Wisconsin: A Wake-Up Call to Republicans

Why the GOP shouldn't breathe a sigh of relief over the recall elections.

As we watch the election results pour in from Wisconsin, where public sector unions have pushed through a recall vote against six Republicans, it is becoming increasingly clear that Republicans have retained control of the Wisconsin state legislature.  This is a massive victory for smaller government.

To review, public sector unions rammed through a recall effort against six Republican legislators in an attempt to overturn Governor Scott Walker’s legislation ending collective bargaining privileges for public sector employees.  The importance of that legislation was clear: Wisconsin, like other states, has been held hostage by the benefits and pay requirements guaranteed to public sector unions.

The unions fought back.  In this election, they poured in more than $14 million to the Senate races.  That’s not counting member-to-member communications and issue advocacy numbers, according to the invaluable MacIver Institute.

If Democrats had won back the Senate less than a year after Republicans took control, there is little doubt that the liberal media would have claimed that Republicans overreached in their attempts to cut back spending.  They would have called the population of Wisconsin “moderate” and said that this was an excellent omen for Democrats in 2012.  None of that would have been true.  Republicans did not overreach; they did what was necessary.  And this is not any sort of predictor for Democrats in 2012 – Wisconsin is a blue state, and money has outsized influence.

Nonetheless, the recall effort provides a warning for Republicans: money matters.  President Obama is expected to raise upward of $1 billion in the next election cycle.  Democrats will raise astounding sums from their friends on Wall Street and in Hollywood, as well as in the unions – and that’s not counting all the covert foreign cash and front-Soros money likely to swell coffers.  That money will be put to nefarious use.

This suggests that Republicans had better please their base if they want to retain office.  The only reason Republicans were able to retain power in this recall election in Wisconsin is because of the power of the Tea Party, which helped get out the vote and drive turnout.  Without the Tea Party, many Republicans will be in serious trouble.  That is especially true for the presidential race, where enthusiasm manifests itself in turnout efforts as well as fundraising.  Unless Mitt Romney can somehow grab the Tea Party by the lapels and force them into his corner, he should not be the nominee.  The same holds true for any other non-Tea Party-backed candidate.

Furthermore, the Wisconsin election suggests that if Republicans want to retain power for any length of time, Republicans had better use their power now to hamstring the unions.  It is clear that the unions are now in a fight for survival, and that their fight for survival endangers the wellbeing of entire states, as well as the country as a whole.  The more power public sector unions gain, the better their pay and benefits; the better their pay and benefits, the more likely and able they are to raise outsized dough to support their benefactors.

There’s only one way to break this vicious cycle: cut it off at the source.  Public sector unions must be broken immediately if they are to be broken at all.  The Wisconsin public sector unions treated this recall as a last gasp because that’s what it is: their last chance to regain political power before the public realizes that the unions have been bilking them.  Once citizens begin to feel the benefit of life without public sector unions, public sector unions are finished.

Wisconsin, then, shouldn’t provoke a sigh of relief from Republicans. It should be a warning.  Their opposition is tough and well-funded, unafraid to utilize recalls not to boot corrupt officials but to boot anyone with whom they disagree.  If Republicans fail to embrace their inner conservatism, they will lose in both the short term and the long term.