Now that Democrats have secured more than enough signatures to trigger a recall election of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker – they needed a minimum of 540,208 signatures by the January 17th deadline – the real test is coming down the road. Getting disgruntled voters to sign a petition is one thing; actually getting rid of a sitting governor with just over one year on the job is quite another.
For his part, Walker wasn’t even in the state as the petitions were being turned in. Old blood and gutless was in New York attending what will undoubtedly be the first of many fundraisers over the next few months. Walker may be many things, but stupid isn’t one of them. He knows what he’s up against. The question is do Democrats know what they’re up against?
The Republicans will throw in the proverbial kitchen sink – not to mention all that Koch Brothers money – to defend the beleaguered governor. Walker will attempt to paint himself as the responsible steward trying to reign in the powerful big unions that were bankrupting the state, while at the same time portraying Democrats as pro union, pro big government and pro taxes. Democrats will be tempted to make this about defending the rights of unions to collectively bargain, while charging that Walker is anti-union and anti-worker.
With all due respect to the Democrats, they should resist the urge to go pro union here. And here’s why. Walker and his supporters want them too. They desperately want to frame this debate around “high-wage” union workers vs. non-union workers. They are baiting the Democrats into defending the unions, knowing full well that there are quite a large number of non-union workers who have been laid off over the last couple of years and who are frustrated at the slow pace of the recovery. They are banking on pitting the disgruntled unemployed against the “fat cat” taxpayer subsidized employed.
What Democrats need to understand here is that the hand they have is not what they think it is. While the polls throughout the country have shown demonstrably how dissatisfied voters are with the freshmen Tea Party class of 2010, the reason for the dissatisfaction has little to do with policy, but rather about temperament. In other words, voters like the message; they’re just not all that delighted with the messengers. Stunts like the debt ceiling and payroll tax deals in Washington and what both Walker and Ohio Governor John Kasich are attempting to do with the unions in their respective states have revealed hidden agendas that have rubbed voters the wrong way.
In every instance, Republicans in 2010 ran on one over-riding issue: the economy. Then once they got elected, they shifted gears and went on an ideological binge in an attempt to rewrite the Constitution and put their stamp on an unsuspecting electorate. Fortunately, the electorate woke up in time. As Lincoln once said, “You can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”
But what Democrats need to realize is that the electorate did vote Republican in the last election, and, though frustrated, are still right of center on many issues. They have not discovered their inner liberal, not by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, if push comes to shove, they might very well pull the lever for Republicans again this year.
And that’s why Democrats must resist, with every fiber of their being, the urge to sound the bugles for liberalism when they go after Walker in the recall election. Their only play here is to isolate him as an extremist who is too far to the right, while simultaneously portraying themselves as being reasonable and willing to work together to solve the state’s problems. If they stick to the facts and avoid the theatrics, they should be able to paint a very convincing portrait of a governor who got every concession he needed from the unions in order to achieve his financial goals, but opted instead to go after them to eliminate the opposition party’s ability to challenge him. This wasn’t about being a good steward; this was about a power grab, pure and simple.
If the Democrats stick to this message, they stand a very good chance of “firing” Walker this year, but if they bite on the apple of defending the unions and allow Walker a chance to make his case on his turf, they could lose and lose big. Up until now, the Republicans have been doing an excellent job of making the Democrats' case for change in 2012. It would be criminal if, with the goal line in sight, Democrats fumbled the ball back to them.