In Wisconsin on Tuesday night, Gov. Scott Walker survived a recall fight, as union efforts to punish him for reigning in collective bargaining for public employee unions fell short.
This is the latest and final act in drama that began in 2010 when Walker and the Republican legislature in an erstwhile Democratic stronghold took office and forced through their policy agenda, while Democratic legislators literally fled the state and went into hiding to prevent votes from taking place.
Tuesday's outcome was a bit of a Rorschach test, with some pundits viewing it as a foreshadowing of November elections, others as a more important election in its own right, while those on the left bemoaned the roll of super PAC money.
Among the latter was John Nicolls at the Nation, who asserted that "the governor’s billionaire backers flooded the state with tens of millions of dollars in 'independent' expenditures on his behalf" and the result should alarm Democrats. "The right has developed a far more sophisticated money-in-politics template than it has ever before employed. That template worked in Wisconsin, on behalf of a deeply divisive and scandal-plagued governor, and it worked," he argued.
At the Daily Caller, Mickey Kaus felt the results argued that "the ramifications for American government, which are profound, vastly outweigh ramifications for the Obama/Romney presidential campaign, which are secondary at best." According to Kaus, Wisconsin was a key test of whether it is politically possible to control state budgets by challenging public sector unions.
At the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol was thinking in terms of the November election, suggesting that Romney tie himself at the hip to Walker and other successful GOP governors like Chris Christie in New Jersey: "Associate Mitt Romney with Gov. Walker’s success — and the successes of other governors — in making the case for a national agenda of conservative reform of a bloated and bankrupt welfare state."
This, Kristol argued, will allow Romney to separate himself from former President George Bush while showing himself to be part of a working agenda with a team on the field.
"One problem for any challenger is to show that his untested policies will work when he’s in office," Kristol wrote. "Another problem for a Republican running for president in 2012 is to unshackle himself from the perceived failures of the last Republican president. Both problems can be dealt with by having Romney become the tribune and representative of the successful Republican governors."
At the New York Times, Ross Douthat viewed the result not as a path to victory for either side, but as harbinger of a long-term struggle over increasingly scarce resoures.
"Yesterday’s recall vote is not necessarily a bellwether for the general election," Douthat wrote, "not necessarily a sign that Mitt Romney can win a slew of purple states, not necessarily proof that the country is ready to throw in with Walker’s fellow Wisconsinite Paul Ryan on issues of spending and taxation."
Douthat concludes that we are "entering a political era that will feature many contests like the war over collective bargaining in Wisconsin: grinding struggles in which sweeping legislation is passed by party-line votes and then the politicians responsible hunker down and try to survive the backlash. There will be no total victory in this era, but there will be gains and losses — and the outcome in the Walker recall is a warning to Democrats that their position may be weaker than many optimistic liberals thought."
Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at [email protected].