Last night was a terrible loss. After preparing all year, with a shortened season, and momentum on their side, Tuesday night should’ve been a major victory.
Instead, it was a throwback.
Last night’s results reminded us that there are just too many people in America who want the same old winners to keep on winning and don’t want the little guy to have a chance. I just can’t believe that the upstart Miami Heat lost at home to those old fogey Boston Celtics. Did you think I was talking about the Wisconsin recall election?
That would be silly, unlike Game 5 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals the winner in Wisconsin was never in doubt. Scott Walker was going to get re-elected, and before Democrats and liberals start jumping off of bridges and Republicans start pouring Kristal and making it rain school vouchers, it’s important that we step back and realize what actually happened last night:
1. Money Talks
Guess what? Money wins elections, whether it is local, national or international.
Scott Walker raised and spent 30 million to the 4 million that his Democratic Opponent Barrett raised.
It’s really that simple: the more money you raise or the more money your campaign team can spend on your behalf, the more likely you are win an election. Democrats and Unions should’ve anticipated Walker’s financial prowess and developed a much more sound strategy to run against him. Which brings us to the second lesson from last night …
2. Yoda Was Right
That little green muppet always has some applicable wisdom when it comes to politics.
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
See the fundamental problem with the Democratic strategy against Scott Walker is that it was based on anger and hatred, and that will never win you an election. The entire recall election was based on the notion that Scott Walker is an evil puppet of right wing oligarchs and you have to put him out of power. That is a campaign based almost entirely on fear, anger and hatred.
Now, that doesn’t mean that all of these accusations aren’t true, but ultimately love and happiness are much better motivators in the voting booth than anger and resentment. Put another way: No one has EVER won an election getting people to vote AGAINST someone.
That’s why John Kerry lost to Bush. How many Democrats can really say they wanted a Kerry presidency? They just wanted to get Bush out of office.
Most Wisconsin voters were not voting FOR Tom Barrett, they were voting AGAINST Scott Walker. That never works. People have to legitimately like both of their options otherwise it generally falls to the default which is the incumbent official. Which takes us to our next point …
3. Mitt Romney Didn’t Win Anything
The Republicans and Scott Walker won and should be proud of their ground game, organization and victory. None of this translates into campaign success for Mitt Romney. The main exit poll on election day showed that Barack Obama is still beating Mitt Romney in Wisconsin 51 to 46, which is especially impressive since Wisconsin is one of the few states where Obama is still polling at above 50% in the general election.
The larger point here is that Mitt Romney’s campaign is trying to make the same argument that didn’t work for Democrats in the recall election. In general, an incumbent wants to make the election a choice between themselves and the challenger. Scott Walker asked the public: Do you want to keep me or bring in this new guy who you don’t really know and who I beat by 5% about 18 months ago?
Challengers want to make elections a referendum on the incumbent, i.e.: “Do you think this guy has done a good job?”
There’s a catch to that strategy though.
Just because the public may think the incumbent has done a lousy job, that does not necessarily mean they believe the challenger can do a better job, and when the choice is between two people, the default wins, thus the incumbent.
Romney wants the election of 2012 to be about whether Obama has done a good job or not, specifically on the economy. Obama is wisely asking the public to look at the entire package: Who do you like more, Barack or Mitt? When you ask that question Obama wins (give or take some purged voter rolls.) There is nothing from the recall vote that challenges this prevailing campaign logic or suggests a huge sea change in how Americans view policy. Which brings us to our last point …
4. Candidates Aren’t Policies
You know what makes you buy a car? Assuming you have the money, people buy cars because they like them, the car looks cool, makes you feel good, or gives you some type of status you’ve secretly been craving.
Only once you bring it home, or show it off to your friends do you start talking about the gas mileage, the airbags and the air conditioned back seats. Why? Because voters, like all consumers, make purchases emotionally and then back them up with logic. More importantly, the more people like a candidate the more favorably they look at his or her policies regardless of how those policies look in a vacuum. So what does that mean in simple speak?
If you ask voters in Wisconsin do they like the idea of breaking up unions and destroying employees’ rights to collective bargaining they’d probably say “no.” If this were a pure up and down vote on POLICY this would be a no brainer slam dunk for Democrats. Look at what happened with Senate Bill 5 in Ohio just last fall. Ohio is a much more conservative state than Wisconsin and they soundly rejected restrictions on union power 60 to 40%.
But Wisconsin wasn’t just about policy, it was about Scott Walker, and it was about Tom Barrett, and when voters are choosing between people instead of policy they’ll always chose the person they like best, even if the policy isn’t sound.
Therefore, when all of the crowing and crying is over, nothing changed in Wisconsin last night. A sitting governor beat the same opponent he faced 18 months ago, union power in America continued to fade, big corporations bought an election, the more likable of two candidates won and Wisconsin still remains firmly in the blue column for the presidential election in November. If you really want to see a contest that is up in the air, watch tomorrow’s game 6 between the Celtics and the Heat. There’s still a chance LeBron and Miami can pull that off. Certainly a better chance than Democrats ever had against Walker.