Walking Into the Wind

February 21, 2011 3:30 pm

A TPM reporter will be arriving in Wisconsin tomorrow morning. So I’m looking forward to more on the ground reports of events in Madison. But going on what I’ve seen today, I’ll stick with what I said a couple days ago: I don’t think this is going well for Gov. Walker (R).

He just gave a late afternoon press conference in which he grandly stated that he won’t compromise on union rights to collective bargaining and that it’s time for the senate Democrats to come back to Madison. But why would they? Walker appears to be totally hamstrung by their absence. And his ally, the senate Majority Leader, said today that he won’t try to push a workaround to get those provisions through before the Democrats come back.I don’t think he was being charitable. I think he lacks the votes. It seems like there is a faction within his caucus that is refusing to go that route and is proposing other compromise solutions. I had heard from some sources in Wisconsin that the Republicans in the state weren’t as solid behind Walker as it seemed. They were sticking with him because they don’t want to undercut a newly elected governor of their own party.

There was a bit of publicity this morning with a poll out by Rasmussen showing substantial plurality support for Gov. Walker. But Mark Blumenthal and Nate Silver both make pretty persuasive cases that it’s based on leading questions. And a couple more polls will be coming out shortly that I suspect will paint a different picture.

Walker’s position was best captured by the litany he used in his appearance this afternoon. He threatened that over a thousand state employees would need to be laid off if the budget bill isn’t passed. He accused the Democrats of shutting down the government. And on and on. He’s not acting like someone who thinks he has the strong hand.

Political opinion is often more driven by power and impotence than we believe. On the merits, I think Walker’s probably on the wrong side of public opinion in his state on the collective bargaining issue. But quite apart from that, he’s out giving press conferences daring his opponents to come back to the state and give him what he wants. But they’re not. And his top legislative ally seems to be signaling that he doesn’t have another card to play. Whatever you think on the merits of the question, that makes him look weak. And weakness is demoralizing. He’s lost the initiative.

George Will says Walker is a Reaganesque figure who holds all the cards in his hands. He sees him heading toward a Reagan with Patco type moment. And the audacity of such a step might perhaps help him. Unfortunately for him though the dynamics of this situation don’t give him the opportunity for such decisive action. He’s lost the initiative. I confess without more polling information, I really have no more to go on than my gut. But I think Walker’s political hand is a good deal weaker than Will thinks.

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