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Posted at 4:00 PM ET, 02/25/2011

Friday question

By Jennifer Rubin

The events in Wisconsin dominated the news this week. Gov. Scott Walker (R) is holding firm, the 14 Democratic senators are still hiding in Illinois and the White House now insists that it's all a local matter.

How is the standoff going to resolve itself, and how will it impact the 2012 Republican primary race? Remember, all answers must be in by 6 p.m. EST on Sunday.

By Jennifer Rubin  | February 25, 2011; 4:00 PM ET
Categories:  Friday question  
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The senators will return. The bill will become law. It will be forgotten because it does so little. It will have no effect on the Republican primary race. It will be like George Bush. No Republican candidate will want to mention it.

Real reform would be to have public employees in the same type of defined contribution retirement plan as most private employees, but Republicans are too scared to even raise that obvious approach to the problem.

Posted by: Inagua1 | February 25, 2011 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Walker will win like Reagan over the flight controllers. The brushfire goes national, unions fight back harder, alienating more of the public. Goon tactics, twittered and youtubed add to the disgust. Foreign crisis + oil + fallen allies add to the disaster for USA/Obama - even without added gaffes, miscues, passivity. If Obama is not impeached by the election, he will wish he was. Media + progressive left spins itself into the ground. Kos head explosion in 2013 ("we were just too good/caring/smart for the the general public). NY Times goes bankrupt in 2014. Obama will combine the rare feat of being remembered as Coolidge/Hoover/Neville Chamberlain.

Posted by: ateitz1 | February 25, 2011 4:49 PM | Report abuse

This fight was the plan of the RNC and Republican Governors association for months. They planned to nationalize this fight. On January 14 Doug High appeared on Rachel Maddow and when asked about the RNC guy, High launched in to support of Scott Walker, who no one had heard of.

The RNC has put Scott Walker up as its public face and the RNC's message is simple and direct: we will crush unions. Period. National Republicans and Walker are not going to budge from that.

Wisconsin Democrats and Democrats everywhere are an in existential fight. If they are defeated here, it will be open season on them by every two-bit county commissioner who wants to repeat the magic and take a piece out of their unions. Every Republican governor will attack right then and there, and you'll have showdowns in every state with Republican majorities. Democrats cannot back down.

The question is, are the Senate Republicans in Wisconsin Koch fedayeen, will they sacrifice themselves their states finances, their schools and kids, and themselves in a total war to destroy the unions on behalf of the Koch brothers.

It's hard to see them doing that. The Kochs can stuff cash in to Walkers pockets, run millions of dollars of ads to support him and so on. But state Senators answer to a lot of people, not all of them Republican jihadis. They represent districts which might swing. If they believe that the Democrats won't come back for the rest of the legislative session, and if their constituents hit them hard enough, the Democrats will break the wolfpack. It can be done.

Whether it will be done or not, I don't know.

Posted by: privacy5 | February 25, 2011 6:35 PM | Report abuse

Rachel Maddow: "In terms of walker calling on all those republican governors who he says are going to join him, republican governors he thinks are going to follow in his big reaganesque footsteps or whatever, those governors are not following his lead. They in fact are bailing. Indiana governor mitch daniels, who walker name checked to the fake billionaire on the phone, mitch daniels called republicans in his state to yank their union-stripping legislation that they had put forward. Quoting from today's "washington post," "walker is now calling for other governors to join him in fighting unions, by there aren't many takers so far. In addition to daniels, new jersey governor chris christie and iowa governor terry branstad have now become the latest governors to balk at going after the unions. They join mitch daniels, michigan governor rick snider, florida governor rick scott, and pennsylvania governor tom corbett in shying from that " walker sees himself as a leader. The national republican party clearly is trying ç to make him into a national republican leader here. But are you still leading if there's nobody behind you?"

Posted by: privacy5 | February 25, 2011 6:49 PM | Report abuse

It looks like the question of what is a local and what a national issue depends on the current level of success Obama is having addressing it at any given time. Yes, it would be better to have a more unified voice among Republican Governors. It would be better to have, say Mario Cuomo and Jerry Brown on board, publicly. But really it doesn't matter. If the unions prevail today it won't do a single thing to help the fiscal situations of the States. If, as we say and believe, the bennies and pay are unsustainable, they will not be sustained. One might argue that if Walker was a realy hard a$$ he would just go forward with the layoffs, and still this might not do it. It is the spending of all sorts at all levels that is the problem and the habit of spending like the habit of drinking will not be resisted until the perceived costs of the addiction spike up. So the disease cures itself, if it doesn't kill us. But thanks are due Walker. He's out there on the edge with the obvious courage of his convictions. This dude is not for turning.

