Commentary Magazine


Topic: Wisconsin recall

The Real Key to Victory in Wisconsin

Buried deep in a Politico article about the general gloom hanging over the left-wing Netroots convention was an import nugget of information that shed some light on this past week’s conservative victory in the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election. Though it is and will remain a liberal article of faith that Scott Walker defeated the attempt by the unions and their Democratic allies to force his recall only by dint of an advantage in campaign fundraising, the main factor was something else: voter mobilization.

As Charles Mahtesian noted:

The left’s strength has always been in mobilizing voters. But the GOP managed to do that in Wisconsin. Leaders and activists frequently expressed the idea that, in the short term at least – that is, before the larger campaign finance issues that suddenly loom very large on the progressive agenda can be addressed – the movement must double-down on the organizing that it does best.

But the problem here is that the left’s problem in Wisconsin was not that it failed to bring out its voters. The unions and the Democrats did their best and contributed to a massive turnout that was extraordinary for a mid-June vote even if the whole country was focused on the state. It was that conservatives did even better, turning out an army of conservatives and centrists who have bought into Walker’s powerful logic about the necessity of clipping the unions’ wings so as to enable budget and entitlement reform. Though the Netroots crowd is looking inward to figure out why they lost Wisconsin, the real answer is one they and much of the mainstream media continues to ignore: the Tea Party revolution is not only not dead but is still going strong.

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Buried deep in a Politico article about the general gloom hanging over the left-wing Netroots convention was an import nugget of information that shed some light on this past week’s conservative victory in the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election. Though it is and will remain a liberal article of faith that Scott Walker defeated the attempt by the unions and their Democratic allies to force his recall only by dint of an advantage in campaign fundraising, the main factor was something else: voter mobilization.

As Charles Mahtesian noted:

The left’s strength has always been in mobilizing voters. But the GOP managed to do that in Wisconsin. Leaders and activists frequently expressed the idea that, in the short term at least – that is, before the larger campaign finance issues that suddenly loom very large on the progressive agenda can be addressed – the movement must double-down on the organizing that it does best.

But the problem here is that the left’s problem in Wisconsin was not that it failed to bring out its voters. The unions and the Democrats did their best and contributed to a massive turnout that was extraordinary for a mid-June vote even if the whole country was focused on the state. It was that conservatives did even better, turning out an army of conservatives and centrists who have bought into Walker’s powerful logic about the necessity of clipping the unions’ wings so as to enable budget and entitlement reform. Though the Netroots crowd is looking inward to figure out why they lost Wisconsin, the real answer is one they and much of the mainstream media continues to ignore: the Tea Party revolution is not only not dead but is still going strong.

It ought to be obvious, but with so much discussion about Wisconsin centering on the squabbles on the left and conservative fundraising, it seems many of the chattering classes are intent on ignoring the fact that the taxpayer anger that put people like Scott Walker in office in the first place has not disappeared. It can be argued that Walker’s majority last week required many centrists and perhaps even some supporters of President Obama who rightly thought the whole recall was appropriate. But it is also true that his win was in no small part the function of a fervent conservative base that turned out in numbers that may well have eclipsed the efforts of unionists.

The effort to probe the meaning of the Wisconsin recall for the presidential election has foundered on partisan spin, but perhaps the most consequential factor of that race for November may rest in the proof of the right’s ability to turn out in force when there is sufficient motivation. The assumption in much of the liberal media that the Tea Party phenomenon was merely a passing phase in our political drama was based on turnout in Republican primaries where conservatives had no clear choice. But the presidential election–in which they will have the opportunity to defeat President Obama–will give Tea Partiers and conservatives all the passion they need to mobilize.

This will be but one of a number of factors in determining the outcome of the election. but it would be foolish for either side to ignore it.  Whereas in 2008, it was the left that was able to produce a dramatic turnout for their messianic presidential candidate, this year it will be, as it was in 2010 and in Wisconsin on Tuesday, the right that will have most fervor.

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Wisconsin Union Membership Tanks

It’s simple logic. When public employees have the choice of whether or not to pay union dues — as opposed to having them automatically pulled from their paychecks — the number of dues-paying union members shrinks. But these dramatic numbers out of Wisconsin are still remarkable:

The state’s second-largest union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, had membership fall to 28,745 in February from 62,818 in March 2011, the Journal said Thursday. The organization’s Afscme Council 24, composed of state workers, fell more than two thirds to 7,100 from 22,300 last year.

A key reason that membership dropped was because the labor law, championed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, forbids automatic collection of union dues. Instead, workers must voluntarily say that they want to continue to continuing paying dues to remain members of the union.

