Pressure from National Liberals Squeezes Wisconsin Dems

Battle Fatigue in Wisconsin

"I think we have to realize that there's only so much we can do as a group to make a stand. It's really up to the public to be engaged in carrying the torch on this issue."

-- Wisconsin state Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Douglas, to the Wall Street Journal foreshadowing the end of his caucus’ abscondence

With recall efforts pending against nearly half of the members of the Wisconsin state Senate and Badger State residents weary of the 18-day shutdown in the legislature caused by the Democratic minority’s exodus to Illinois, the end seems to be in sight.

The overheated rhetoric of the early part of the Democratic walkout has (mostly) given way to statements of acceptance and accommodation. Despite filmmaker Michael Moore trying to rally government workers to keep fighting “the rich,” the steam seems to have gone out of the boiler.

For example, Republican Gov. Scott Walker sent layoff notices Friday, as promised, but added the caveat that if Democrats returned to work, the layoffs could still be reversed within the next two weeks.

And while some of the members of the Democratic caucus most deeply committed to government workers are promising to stay on the barricades forever, more moderate members sound increasingly satisfied that they have already scored a major victory with their boycott and that they are unlikely to profit more by staying in hiding for much longer.

Both Walker and the Senate Democrats have suffered substantially from the standoff.

Walker has seen a sharp rise in voter opposition to his plan to curb the bargaining power of public employee unions. Under a constant barrage of union advertisements and media pressure, the Walker plan is now widely seen as extreme. In Ohio, very similar legislation is chugging through the legislature. Without the walkout, the same would have likely been true in Wisconsin.

The polls showing the unpopularity of Walker’s bargaining power have strangely encouraged Democrats to end their boycott rather than extend it. Since they believe the plan has done extensive damage to the recently revitalized Republican brand in the state, Democratic politicians are optimistic that they can sweep the 2012 elections – but not if they continue to annoy voters with a work stoppage.

The Senate Democrats, meanwhile, look increasingly like hostages of the government unions instead of representatives of the voters. With voters clamoring for an end to the impasse, staying in hiding makes the senators look like they are in the thrall of Moore and the labor activists.

The national focus on the fight has made it harder for both sides, but having polarizing figures like Moore showing up is particularly harmful to Democrats. State Senators generally don’t get reelected for being ideologues.

Negotiations have continued to get one Senate Democrat into the chamber – all that’s needed for a quorum. And now that both sides are suffering, a deal seems to be in the works – maybe that involves avoiding an embarrassing arrest – to break the logjam as soon as today.

King no Prince to Muslim Groups

“The threat is coming from the Muslim community. The radicalization attempts are directed at the Muslim community. Why should I investigate other communities?”

-- House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y., talking to the New York Times

If you want to know how multiculturalism affects Washington, consider the demand from opponents of House hearings scheduled this week by Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. on the radicalization of American Muslims.

Those against the hearings have taken the line that while King as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee is within his rights to explore religious radicalism, he should include other religions than Islam to demonstrate his good faith. If he would just say that all religions are potentially dangerous, King would be allowed to mention Islam too.

Multiculturalism means a member of Congress must investigate that in which he has no interest in order to demonstrate the equality of all perspectives. As long as the inquiry is so broad as to be meaningless, it can cause no anger.

King isn’t having it. His hearings, set to begin Thursday, are designed to investigate the growing trend of American Muslims embracing radical theology and taking up jihad on their own. Maj. Nidal Hassan, charged with the slaughter of a dozen soldiers bound for Afghanistan, is the prime example of a moderate, American Muslim who became an Islamist radical, but King will highlight the increasing number of formerly mainstream Muslims who have embraced violent ideologies.

The White House has been pushing back against King’s hearings, stepping up outreach to the Muslim community. On Sunday, deputy national security adviser Denis McDonough told a group of Muslim leaders "we don't practice guilt by association," and suggested his team was on the lookout for radicals of all faiths, not just Muslims.