Posted by: megapotamus | February 25, 2011 7:49 PM | Report abuse

I've done some reflecting - I predict that a) odds are better than even that the Wisconsin bill will fail and workers will not have collective bargaining rights reduced. The unions think they're winning, the polls say Wisconsin voters are on their side, and the state Senators are not Koch fedayeen.

b) Win or lose on this bill, other Republican governors are not heeding Walkers call to anti-union Jihad. Not even corporate crook Rick Scott. They are walking it back, and they wouldn't be if they thought they had a winning national strategy.

c) Walker will not budge no matter what. He has the same incentive structure as a terrorist; nothing to lose, everything to gain. He's governor of Wisconsin, that's all. Two levels up from county commissioner. And now suddenly as of 5 minutes ago he's a national figure. However he hasn't inspired other governors to do what he's doing, and he has not succeeded in goading Obama in to either coming to Wisconsin or even making a statement that addresses him directly. Some power he is, can't even get Obama to say a couple words against him.

Bottom line; effort probably fails, Dem gains in next election, no repeat performance in other states, and a lasting activated Democratic base ready to take inspiration from popular movements all over the world right to their own state capitols.

Advantage Dems.

Oh, and unions in all states will make financial concessions anyway, because they are reasonable, contrary to Republican assertions.

Posted by: privacy5 | February 25, 2011 8:15 PM | Report abuse

One last comment; answering that prank call was dumber than hell. He was probably super-excited. I believe that he hasn't ever spoken to the Koch's before, so when the phone rang he probably jumped three feet in the air - here it was, his whole life, his whole career came down to this one moment and now the billions were on the other end of the line, and this was his moment to prove to them that he was their guy, and to subtly ask them for "encouragement" for himself and his colleagues (and we know what the word encouragement is a euphemism for).

His standing with the Kochs is probably not that diminished, but with the general public he looks like a) a puppet of financiers, b) an ignoramus of Palin stature, or c) both.

Stick a fork in his national ambitions. He's done.

Posted by: privacy5 | February 25, 2011 8:22 PM | Report abuse

The Republicans have the votes, the Democrats will eventually have to come back, or will face recall elections. Of the 14, at least 3 would lose in a recall election, so it is likely that they will come back before then.

The impact on Wisconsin and national elections in 2012 will be huge. First, with automatic dues deduction from paychecks eliminated, the unions will lose about 60% of their revenue, which will result in about 75% less money to Democrats in the next election. Democrats will have a big problem making up this revenue gap. Second, the backbone shown by the Republicans in this "purple" state will propel other states to do similar legislation. Third, the effort to personify the issue to Walker and the Koch brothers will fizzle, as the next governers to take on the unions will have learned from Walker.

This indeed is a tipping point in American politics. The mask of the Democrats did not just slip, it has been completely pulled off, and their true character now showing. Republicans are doing what they campaigned to do in a very hostile media environment. Just like there where scores of Reagan Democrats across the nation, there will indeed be lots of Walker Democrats in Wisconsin.

Posted by: pablopanadero | February 26, 2011 7:36 AM | Report abuse

Walker's already won. He's already won because the only way he loses is if Wisconsin chooses to nullify it's own election and reward the ex-patriot senators. He's already won because he said he was going to do this, while running for office, he won the election, now he's doing it. He's already won because if you are a public sector unionist, you are not in an existential war with government or corporatism; you are in an existential war with the public.

The Left will continue to make arguments about Koch's $43K contribution to Walker's campaign being a smoking gun proving that he's corrupt; they'll continue to raise the btu's on their rhetoric; they'll continue to refuse to base their arguments on fact, and choose instead to mimic the folklore and context of early twentieth century mineworkers; they'll continue to lose because voters are more rational than they are, no matter how lurid their wishful dramas of virtuous vs. powerful. You can't strike against the government, because the government is the people. You have a bunch of middle-class and upper-middle class people being asked to leave their gravy train.

Actually, that's not true. You have a bunch of people who are being asked to forego the free meals that they receive on their gravy train.

