A NEW LITMUS TEST FOR THE 2012 FIELD?…. This week, as the right rallied behind Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) union-busting efforts, conservatives hoped other GOP governors would follow his lead. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) went the other way — he announced his reservations about a pending anti-union bill, effectively killing it.

Soon after, conservative Matt Lewis joked, “It’s almost like Mitch Daniels is reading ‘How to Run for President’ and then doing the opposite at every turn.”

With that in mind, the Wall Street Journal‘s John Fund writes today about how he’d like to see Daniels operate more like Walker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R).

The Republican governor told reporters yesterday that he had no plans to use state troopers to compel attendance by the AWOL Democrats. “Even the smallest minority, and that’s what we’ve heard from in the last couple days, has every right to express the strength of its views and I salute those who did,” he said. His office later had to clarify that he was referring to union protestors rather than legislators shirking their duty.

Indiana’s right-to-work legislation, which would have made it the 23rd state to bar requiring private sector workers to join a union, died last night with the failure of the legislature to act. Mr. Daniels never opposed the bill but made it clear he thought it would distract from other parts of his legislative agenda. “There was a better time and place to have this very important and legitimate issue raised.”

But Mark Mix of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund says conservatives will remember that Mr. Daniels chose to be a non-combatant in a fight that was almost won.

Mitt Romney, meanwhile, is announcing his support for Walker’s efforts, and throwing cash at the Republican Party of Wisconsin as part of the anti-labor push. Tim Pawlenty, not to be outdone, launched a website devoted to celebrating Walker’s measures.

Under the circumstances, it’s probably fair to say we’re looking at a new litmus-test issue for the 2012 Republican presidential field — all credible candidates will be expected to oppose taxes, gays, abortion, climate science, health care reform, and public-sector unions.

To be sure, it’s not as if unions were popular in Republican circles before this new crusade, but the dispute in Wisconsin has moved the issue to the front-burner and given it a new sense of urgency in far-right circles. “Moderates” when it comes to labor will find themselves at a real disadvantage.

Indeed, I’d be surprised if, during the upcoming debates, folks like Romney and Pawlenty aren’t asked, “So, governor, why didn’t you try to take away workers collective-bargaining rights, too?”

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.