No Real Victory for Wisconsin GOP

You've probably heard that Wisconsin state Republicans managed to dodge the Democratic trend this year and retake the state Senate. There's a tight and contested election yet to be resolved, but Republicans will probably control the Senate 18-15. This gives the GOP the levers of state government -- the Assembly and the Governor's office are both in Republican hands. However, this may not be the disaster that it seems at first. Or, at least, not as bad a one.

The first and most obvious point in favor of this argument is that Senate rules that 3/5 of the chamber be present before any vote can be taken on budgetary matters. If 14 or more Senators are no-shows, you don't have a quorum. You might remember that this maneuver was the prelude to the recall fight. Both parties will want to avoid this in the future.

But a more important and convincing point is that Governor Scott Walker, while an ideologue, is probably the most ambitious politician in Wisconsin. He has ideological goals, but they pale in comparison to his personal career goals. He had hoped his union-busting would make him a Republican vice presidential short-lister, but things became much more contentious than he had imagined and that dream died. I think the whole thing surprised and scared him, leaving him legitimately chastened. That sort of overreach won't happen again.

Because if there's one thing that's really bad for your career, it's getting fired. And despite his party's victories at the state level, things at the federal level went very, very poorly. Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan was also defending his House seat and, although he did win, it didn't actually go as well as he would've liked. His share of the vote that reelected him was down nearly twenty points from just two years ago. According to the University of Minnesota's Eric Ostermeier, Ryan's win was "his narrowest ever congressional contest." Ryan's is a swing district and Walker will likely need it to survive reelection, a mere two years away.

Which brings us to the race that probably really put starch in Walker's drawers: Tammy Baldwin's defeat of former Gov. Tommy Thompson. Behold this graphic:

Baldwin wins 23 Walker counties in Wisconsin

Of the counties won by Walker in 2010, twenty-three flipped Democrat to Baldwin -- many by very healthy margins. And Tommy Thompson is not some sort of pariah here; he was the longest serving governor in the state's history. He should've owned this race. He got caught up in a brutal primary against Tea Party nutjobs and he came out broke, sure. But take a look at that map again. Safe counties don't swing like that. Solid red counties would vote for a rabid squirrel before they voted for an openly lesbian candidate who's been -- hands down -- one of the most liberal members of the House of Representatives. The counties that would only vote Republican aren't enough to carry him. Not by a long shot.

No, that map spells trouble for Walker. Big trouble, unless he treads very lightly. Meanwhile, Obama's victory hands him a humiliating defeat on healthcare. He has to come up with a healthcare exchange -- something he had foolishly resisted doing -- and he has to do it in a big hurry. If he fails, the feds will create one for him. He begins this cycle not looking a whole lot like a winner.

As I said, if there's anything that trumps Walker's ideology, it's his ambition. He went all rightwing nutjob after 2010 because he thought this whole Tea Party fad was here to stay. Turned out that was a bad call. Now, he'll probably go all Mitt Romney and shake the Etch-a-Sketch, governing with a finger in the wind and an eye on the polls. Bold, ultra-conservative moves are likely behind him, unless (and until) the pendulum swings way back to crazy again.

"I look forward to working with members of both parties to grow our economy and create jobs," Walker said in a statement on election night. I have no doubt he looks forward to being seen working with members of both parties. Tea Party Scott Walker is most probably dead.

Meet Moderate Scott Walker.


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