Listen closely at around 1:30 and then again at 3:15. They’ve been talking tough about staying away for weeks or however long it takes until Walker crumbles, but this guy sounds awfully close to a “well, we’ve made our point” capitulation. Notwithstanding this morning’s Journal report of one Republican senator looking to add a sunset provision to the collective bargaining provisions, the GOP caucus there has hung admirably tough. Walker first and foremost, natch.

He held another presser this afternoon but this one was uneventful — yet another plea for the Democrats to come home and a reminder that if they can’t get to work on a budget soon, some members of the public won’t be getting their checks. He took a swipe too at protesters who are filing in from out of state to meddle in Wisconsin’s business. (Among them a state representative from Maine.) Why so much interference from liberals in far-flung places? Simple: Because their first stand in Wisconsin might be their last stand nationwide.

Some strategists and labor officials watching the protest conflagration from the outside are beginning to fret that a large-scale defeat in Wisconsin will have a devastating ripple effect, weakening labor state by state throughout the rest of the country…

“Not every state’s going to roll back collective bargaining,” the official — who, like many, asked not to be named to avoid undermining the protests — added, but said it could open the gates for union losses on various fronts, like benefits…

“You’ve got to put your stake in the ground somewhere, and the governor there was so outrageous about ending collective bargaining,” Sunshine said. “For labor’s future, they have to pick a good fight, and this one has obviously become it.”

But this fight isn’t at the time or place of the unions’ choosing. Hostility to public-sector workers, including teachers, is at an all-time high amid a recession and a new national mania for curbing the tide of fiscal red ink. Walker appears to have a firm legislative majority on his side.

Elsewhere in the piece, labor leaders lament their lack of an effective PR strategy — there’s no liberal problem that can’t be solved with better “messaging”! — but that last bit in the blockquote about the timing is more salient. The GOP is playing on favorable political turf at the moment, and not just on this issue. I’m morbidly curious to see how the media war over a government shutdown shakes out given the rising awareness of just how dire America’s debt problem really is. It’s one thing for the GOP to pull the plug over spending in ’95, in the middle of a decade of prosperity, but now? With Democrats refusing to accept $60 billion in cuts to chip away at a deficit of $1.5 trillion? Even an eeyore like me is willing to have that fight.

As a parting thought, Nate Silver argues that this morning’s Rasmussen poll showing a national near-majority supportive of Walker in this standoff might be biased. There are bound to be more polls soon to confirm or debunk that theory, but in the meantime, note that the White House is suddenly trying to distance itself from any role in organizing the protests despite Twitter evidence from the DNC to the contrary. What I wouldn’t give to see their internal polling right now.