Wisconsin reverberations

While many Democrats are stammering around looking for an excuse — any excuse at all — for their embarrassing defeat as Wisconsin roundly rejected their recall efforts of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, the Obama White House is breathing a sigh of relief.

Had Milwaukee’s Democrat Mayor Tom Barrett, the challenger to Walker, lost by a slim margin instead of by an even greater margin than his original loss to Walker in 2010, President Obama would be in a world of political hurt right now — from his own party. He needed Barrett to lose big. Obama cynically took care of himself first, throwing yet another ally under the bus by not campaigning for Barrett. Not only did he signal he was relatively certain Walker would win, but he showed Democrats that he has no loyalty to them and looks out for No. 1. Always. And, some might argue — only.

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Adding to the discomfort is the fact that Barrett, a public figure whose résumé includes a decade in Congress, was a very, very early supporter of Obama in the presidential primary, publicly endorsing him in April 2007 over Democratic primary rivals Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. Yet, while former President Bill Clinton went to campaign by Barrett’s side last week (despite the fact that Barrett endorsed Obama over Hillary), Obama merely “tweeted” his support for Barrett, assuming 140 characters or fewer would somehow get him off the hook. 

Obama has visited Wisconsin eight times since becoming president, but none since February as the recall shenanigans heated up. He figured out what most of the rest of us knew, including Wisconsinites — that Scott Walker had shown leadership and delivered results that Obama himself has not been capable of (and in half the time) and that the recall hysterics had lost steam. But once out on that limb, and egged on by the TV cameras, the recallers couldn’t resist, thus becoming more shrill as the veil was lifted on the details of Walker’s reforms and folks began to appreciate their merits.

While it was a union protest with massive resources and free media attention worth millions of dollars over the past year and a half, recalling the governor who showed courage and got the job done was not something all union members supported. Tuesday’s exit polling showed at least 36 percent of Wisconsin union households voted for Walker. President Obama is loath to get on the wrong side of those 36 percenters!

Recallers failed to recognize when mission creep had set in, enthralled with their drama and the media attention and having worked themselves into a froth over so little. Last year’s state Senate recall stunt was a wash at best, falling far short of their goal and delusions of a recall coup. When top-tier pols such as former Sen. Russ Feingold declined to challenge Walker once it was clear this would be no cakewalk, the recall activists still didn’t get it.

The initial reaction to Walker ending collective bargaining of public unions was negative — that is, until voters became aware he was offering public employees a choice as to whether to join the union, and saving their jobs by asking them to pay a only a small portion of their pension and slightly higher portion of their health insurance premium. Once Wisconsinites realized they’d been paying for public employees’ Cadillac benefits (relative to what most taxpayers had), the worm began to turn. Clearly, their governor was, indeed, standing up for Wisconsinites and not backing down in the face of heavy-handed tactics by the unions or caving in to threats of a recall. Walker placed the fiscal health of his state before his own political fortunes.

At the risk of succumbing to cliché, it was, indeed, rather Reaganesque, reminiscent of the air-control standoff of 1981, when the president fired 11,000 air traffic controllers for violating a no-strike clause in their contracts in an attempt to reduce their workweek from a five-day, 40-hour schedule to four days and 32 hours and get full retirement after 20 years on the job, plus about a 30 percent pay increase.

President Reagan prevailed — just like Scott Walker.

Jacobus, president of Capitol Strategies PR, has managed congressional campaigns, worked on Capitol Hill and is an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. She appears on CNN, MSNBC and FOX News as a GOP strategist.