Looking back, it's clear that without the recall [election], there is no Scott Walker presidential announcement today. What the recall did was turn Walker into a conservative hero/martyr -- the symbol of everything base GOPers hate about unions and, more broadly, the Democratic party. He went from someone no one knew to someone every conservative talk radio host (and their massive audiences) viewed as the tip of the spear in the fight against the creep of misguided Democratic priorities. He became someone who had the phone numbers of every major conservative donor at his fingertips. He became what he is today: The political David who threw a pebble and slew the mighty liberal Goliath....There's no question that the recall made Walker more of a martyr, and thus more appealing to Republican voters, but Cillizza is forgetting what put Walker on the map in the first place -- the huge fight over Walker's efforts to neuter public-sector unions in his state. That big, noisy brawl was a huge defeat for Democrats and progressives. What's more, it's the source of a significant part of the legend of Scott Walker:
It's hard for me to imagine that if Democrats had never tried to recall Walker that he would be a) running for president in 2016 or b) solidly established as one of the three candidates regarded as most likely to be the nominee. Even if Walker had, as he did, won a second term as governor in Wisconsin in 2014, it's much more likely he'd be grouped in with fellow governors like John Kasich and Chris Christie rather than, as he is now, with Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker faced death threats and frightening encounters with protesters during the fight in his state over labor laws, he reportedly reveals in his new book.'Walker loves this story. Here he is telling it on Fox News in 2013. Here he is repeating it in his January 2015 speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit. Here it is showing up in a Washington Post profile of Walker's wife last week.
Walker received letters targeting his family, including one that talked about following his children to school and another threatening to “gut [his wife] like a deer,” according to excerpts of the book from the publisher posted by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.
He says it happened during the union fight, which, of course, was the reason for the recall effort. Needless to say, if Democrats had backed away from the recall, Walker would still be trying to milk that moment. And he'd succeed, because there's nothing the GOP voter base likes more than someone who defiantly claims to be victimized, especially while portraying his enemies as evil and subhuman.
But didn't the recall election turn Walker into "someone who had the phone numbers of every major conservative donor at his fingertips," as Cillizza writes? No. As The New York Times noted last month, in his first gubernatorial election, in 2010, Walker benefited from a huge amount of money from the Koch-linked Americans for Prosperity and the Wisconsin-based Bradley Foundation. Walker's campaign chairman in that race, the Times notes, was Michael Grebe, the president of the Bradley Foundation. Walker was on the radar of wingnut billionaires when he was just a gubernatorial candidate.
Remember the famous phone call to Walker by Buffalo-based journalist Ian Murphy, who pretended to be David Koch? That took place in February 2011, during Walker's second month in office, as the union fight was taking place. It happened shortly after Mother Jones revealed the extent of the Koch brothers' funding of Walker's 2010 campaign:
According to Wisconsin campaign finance filings, Walker's gubernatorial campaign received $43,000 from the Koch Industries PAC during the 2010 election. That donation was his campaign's second-highest, behind $43,125 in contributions from housing and realtor groups in Wisconsin. The Koch's PAC also helped Walker via a familiar and much-used politicial maneuver designed to allow donors to skirt campaign finance limits. The PAC gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which in turn spent $65,000 on independent expenditures to support Walker. The RGA also spent a whopping $3.4 million on TV ads and mailers attacking Walker's opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Walker ended up beating Barrett by 5 points. The Koch money, no doubt, helped greatly.Why would Walker have needed a recall to become a national Republican favorite when he'd already busted unions? Nobody ever recalled Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or Rand Paul or Ted Cruz. Cillizza lists Chris Christie as a second-tier candidate, but he was seen as possibly first-tier in 2012, just on the basis of attacks on public-sector pensions, plus a few mouthy video clips. It doesn't take much to impress Republicans. Ask Ben Carson, who's been dining out for years on one nasty speech attacking President Obama.
Walker would have been a contender with or without the recall. The people who own him would have made sure of that.