Politics & Policy

Walker’s Win

Scott Walker celebrates with supporters. (Darren Hauck/Getty)
Why it was the most important GOP victory in the country

The most important election in the country yesterday was the gubernatorial race in Wisconsin. In its historic implications, Scott Walker’s victory was on a par with the GOP’s winning control of the Senate, arguably as important as all the other gubernatorial and congressional elections put together. And the reasons have nothing to do with his presidential prospects. Walker has now proven that his reforms in Wisconsin are both a model for conservative reform and a winning electoral strategy. But those reforms still have a long way to go. The crucial question was whether Wisconsin’s voters were going to give him the chance to keep pushing.

Walker came to office inspired by the advice of Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana, who told him to think bold and strike fast. The spearhead of Walker’s reform agenda was Act 10, which broke the stranglehold of public-sector unions on Wisconsin’s deplorable finances. Act 10 essentially turned Wisconsin, one of the leading lights of the labor-union movement, into a right-to-work state. (Wisconsin is still technically a union state with respect to the National Labor Relations Act, but private-sector unions in Wisconsin have waned to the point of irrelevance, so the major union presence was in the public sector.)

The challenge Walker faced was that reforms take time to work, and – initially, at least — generate much more opposition than support. His approval ratings in Wisconsin plunged to 37 percent as the venomous reaction of entrenched special interests (in this case, public-sector unions) took its toll. Those special interests enjoyed enormous political support both in Wisconsin and across the country, and Walker had only four years to demonstrate that the benefits of conservative reform could outweigh that support among moderates and independents.

Progressives correctly identified the threat that Walker represents to them nationally. If the most sacred privileges of their special interests could be undone in the birthplace of progressivism, those perks wouldn’t be safe anywhere in the country. But if Walker had lost, it would have meant that sweeping conservative reforms of government would face uncertain prospects in virtually every state and at the national level.

Governor Mitch Daniels succeeded in reforming Indiana, but he was in many ways sui generis. Now, however, what Daniels did in Indiana has been replicated in Wisconsin. The birthplace of progressivism, the Midwestern heartland, is becoming the birthplace of a new conservatism — a conservatism not just of limited government but of good government; not just pro-business but pro-competition, a conservatism bent on defending the common man from the rapacious rule of special interests. It’s a conservatism that can be true to its principles and still appeal to moderates, independents, and even Democrats. Indeed, a large number of Wisconsin voters have voted twice for Obama and twice for Walker.

Walker was undoubtedly helped in this race by the neighboring example of Illinois, where Governor Pat Quinn has been busy demonstrating in Technicolor the flaws of progressive government. The Left explains Walker’s victory in terms of outside forces (read: Koch brothers) who influenced the election with their money. But no combination of cabals and conspiracies and evil corporations could have come close to helping Walker as much as the Democratic government of Illinois.

There’s an even more important reason that Walker’s victory matters. A century of progressivism has left Wisconsin in a very deep hole. When Walker got to office, Wisconsin was one of the worst states in the country in which to do business, with one of the highest regulatory and tax burdens. Some estimates now rate it as No. 14 for doing business, but don’t be deceived. Wisconsin’s state budget is almost twice as large per person as the state budget of Texas, and even after billions in tax cuts, Wisconsin’s working families and businesses remain subject to a heavy tax burden. Freed from the shackles of heavy government, Wisconsin’s superbly productive labor force could transform it into one of the country’s leading economies — a “Texas model” for purple states.

Walker has a long way to go in proving that conservative reforms can work in the long term. For the moment, Wisconsin’s conservatives, moderates, and independents have decided to give him another term. Here’s hoping he doesn’t rest on his laurels, and instead once again thinks bold and strikes fast, as he did four years ago.

— Mario Loyola, a contributing editor at National Review, is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Mario Loyola — Mr. Loyola, a former White House speechwriter and environmental adviser, is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Most Popular

National Security & Defense

Jared Kushner Was Right

Over the past several years, a new certainty was added to death and taxes: Jared Kushner would fail in his role as the administration’s Middle East point man. It caused considerable merriment among President Donald Trump’s critics (and even some of his well-wishers) when he put his son-in-law in charge of ... Read More
National Security & Defense

Jared Kushner Was Right

Over the past several years, a new certainty was added to death and taxes: Jared Kushner would fail in his role as the administration’s Middle East point man. It caused considerable merriment among President Donald Trump’s critics (and even some of his well-wishers) when he put his son-in-law in charge of ... Read More

The Secret Life of Joe Biden

In a classic episode of Seinfeld, Jerry is accused by his new girlfriend, a police officer, of being a fan of the tacky 1990s soap opera Melrose Place. When Jerry lies and denies it, she suggests putting him on a polygraph to find the truth. In an effort to beat the machine, Jerry seeks the advice of his ... Read More

The Secret Life of Joe Biden

In a classic episode of Seinfeld, Jerry is accused by his new girlfriend, a police officer, of being a fan of the tacky 1990s soap opera Melrose Place. When Jerry lies and denies it, she suggests putting him on a polygraph to find the truth. In an effort to beat the machine, Jerry seeks the advice of his ... Read More

The Consequences of Biden

If you have decided that another four years of Donald Trump would be intolerable, and the prospect of four more years of the dysfunctional Trump circus in the White House fills you with dread, fine. But approach the prospects of a Joe Biden presidency with clear eyes and no illusions. Electing Biden would move ... Read More

The Consequences of Biden

If you have decided that another four years of Donald Trump would be intolerable, and the prospect of four more years of the dysfunctional Trump circus in the White House fills you with dread, fine. But approach the prospects of a Joe Biden presidency with clear eyes and no illusions. Electing Biden would move ... Read More
Media

How American Journalism Died

In 2017, the liberal Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University found that 93 percent of CNN’s coverage of the Trump administration was negative. The center found similarly negative Trump coverage at other major news outlets. The election year 2020 has only accelerated ... Read More
Media

How American Journalism Died

In 2017, the liberal Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University found that 93 percent of CNN’s coverage of the Trump administration was negative. The center found similarly negative Trump coverage at other major news outlets. The election year 2020 has only accelerated ... Read More

The Last Days of Robin Williams

After Robin Williams hanged himself in 2014, the media speculated that financial troubles or depression related to drug or alcohol use might have been the cause. Without discussing those topics, Williams’s widow, Susan Schneider Williams, is eager to set the record straight and does so in Robin’s Wish, a ... Read More

The Last Days of Robin Williams

After Robin Williams hanged himself in 2014, the media speculated that financial troubles or depression related to drug or alcohol use might have been the cause. Without discussing those topics, Williams’s widow, Susan Schneider Williams, is eager to set the record straight and does so in Robin’s Wish, a ... Read More

In Praise of Trade School

About a decade ago, I participated in a discussion hosted by the chamber of commerce in a university town about state policies regarding higher education. I’ll never forget the first comment I got from one of the attendees. “The problem with your presentation,” she said, “is that it didn’t focus ... Read More

In Praise of Trade School

About a decade ago, I participated in a discussion hosted by the chamber of commerce in a university town about state policies regarding higher education. I’ll never forget the first comment I got from one of the attendees. “The problem with your presentation,” she said, “is that it didn’t focus ... Read More