Other governors will adopt Walker's approach, modify it on the margins, and attempt to duplicate Walker's success in a politics of truth, arithmetic, and money. What the Left fails to understand is that state solvency is not an ideological objective; it is the opposite: the desire to deliver state services without disrupting the financial and social lives of distributed communities and families. Here we see the studied modesty of Walker's quiet persistence, bland rhetoric, unflappable poise: he knows it is not about him.

The chanting, screaming, state-fleeing sorts are losing control of themselves because someone is say to them, "Actually, it's not all about you. We work for a diverse and quiet people, and we need to do a better job of doing what they want us to do, while dispensing with the self-centered, self-dealing corruption that has broken our finances."

Posted by: IowaHawkeye | February 26, 2011 8:56 AM | Report abuse

The Koch's have received much attention here in Madison for their funding of the counter-demonstrators last week at the it should be. However, will the media bother to look into who is funding the walk-out of the 14 state senate Democrats? Who is paying for their hotel rooms? Who is supporting their families? Who is buying their breakfast, lunch and dinner? If, as many suspect, union money is being used to support this walkout, and this becomes public, then I would venture to guess that Walker takes it within 24 hours of that information becoming public. Still, the media needs question these state senators about their funding, something the media have so far been unwilling to do.

Posted by: Lumiere1 | February 26, 2011 10:13 PM | Report abuse

Frank Rich had some relevant things to say which relate to this question. The standoff in Wisconsin comes down to two groups of state Senators; D's who have gone to Illinoins, and R's waiting in Madison. The pressure on them both is that the government will miss refinancing on Tuesday, and that teachers will be laid off or fired in days ahead. So the question is will D's or R's get the blame for that?

Rich, in discussing the government shutdown politics recounts Dick Armey's description: "Maybe, but no less an authority than Dick Armey, these days a leading Tea Party operative, thinks otherwise. Back in ’95, as a Gingrich deputy, he had been more bellicose than most in threatening a shutdown, as Bill Clinton recounts in his memoirs. But in 2006, Armey told a different story when reminiscing to an interviewer, Ryan Sager: “Newt’s position was, presidents get blamed for shutdowns, and he cited Ronald Reagan. My position was, Republicans get blamed for shutdowns. I argued that it is counterintuitive to the average American to think that the Democrat wants to shut down the government. They’re the advocates of the government. It is perfectly logical to them that Republicans would shut it down, because we’re seen as antithetical to government.”"

If the Wisconsin public already by majority favors allowing the teachers to keep collective bargaining rights (they do) and the public blames Republicans for government shutdowns (and government shutdown-like things such as teacher furloughs), why would the pressure on Democratic state Senators - particularly in light of the damaging 'Koch brother' phone call release - be greater than that on the Republican state Senators?

Posted by: member8 | February 27, 2011 8:20 AM | Report abuse

Member 8,

At the risk of putting words in your mouth, you appear to think that collective bargaining rights are the crux of the dispute here. I suspect that this is incorrect, and that the most crucial issues for the union leadership are dues collection and recertification because these two changes have the potential to cripple the union.

Your contention that layoffs will have a similar political effect to the 1995 federal shutdown is interesting, but perhaps not entirely apt because the federal shutdown happened only once and layoffs happen all the time, albeit less frequently in the public sector. Moreover, Walker can point out that his plan was designed to avoid layoffs.

But if you are correct, and the Wisconsin situation is generally seen as a shutdown, who is most likely to be deemed responsible, the Republicans sitting at their state senate desks, or the Democrats in their undisclosed location in Illinois?

It is the Democrats who must at some point return to the state, and that puts enormous pressure on them, far more pressure than is on the Republicans, "who are staying in Madison to do the job they were elected to do."

Finally, if there is a deal, which I think unlikely, Walker could offer the union leadership the face saving fig leaf of retention collective bargaining rights for fringe benefits in exchange for dues and recertification. That would, of course, be a total win for Walker, but the union leadership might go for it, knowing they are beat but grateful to be able to claim, "We preserved collective bargaining rights."