King’s point is that we need to look at the people who keep killing Americans and why this is happening. His critics say that by looking at the problem, he will actually worsen it.

Civilian Deaths Roil Afghans

"We are being punished by both sides: by foreign troops and the Taliban.”

-- Afghan college student Sadya Noori at a demonstration protesting civilian deaths in Afghanistan

While the world watches the civil war raging in Libya, American allies around the Muslim world continue to face deepening threats from popular unrest. The Saudis are now cracking down on the same Iranian-backed protests that are slowly toppling the royal houses in nearby Bahrain and Oman. The fragile government in Iraq is struggling to maintain order.

But the biggest area of concern could be Afghanistan where protests have erupted over the deaths of nine civilians, including five children, in a botched U.S. helicopter raid on Islamist insurgents.

The protests have so far been peaceful, but the situation in Afghanistan is very tenuous. President Hamid Karzai’s political strategy for surviving the pending drawdown of American forces has been to increasingly cast himself as resisting an oppressive Western presence in the country.

Civilian casualties are the rawest part of the U.S.-Afghan relationship. And Karzai’s very public refusal to accept Gen. David Petraeus’ apology for the recent deaths demonstrates that he is not willing to help smooth things over.

The Taliban may be responsible for twice as many civilian deaths, but they are in service of their larger strategy to make the nation so war weary that Afghans will rise up against the U.S. presence. Americans, by extension, see their mission suffer with each death, whoever is to blame.

This comes as popular resentment against the U.S. continues to roil Pakistan next door. With rage and riots continuing to grip the Muslim world, the breakdown in U.S. relations in central Asia is worrisome indeed.

FOX News colleague Bret Baier and his team are in Afghanistan and will be bringing us the latest on the unrest there in tonight’s “Special Report.”

GOP Field Gets in the Starting Gate

“…he doesn't spend a lot of time talking about this stuff.”

-- White House Chief of Staff William Daley on “Meet the Press” dismissing questions about President Obama’s interest in the 2012 Republican field

If you wanted to pick a day when the 2012 campaign gets underway in earnest, today would be a good choice.

Republican candidates (and exploratory explorers) Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum will be on the same stage at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s forum and libertarian Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, is on a three-stop Iowa tour with the state’s leading social conservative, Bob Vander Plaats.

With less than two months before the May 5 FOX News debate in South Carolina, Republicans have started getting into the starting gate for the 2012 race.

It will be at least another month before the next round of contestants jump in, so this is the moment for lesser-known candidates to start making their cases to the party faithful in early primary states.

Advisers to presumptive frontrunner Mitt Romney tell Power Play that the former Massachusetts governor won’t get in the race before the end of April.

The two sitting governors publicly weighing bids – Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Mitch Daniels of Indiana – have both set a similar timeframe for their decisions.

But Romney, Barbour and Daniels have the ability to quickly raise cash, so waiting until the middle of the second quarter poses less risk. Romney and Barbour especially have the fundraising network necessary to still post strong second-quarter numbers even if they are only raising money for half the time.

So, what begins today amounts to a play-in game for the big dance.

While Pawlenty, Gingrich and Paul all have automatic berths in the top tier of candidates, they need to show that they can raise the money and develop the enthusiasm necessary to stay there. Like Mike Huckabee did in 2008, Pawlenty and Gingrich have the chance to build core support ahead of the entry of the moneyed top tier.

With President Obama increasingly focused on his reelection effort and building an organization that promises to shatter his own record for expensive campaigning, having the cash and organization necessary to compete will be key to winning the support of sharp-eyed early Republican primary voters. If you can’t pay, you can’t play.

For little-known candidates like Cain, a pizza-chain mogul, and Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, this is the make or break moment. Either the buzz will grow or it won’t and the next six weeks are their only chance to be heard above the fray.

Remember, just 610 more days until Election Day.