Richard Reeves

Country for Sale

LOS ANGELES -- The word "takeaway" was first used in 1961, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. And then it was about Chinese restaurants. Now it is about everything, including elections.

"Three Takeaways From the Recall Vote" was the headline over the election analysis of Sean Trende, the senior election analyst of Real Clear Politics.

On Politico.com, the headline over Glenn Thrush's analysis was, "Only One Takeaway From Wisconsin: Money Shouts."

Trende, a great name for a political writer, began his piece on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's surviving a recall election by saying that the results don't tell us much about 2012. He argued that special elections are poor predictors of general elections, particularly presidential elections. This one, he said, was about one governor, one state, one issue -- that is, Walker's attempt to reduce the pay and benefits of unionized state employees. He cited exit polling that indicated most voters believe that recalls should be used only in cases of corruption.

Maybe. But California's Grey Davis was never accused of corruption when California voters turned him out in 2003 and replaced him with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Trende added that the 2012 election will bring out more Democrats than this one, where Wisconsin's Republicans turned out in record numbers to defend their man.

His second takeaway was that the results do tell us something about 2012. Again using polls, Trende said:

"We should also note that the pollsters saw a narrow Obama lead in the state. But they also understated Scott Walker's victory margin pretty consistently, so the state may well be close to a tie. This view is actually bolstered by the exit polls: The ones that showed a tied Walker-Barrett race also showed the president up 10 points. With Walker's lead expanding well beyond a tie, the president probably starts his campaign with a one- or two-point lead in this state, at least among the recall electorate."

His third takeaway was that in the long run, this matters a lot. Why? Because of the continuing decline of labor's political power in the Midwest. He added:

"Labor wanted to demonstrate that there would be real, negative consequences for passing laws such as the one Walker pushed through the legislature. Instead it looks like a paper tiger. Future GOP legislators are now less likely to be deterred by labor's muscle, rather than more, especially as data increasingly suggest that the GOP can win the message wars on labor-related issues. ...

"Labor wanted to stop additional laws from being passed, but it also wanted to prevent these particular laws from going into effect in Wisconsin. This fight was about balancing the state budget, but it was also about diminishing labor's clout even further by hampering its funding source and by removing incentives for joining a public employee union in the first place."

While Real Clear Politics' takeaways were local and regional, Politico went for national impact and probably was closer to the mark.

"It's M-O-N-E-Y," Thrush wrote, specifically the money of outsiders: "Here's the only paragraph you really need to read this ayem, courtesy of the Center for Public Integrity ... 'Through April, Walker's top three donors combined gave more than (his opponent) had raised overall. Four of Walker's top seven donors are out-of-state billionaires.'"

"This was the first purely Citizens United election," Thrush wrote. "Democrats seemed stunned and addled." Labor leaders thought the election would be about getting out the vote. But, he said, it was about "ad spending."

Wisconsin was for sale, and so will the rest of the country be under our new billionaire-friendly laws. That's my takeaway.

More like Richard Reeves