There is no denying genuine disappointment that Democrats in Wisconsin failed to seize back control from the radical Republican senate majority. But they came close. Given the palpable damage done to the state of Wisconsin by Governor Scott Walker and his Republican legislative cohorts, there was hope that a citizen uprising in the form of recall elections would fully repudiate Republican leadership.
But that was, realistically, a much more difficult task than it might seem. That’s not because Republicans’ actions are more popular with voters than previously thought, nor that Scott Walker is more beloved than anticipated. Walker’s approval numbers are down in the gutter with his reprehensible policies, which themselves are dimly viewed. It’s because winning elections of any kind in voting districts in which registration numbers or voting patterns strongly favor Republicans is a tough task.
There are two avenues to overcoming these inherent obstacles. The first is to win over disgruntled Republican voters. As we well know, today’s rank and file Republicans are the very voters who continue to elect the crazed and the crooked to higher office. Given their own ideological conversion to the batty extreme, expecting anything but adamancy from them in a recall election is flimsy hope. The second path to victory is to mount a tsunami of voter turnout that simply overwhelms the opposition. This is where the glut of money from every far-right Robber Baron in the country made a difference. It funded the slew of advertising that sufficiently stirred the base, along with the turnout machine that guaranteed their arrival at polls. If voter registration in a voting district already handily favors the Republicans that’s a formidable combination to overcome.
I’ve little affection for the concept of moral victories, but there are genuinely positive ramifications from the result here. One of them, in basic legislative terms in Wisconsin is that the Republican majority has been whittled down to one: 17-16. One of those Republicans, Dale Schultz, is an authentic moderate, who has voted against his party on the most draconian Republican efforts. So for Walker and his more zealous legislative cronies, the check and the balance have effectively been restored.
It is also far from insignificant that revulsion for Republican policies was so intense two sitting Republicans were booted out of office in Republican districts. Remember, these legislators, aside from the money and registration advantage they enjoyed, also enjoyed the built-in advantage of incumbency. Incumbency at any level of politics produces very strong odds of re-election. It also bodes well for recalls in the future, with more Republicans legally susceptible to recall further down the road. While some voters, enough to make a difference, may have been reluctant to hold their own incumbent Republican senator fully responsible for the perfidy of Walker himself, and for the breadth of so many terrible policies, Walker himself, when facing his own almost certain statewide recall election next year, intensely disliked as he is throughout the state will have no such perceptual insulation.
Of course, inherent in the phrase “better than you think” is the reality of an inferior outcome. But while less than optimal, this one is in no way an unmitigated failure.