Posted by: Inagua1 | February 27, 2011 9:25 AM | Report abuse

Inagua1, that's a pretty nimble way to reframe the issue. Your thesis depends on a couple of things, that Walker has already achieved total victory, which he hasn't. A majority of Wisconsin residents oppose stripping collective bargaining rights, which he has planted his flag on and indicated he's not backing down from. There exists daylight between himself and the public. It depends on the notion that unions consider themselves 'beat', which I think the evidence doesn't support. It also depends on the idea that Walker is the entity who is in the position to offer deals. He isn't. The Senate Republicans are the ones who are able to offer deals. If the emerging consensus becomes the public which doesn't want to strip collective bargaining rights, the Democratic Senators who don't want that, and adds Senate Republicans who don't want a way out of this standoff for the sake of their state, that trumps Walkers ideological crusade.

Posted by: member8 | February 27, 2011 10:26 AM | Report abuse

If Walker has planted his flag on collective bargaining rights then I have missed it. I only see the union supporters talking about collective bargaining, presumably because it is a well known term that polls well.

In this particular dispute collective bargaing rights for fringe benefits is really code language for "use the union owned health insurance company." Here is a story about how one school district got out rid of the WEA Trust. I suspect that more districts may follow, which can only alarm the union, and Walker is trying to hurry the process.

Because the WEA Trust has now been breached, I suspect that this is the point on which Walker would be most flexible, if any flexibility is necessary.

And I concede your point about the Republican state senators. I was using "Walker" as shorthand. And the fact that at least one Republican state senator went squisy does bolster your case.

I have no idea how this dispute will end, but I think the balance of power lies with Walker. I could be wrong. But I am positive that the public relations war of words is not addressing the real underlying issue, which is Walker's attempt to curb union political influence by reducing union revenue through dues collection changes, voting changes, and use of other insurance companies.

Neither side wishes to openly acknowledge the truth -- that Walker wants to starve the unions, and that union leadership is fighting to preserve its jobs and power, not the well being of its members, the most junior of which it is willing to throw under the bus.

Posted by: Inagua1 | February 27, 2011 11:18 AM | Report abuse

"Neither side wishes to openly acknowledge the truth -- that Walker wants to starve the unions, and that union leadership is fighting to preserve its jobs and power"

You apparently haven't been following the press coverage closely. Labor leaders and sympathetic journalists have been saying exactly that - that Walker's purpose is not budget balancing, it's dismembering the Democratic partys and the unions funding base. And if he can succeed in doing it there, he'll embolden other governors to do the same thing. Both sides are clear that the goal here is to break up unions and defund Democrats.

This leads in to my point; for Walker, he is on an ideological crusade, using the exact same tactic he used to replace the guards at the Milwaukee County Courthouse with private Wackenhut security guards: he created a fiscal crisis, then used the crisis to destroy the union and replace them with a private company.

The Democratic Senators support the unions and are supported by them.

The public by a majority thinks the governor overreached, but voting turnout is abysmal, so I'll concede that the publics input may be a wash at best.

That leave the other center of power, the state Senate Republicans. I don't know the exact forces at play on them, but if I were one of them, I'd be looking to append myself to the stronger center of power. Do I hitch my wagon to Scott Walker for better or worse, or do I try to appear 'reasonable' and conciliatory and look for a negotiated resolution to the crisis.

I don't have the answer to that either. My suspicion is that cooler heads will prevail. If I were to be 300 bucks, I'd bet on a compromise that preserves collective bargaining and automatic dues deduction for unions. Would I bet the ranch on it? No.

Posted by: member8 | February 27, 2011 11:34 AM | Report abuse

"Walker's purpose is not budget balancing, it's dismembering the Democratic partys and the unions funding base."

Member 8,

My wording was clumsy. There is no conflict between "budget balancing" and "dismembering the Democratic partys and the unions funding base." The latter is a means to the former. My point was that Walker never says, "I want to balance the budget by breaking the unions," just as no union leader says, "I am willing to sacrifice the jobs of my most junior members to preserve my job and my power base." You are correct that some observers are on to Walker, but I see very few observers who are on to the union leadership. How many stories do you see about dues? Elections? The WEA Trust? I contend that this is what union leaders care most about because it provides the revenue stream that supports their jobs and power. It is their jobs that Walker's plan puts in jeapordy, not the jobs of the rank and file.

I still haven't seen any evidence that Walker "has planted his flag"on "stripping collective bargaining rights." Perhaps others have said this, but I haven't seen Walker make that case. This observation is limited only to public statements. I have no doubt that Walker would be much happier in a union-free world.

Posted by: Inagua1 | February 27, 2011 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Inagua1, while you may hate unions and want to see them smashed in to a million pieces and scattered to the winds, don't believe that the goal for the Scott Walkers of the world is balanced budgets. It's power.

