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All Downhill From Here?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

By now, you’ve probably seen the video of the young man on the state capitol grounds in Madison, Wis., upset over the loss of Tom Barrett in the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election.

He keeps lamenting the end of an era and the wrongness of it all. And he keeps saying this is the end of democracy in America as we know it.

He’s overwrought, but he’s right. Scott Walker’s victory was as much a victory for the republican form of government versus the democratic form as it was of a Republican over a Democrat. Voters chose a government that promised responsible use of public resources over one that sought to appease special interests. Simply put, prudent pounded popular.

And perhaps not for the last time. In fact, considerable evidence is building on multiple fronts that we may be on the cusp of a conservative wave that could rival even the early 1980s. Peggy Noonan, who knows much about those heady days, had it right: “What happened in Wisconsin signals a shift in public mood and assumption.”

Democrats decried the $30 million Walker spent and that much of it came from out of state. But much of Barrett’s money came from out of state as well. Walker simply raised more because people liked him and his ideas more. They demonstrated this on Tuesday by voting for him.

He was running in an election that was a referendum on public-sector unions in the birthplace of public-sector unions and one of the most unionized states in the country. And he improved his margin from 2010. If the public-sector union message didn’t resonate there, it’s fair to wonder where it would.

It’s the same with the controversy over Citizens United. Liberals say it enables conservatives to raise obscene amounts of money. But there are plenty of liberal billionaires – as well as all those singers and movie stars. Why can’t they keep pace? Same goes for Wall Street and Big Business. Both supported President Obama big in 2008. Both have moved to the conservative camp. Why? Is it because they have gone from Hope and Change to Hope For Change?

The problem for liberals is simple: Americans have decided their ideas don’t work and are turning away in big numbers. And if they don’t figure out a way to turn this around, they could be in for a series of shellackings that will make 2010 seem mild.

More Americans self-identify as conservatives today – and fewer as liberals – than at any time in history. They may not be Republicans – many regard the GOP as unfaithful to conservative principles – but they do believe in fiscal restraint, far-sighted leadership and family-friendly social policy.

Consider this: Moderates went nearly 60 percent for Barrett; independents went 60 percent for Walker. This seems odd to the chattering classes, who still believe independents occupy spots on the political continuum somewhere between Al Sharpton and Rush Limbaugh. But these days, more can be found in the space between Dick Lugar and Jim DeMint. The new center is considerably rightward of the old.

The Washington Post came out Thursday with a chart that further affirms this trend. It reported on a survey that showed faith in government to solve society’s problems has fallen significantly among Republicans in recent years – from 62 percent in 1987 to 40 percent today. But, more significantly, faith in government among independents fell from 70 percent in 1987 to 59 percent today.

More strikingly, when pollsters asked if entities run by government were usually wasteful and inefficient, 77 percent of Republicans agreed, as did 63 percent of independents but only 41 percent of Democrats. Ronald Reagan said if someone is 80 percent your friend, he is your friend. Independents now stand at somewhere in the 60s of being conservatives’ friend – and it’s climbing.

Results are beginning to show up on the electoral map as well. The 0-32 record of gay marriage on statewide referenda – including even liberal California in 2008 and urban and increasingly urbane North Carolina as recently as last month – indicates a solid bulwark of support for traditional social views. Primary losses by incumbent Republican senators in Indiana and Utah this year -- and Republican primary victories by furthest-right candidates in Kentucky, Delaware, Nevada and Wisconsin in 2010 – provide further evidence the brand supported is conservative, not Republican.

The left has noticed. Experts agree President Obama has gone nastier earlier than any incumbent in recent memory. Even before Tuesday, his campaign staff had moved Wisconsin from the near-sure-thing category to the tossup line. The president still holds an edge among women, Hispanics and young voters, but Mitt Romney is closing in all three categories – dramatically so among women.

On the electoral map, it’s not just Wisconsin. Recent polling shows Michigan, New Hampshire and New Mexico– all safely Democrat in the last cycle – may be in play. No states are moving in the other direction.

Does this mean it’s time to forward your resume to the Romney transition team? It’s hard to say, but when Eleanor Clift, one of the president’s leading cheerleaders, is writing that Democrats are “jittery,” one certainly can sense things are not going well for the president. A top aide told her to tell his supporters to relax. “It’s only June,” he said. “There is a lot more to come.”

Perhaps. But from the looks of it, whatever is left had better be good.

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