Many of the players have not been a credit to their cause -- which may explain why union leaders, who initially balked at Walker's compensation cuts, budged. They understood that the public wasn't buying the argument that their resistance was not about money.
Now they say the fight is over something bigger than money -- and now they're right.
"This is all about power," Democratic pollster Paul Maslin told me from his Madison, Wis., home. "This is all about busting the unions; this is all about (Walker) giving himself national prominence." As far as Maslin is concerned, Walker has crossed the Rubicon.
If Walker's move simply were about balancing the budget, his critics now argue, he would cut a deal and move on.
Conservative Milwaukee talk-show host Charlie Sykes agreed. When I asked him if Wisconsin Republicans are trying to turn off the spigot of political donations from public-employee unions, Sykes answered, "Absolutely."
Badger State Democrats fled Madison, Sykes added, because "they see this as a real threat to the mother lode of campaign cash. The left is going to have to raise money the old-fashioned way: voluntarily."
I tell Sykes that if I were Walker, I'd take the benefits concessions and declare victory. One of my beefs with the right is that conservatives often don't know how to take "yes" as an answer.
I'd look at the 2008 vote, at how quickly cheeseheads can pivot to the other side of the aisle, and I'd also be afraid of overplaying my hand, as the right frequently does.
Maslin isn't convincing when he complains about Republicans trying to jam through a bill in one day. (See above.)
He is more convincing when he looks at 2008 and assures me that some of the 19 GOP state senators are afraid: "There's a tough thing going on here. I would say the 14 (Dems) are feeling much better for what they've done than some of the 19 (Repubs)."
But Sykes tells me that when the Madison story went national, Wisconsin conservatives saw an opportunity that may never come again. Their resolve hardened.
"The country is on the edge of a precipice," he explained. He would have expected to see Republican lawmakers get weak-kneed by now. Instead, they're thinking, "We've got to decide right now. Are we going to become Michigan? Are we going to become California? Or are we going to turn things around?
"Nobody is in the mood to go for the half-measures."
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