Wingnut Watch: Wisconsin Recall Relief and Iowa Showdown

By / 8.10.2011

There is joy and relief in Wingnut World today thanks to the narrow failure of Wisconsin Democrats to win enough recall elections to take over the state’s Senate chamber (needing three new seats out of the six being contested, Democrats won two and lost the crucial third by just over 2,000 votes). Though this was a very unusual election in which vast quantities of last-minute conservative money (a total of $8 million was spent in the pivotal district, a bit more than the average state legislative race) probably made the difference, you can expect many jabberers from the Right to call this the final, definitive victory of the people over “labor bosses” determined to keep Scott Walker from giving job-creators the encouragement they need to invest in the state. Next week’s recall elections for two Democratic senators, which are not expected to go well for Republicans, probably won’t get as much national attention. Democrats will then have a tough decision to make about whether to seek a recall of Walker next year. But overall, the main importance of the Wisconsin struggle is that it will likely become a sort of laboratory for what the contending parties—and their ideological allies—will do nationally in 2012.

Aside from Wisconsin, and the continued preparatory skirmishing over the budget timeline set out in the August 1 debt limit, there are two main preoccupations among conservative activists and talkers. One is the war of interpretation over economic developments, including the threat of a double-dip recession, the Standard & Poor’s downgrading of its rating for federal bonds, and the extreme instability of U.S. and global stock markets. So far few, if any, conservatives are bending their general line on the ontological necessity of sharp and immediate federal spending cuts and radical deficit reduction measures in the face of poor economic growth indicators. For example, conservatives have shown no signs of interest in the president’s call for extension of the payroll tax cuts agreed to last December. Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann gets points for audacious consistency in arguing that the bond downgrading, explained by S&P as in no small part attributable to pessimism about future debt limit agreements because of Republican fanaticism on taxes, was actually caused by the debt limit agreement itself.

The second preoccupation in Wingnut World, as in the broader world of political junkies, is with the developments in the Republican presidential race that will unfold over the next few days. In Iowa, a presidential candidate debate on Thursday will immediately be followed by Saturday’s State Republican Party straw poll in Ames. The debate, sponsored by Fox News and the conservative Washington Examiner, will include not only the candidates competing in the Straw Poll, but also Mitt Romney, who is not, and could therefore be the target of zingers from rivals desperately trying to create some turnout-generating buzz in Ames.

In terms of what is likely to happen at the Straw Poll, there is a general consensus that Tim Pawlenty has the best organization but little enthusiasm; Michele Bachmann has the most enthusiasm but a questionable organization; Rick Santorum could well surprise people by doing better than Herman Cain; and Ron Paul, with the right combination of committed supporters and superior organization, could win the whole thing if turnout is not very high. Both Pawlenty and Bachmann really need a win in Ames. But it’s Pawlenty who needs it the most, having focused on Iowa for many months and positioned himself to become the “electable conservative alternative to Mitt Romney” down the road. His limited financial means and terrible poll standings across the country—and the impending entry of another “electable conservative alternative to Mitt Romney,” Rick Perry—could mean curtains if he doesn’t pull off the Straw Poll victory.

Speaking of Perry, he’s apparently going to announce or at least semi-announce his candidacy in South Carolina in the friendly confines of the annual get-together of Erick Erickson’s Red State community. The fact that his speech in Charleston occurs the very same day as the Straw Poll has caused some angst among Iowa Republicans, who view it as an effort to horn in on their media attention. So it’s not surprising Perry is planning to scurry up to Iowa (to Bachmann’s original home town of Waterloo) on Sunday. From Perry’s point of view, a Paul win in Ames, damaging Bachmann and perhaps finishing off T-Paw, and making the entire exercise (which he skipped) otherwise irrelevant, would be ideal. But even before announcing, Perry has managed to vault himself into the top tier of candidates, essentially succeeding in taking over T-Paw’s spot as the putative “unity candidate” between the electability-challenged Bachmann and the ideologically-challenged Romney. That’s quite a feat for a guy who keeps flip-flopping on hot-button social issues; has gotten dangerously cozy with religious extremists; has a habit of startling his fellow-conservatives with stunts like his 2008 championship of Rudy Guiliani; and has never been terribly popular in his own state.

Photo credit: WordShore.