportunity to strike back.
The problem for Walker is that unlike a normal election which pits two or more candidates against each other, this vote will be just a simple up or down about Walker. That will allow voters to merely vent their dissatisfaction with him or government in general without forcing them to actively choose an alternative. What Walker must do is change that narrative by making the recall vote a choice of reform versus the status quo. Even more, he must convince a majority their real choice is not about which politician will run their state government but whether an unelected union will continue to have a stranglehold on the state’s purse.
We don’t know for sure how he will fare, but if, as he did in 2010, Walker can prevail on this issue, what the Democrats will have done is to make him far more powerful than he was before the battle. Having successfully fended off such an attack, Walker will assume a position of national importance in the GOP and be at the top of the list of possible Republican presidential candidates in 2016 should Obama be re-elected.
Given how high the stakes will be, we can expect that both sides will be pouring in money from outside the state as the recall nears. As such, it will be considered an early bellwether for not only how Wisconsin will vote in the presidential contest this fall but also how the nation as a whole will decide. Walker’s defeat will encourage the Democrats and the unions to think the GOP win in 2010 was just a passing phase. But if Walker succeeds, it will be a signal that the Tea Party revolt that put him into office is just getting started.