Remember that George Bush and his revolutionaries took over government and had every opportunity to slash spending to the bone, and they did exactly the opposite.

Republicans love big government and huge spending - on things they like, such as wars and standing armies and extra engines for fighter planes. They love intrusive government that tells people who they can marry and whether they can't have abortions unless they're rich. They love patriot acts and warrantless wiretaps and unlawful detentions, extraordinary renditions and enhanced interrogations. They love bridges to nowhere and bombers to fight the Soviets of 1979.

It is only when out of power do they suddenly become born-again deficit worrywarts.

This doesn't have much bearing on the 'Fridays question', but for the sake of your own peace of mind, as the bible would caution you, 'put not your faith in Princes.' They will always betray you.

Posted by: member8 | February 27, 2011 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Walker will get his way, especially now that word’s gotten out that collective bargain when used by the public employees and their allies means yet another way to get an extra $382 per month per teacher to the union, specifically the union-managed health insurance plan. The fleebaggers will return this week to get paid (recall that direct deposit was ended for Wisconsin senators and some probably really need to pay some bills), but will announce that they want to prevent the governor from playing politics by laying off a bunch of innocent state civil servants. They may even accuse him of going nuclear, a nice touch. Dems can accuse Republicans of going nuclear, but Iranians, no so much.

One quite interesting thing we learned this week is what kind of girl the Center for American Progress (CAP) is. In listing and attacking contributors to Walker’s campaign, CAP omitted one of the Left’s usual suspects, the vile Wal-Mart. The omission is certainly due to Wal-Mart’s contributions to CAP, so we at least know what the ceiling price is for CAP not to use one’s name in attacks.

What this means for 2012 ain’t clear to me yet. I think the public will want a candidate with executive experience because OJT (on-the-job training) certainly has its downside as we learn daily. There are plenty of governors on the GOP bench, but none has proved adept at parting the waves just yet.

Posted by: SCMike1 | February 27, 2011 3:50 PM | Report abuse

As for the outcome of the standoff, Gov. Walker is clearly aiming for victory rather than compromise. The polls, the collapse of resistance in the Wisconsin House, and the White House's distancing from the controversy all suggest that he'll get it.

As for the GOP primary race, I think this further discredits those who would be inclined to govern as big government conservatives a la George W. Bush. Fiscal conservatism has become nonnegotiable in the GOP. Because it is quickly becoming a litmus test, those who fail the test suffer far more than those who pass it gain.

This hurts Huckabee and Santorum, who would presumably run with a greater emphasis on social issues. Mitch Daniels's comments during the crisis did him no favors either. Romney, which the RomneyCare albatross weighing him down, would like to change the GOP electorate's emphasis on small government as well.

Pawlenty probably helped himself a bit -- but not enduringly in my opinion -- with his support of Gov. Walker. Other candidates taking hard lines avoid losing ground. Perhaps governors gain a little as a group because Wisconsin showcases a governor's potential prominence and effectiveness compared to other officials.

While the significance of the events in Wisconsin will undoubtedly fade, I doubt that the issue of overgrown government will. Candidates need to think about what can be done to establish and enhance their credibility on the issue if they hope to prevail.

Posted by: rodomontade | February 27, 2011 5:44 PM | Report abuse

It will stalemate for another couple of weeks until the Democrats capitulate. Astroturf demonstrations and foul mouth demonstrators will make public opinion turn on them. (Even if the MSM does not report union hijinks accurately.)

The 2012 Republicans will remain in lockstep with Walker. Cerebral types like Daniel have already lost credibility on labor issues, and will not be able to regain traction. Pawlenty, a blue state former gov., should be able to hold serve well after the post Wisconsin dust settles. (His recent foreign policy remarks have been impressive, too). Christie may have to reconsider his Shermanesque statements, now that fiscal conservative Republican Governors are the rock stars of the 2012. The only non governor with cachet is Paul Ryan, who has to earn his bones on the Congressional Circus, juggling both Tea Partiers and the remaining Blue Dogs. Still, for him that is not insurmountable. Dark horse? Rick Perry. He cannot commit as long as his state's budget is so out-of-whack. Still, if he can close that huge deficit without tax increases, the delegate and electoral vote rich Texas could produce another nominee and President.

Posted by: TheStatistQuo | February 27, 2011 5:58 PM | Report abuse

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