My thoughts, listed in numerical format but not necessarily in order of importance:
1) Walker's win has minimal, if any, implications for the 2012 Presidential Election.
The same exit polling that led the networks to call the election for Walker showed Obama winning decisively amongst the same electorate. Why is that? Do voters just like the status quo? It's probably not that simple. First, the recall was - literally and figuratively - a referendum on Scott Walker, an extremely polarizing figure in only one state. His approval ratings in all polls have been 50/50. When it came to Walker, Wisconsin was truly a state divided. And Obama didn't factor much into the equation at all, except for in the enthusiasm of some of Walker's most ardent right-wing supporters.
2) Walker's win was partially influenced by the strange dynamics of a recall. Recalls are weird. And they're rare. Scott Walker was only the third governor in American history to face a recall election. Yes, he was also the first to survive said recall, but the fact that he even faced it is significant. And still, the fact of a recall is viewed with some trepidation by voters. Chuck Todd tweeted tonight that 60% of voters surveyed in the exit polls opined that public officials should only by recalled in instances of official misconduct. To be honest, they're probably right to feel this way. Ask most people, and they'll tell you that elections have consequences, and if you don't like those consequences vote them out when the time comes again. I despise Scott Walker (more on that later), and would have not only voted for Barrett tonight but volunteered for him, but direct democracy can be a fishy thing.
3) When one candidate outraises and outspends the other by an 8-1 margin, that candidate usually wins Not much I can add to that. This is simply a fact.
4) On a related note, Goliath rarely loses.
You will be shocked to learn that I agree with Jonathan Chait's take. It wasn't just all of the money that Walker raked in. Walker understood the principle that in politics, sometimes brute force wins out. He wins a close race in 2010. He sees an opportunity to give himself some breathing room by busting up a key element of his opposition - public sector unions. So he busted the union. In the process of busting the union he exempts police and fire (unlike in Ohio), understanding that doing so would look better politically and maybe even move a section of the enemy to his camp. He broke them, and thus when the backlash came his opponent had shattered kneecaps. And that's not all. He also participated in the nationwide GOP effort to disenfranchise voters. He rams an onerous photo ID bill through the legislature...and then closed several DMVs in traditionally Democratic parts of Wisconsin. This isn't a conspiracy theory - it's a fact (and it's happening all over the country; the worst current case being Florida). These factors don't fully explain the result, but they play a major role. But then again, so does this...
5) Scott Walker's ideas were not broadly unpopular.
This is one of the most uncomfortable facts for me. I have read some of the polls from the past week from this race, including the one conducted by Marquette University. The voters surveyed don't generally like Walker's approach...but they liked a lot of what he is trying to accomplish. Voters don't like his style, his bullying, his embarassing outbursts...but...they think they know someone who is cheating public assistance. But...they're not doing so great economically meanwhile these damn state workers get solid salaries and excellent benefits, and they've stood in line at the DMV and clearly those workers don't deserve it more than they do...
In other words, resentment runs deep. It's there, and its a major factor for all political actors, especially those on the liberal side, to deal with. Good pivoting can get these voters to prioritize something else above these resentments (like job creation or something else deemed more important), but the resentment is there. And for someone driven by resentment, Walker seems like a hero. Someone who is "doing what needs to be done." It doesn't matter that they cannot point to what kind of a tangible impact these policies will have in their lives. Voting behavior is strongly influenced by emotion.
6) "The object of power is power." ~George Orwell
What do we mean when we talk about being pro-business? What do we mean when we talk about "working families?" What do we mean when we talk about "union thugs?" We are ultimately talking about power relationships. How equal is power distributed in a relationship? Who has the upper hand? Who controls whom?
This is the broader dynamic and the broader implication of the Wisconsin recall. For all of the empty pundit talk that apparently thinks the only thing that matters is red and blue trendlines, the fact is that elections - again - have consequences. Real-world, bread and butter consequences for real people. These consequences do not appear to be of much interest to the Meet the Press hacks of the world.
The resentment I spoke of above plays out in many ways: ugly scapegoating, backlash attitudes, and resignation. Private sector workers who have seen their wages go down while costs for things like health care (most of the Affordable Care Act is not in place yet), food, gas, etc have gone up. They resent union workers for the comparatively stronger salaries and benefits they have...so they focus their anger on unions. When in reality, what they could use is...a union.
Yes, there are plenty of examples in history of union officials behaving badly. Greed, corruption, thuggery, etc. But the history of bad behavior in the labor movement is no more insidious than the history of bad behavior in business. All one needs to do is look at the Gilded Age, or frankly to September 2008, to see this. Where there are humans, there is bad behavior.
Getting that out of the way - the principle of unionism is collective bargaining. That in solidarity as a bargaining unit, workers can exercise more power than they can when left to their own devices. Without it, in most cases management can simply run roughshod over employees. Employees are still employees, but union employees cannot be abused. A union would have been nice for the 100 or so people who worked at the Lowe's in Everytown USA - which closed suddenly, with many employees finding out via a sign on the door when they showed up for their shifts one day. A union would be nice for loggers in my state - who hold one of the most dangerous jobs in the world for long hours and crap pay. Their conditions are like this because the Canadian timberlands owner of most land in my state forced these loggers to become independent contractors - thus no collective bargaining. To make matters even worse they bring in Canadian workers illegally because they're cheaper (the whole universal health care thing helps). The result? Depression. Proud people feeling beaten down without recourse.
What the people funding groups like FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity want is control and autonomy. They want to do what they want to whom they want with impunity. Measures like union busting that give them more power means they can get more of what they want. It's not about freedom for a society; or freedom for individuals. They don't much care about the freedom of individuals besides themselves. It's what leads people like that insufferable Facebook co-founder to move to a State like Singapore. You don't move to Singapore if you're interested in freedom. You do this if you are a petulant child who doesn't understand that you can't always get what you want.
I am not anti-business. Hell, I would love to see a lot more businesses in downtown Everytown USA. But I am against absolute power, because it corrupts. As Orwell says, you seek power so that you can obtain power, so that you can use it. That's why it corrupts, because it is both the means and the ends. It's why a well-regulated economy that balances out the various power-seeking interests of the world tends to result in the most individual freedom. I hope we can move back in that direction.
There is an analysis I like about Wal Mart's business model - choke out the economies of various local areas so much that people can only afford to shop at Wal Mart. Is this freedom? I don't think so.
So there you have it. I don't think Walker surviving the recall will have a tangible impact on the Presidential race. It's not even a death blow to the American labor movement. We shouldn't forget that organized labor stood up in Ohio just last year and successfully repealed a law that was even more repressive and anti-worker than the one Walker passed. But it does hurt for those of us who believe in basic fairness and freedom (both in the ACLU sense and in the sense of FDR's Four Freedoms). It hurts because the Koch brothers are toasting another conquest. And it hurts because Wisconsin's teachers, DOT road crews, social workers, public health professionals, business developers, and all other types of workers in the public sector have seen their living situation worsened, their power diminished, and their morale destroyed. These are people like my mother-in-law (a kindergarten teacher). The quality of service from the public sector in Wisconsin will be worse for this. And we are all worse for it.
Because Scott Walker understands power.