Union workers have also dropped out because of high pension and healthcare costs, and others believe that the unions are no longer influential.

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It’s simple logic. When public employees have the choice of whether or not to pay union dues — as opposed to having them automatically pulled from their paychecks — the number of dues-paying union members shrinks. But these dramatic numbers out of Wisconsin are still remarkable:

The state’s second-largest union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, had membership fall to 28,745 in February from 62,818 in March 2011, the Journal said Thursday. The organization’s Afscme Council 24, composed of state workers, fell more than two thirds to 7,100 from 22,300 last year.

A key reason that membership dropped was because the labor law, championed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, forbids automatic collection of union dues. Instead, workers must voluntarily say that they want to continue to continuing paying dues to remain members of the union.

Union workers have also dropped out because of high pension and healthcare costs, and others believe that the unions are no longer influential.

If the latest polls showing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker with a solid lead are to be believed, then union influence will take another major hit after Tuesday’s recall election. NRO’s Jim Geraghty explains what Walker’s reforms would mean on a national scale:

Apply this across the country . . . and you’re talking about the evisceration of one of the Democratic Party’s most important political allies – a game-changer in politics in so many states. Compulsory union-dues collection was the glue that kept the whole operation together. Ed Schultz may be exaggerating when he says a Republican win means America will never elect a Democratic president again . . . but his vision might not be that wildly exaggerated.

National Democrats have been trying to keep their distance from Wisconsin, apparently because they don’t want to throw money into a losing cause and are concerned about how a loss could reflect on President Obama and the national political zeitgeist. The irony is that a loss in Wisconsin could speed the destruction of one of the party’s key financial and political support groups.

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Dems Waving the White Flag in Wisconsin?

With polls showing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker pulling away from his challenger in the June 5 recall election, the Democratic National Committee may be waving the white flag in a race that state liberals thought they had in the bag a few months ago. Politico reports that both the DNC and President Obama’s re-election campaign have yet to kick in a dime to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s effort to knock off one of the Republicans’ chief heroes of the midterm landslide. Though Barrett faces a huge fundraising disadvantage in what turns out to be rematch of the 2010 gubernatorial election, the national party seems to have decided against wasting any resources on a lost cause. By contrast, the national Republican Party is all in to help Walker turn what was once a toss-up into a GOP romp.

Though DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is supposed to host a fundraiser for Barrett, the party has yet to respond to a request from Wisconsin Democrats for a quick half million, but the check is apparently still in the mail. The Democratic Governors Association has already spent $2 million helping their union allies to push for a recall, but it’s not clear if they’re going to be throwing more good after bad.

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With polls showing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker pulling away from his challenger in the June 5 recall election, the Democratic National Committee may be waving the white flag in a race that state liberals thought they had in the bag a few months ago. Politico reports that both the DNC and President Obama’s re-election campaign have yet to kick in a dime to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s effort to knock off one of the Republicans’ chief heroes of the midterm landslide. Though Barrett faces a huge fundraising disadvantage in what turns out to be rematch of the 2010 gubernatorial election, the national party seems to have decided against wasting any resources on a lost cause. By contrast, the national Republican Party is all in to help Walker turn what was once a toss-up into a GOP romp.

Though DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is supposed to host a fundraiser for Barrett, the party has yet to respond to a request from Wisconsin Democrats for a quick half million, but the check is apparently still in the mail. The Democratic Governors Association has already spent $2 million helping their union allies to push for a recall, but it’s not clear if they’re going to be throwing more good after bad.

Democratic optimists point out that with three weeks left before the recall, Walker’s lead is too small for anyone to consider the recall a lost cause. But unless the DNC and other sources of cash start ponying up to help Barrett make up his financial deficit, it’s going to be difficult for the Democrat to make up ground on the incumbent.

To be fair to the DNC, the recall wasn’t their idea. It was the brainchild of Wisconsin’s state worker unions and their liberal allies. The unions were still smarting from their defeat in the legislature after Walker fulfilled his 2010 promises to enact a fundamental reform of the state budget. After failing to physically intimidate Republican legislators who were intent on passing changes in the collective bargaining laws that would stop unions from holding the state hostage, Walker’s foes conceived of a recall effort to reverse the verdict of the voters. But now that the voters are faced with the same choice the parties offered them two years ago, it looks like they haven’t changed their minds about Walker.

Unfortunately for President Obama and the DNC, it’s too late to cancel the recall effort. If, as now seems likely, Walker survives the recall, it will do more than just strengthen the rising GOP star. It will be rightly seen as a harbinger of other, even more significant defeats for the Democrats later this year. That’s why the DNC and the president are now bailing out of a Wisconsin fight that may turn out to be a huge mistake for the left.

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