Conservative policymakers are often pushed by advisers and insiders to avoid or abandon conservative policy positions because, the advisers and insiders argue, those policies will come back to haunt them in election season. Conservative voters, on the other hand, are told by the political establishment to abandon conservative candidates based on the argument that, though they may like their policies, conservative candidates cannot win in a general election.
Last night, both of those arguments were proven wrong in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin’s unapologetically conservative Republican Governor Scott Walker was victorious in last night’s recall election. Despite the fact that Governor Walker was put into office in arguably a much better year for Republicans (2010) due to tea party enthusiasm, he actually managed to win more convincingly last night. With voter turnout significantly higher in 2012 than in 2010, Governor Walker’s share of the vote increased by 1 percentage point (from 52 percent in 2010 to 53 percent in 2012), his margin of victory increased by 2 percentage points (from five points in 2010 to seven points in 2012), and the total number of votes he won increased by more than 200,000 (from 1,128,159 votes in 2010 to 1,334,450 votes in 2012). Governor Walker’s victory rightly has political pundits analyzing why he won and what it means for the future.
To the question of why Governor Walker won, The Weekly Standard’s Stephen F. Hayes gives the following clear-headed answer: “Results matter. And that, more than anything else, explains why Scott Walker won.”
In 2010, then-candidate Walker ran with a conservative platform of fiscal responsibility. Governor Walker then started implementing that platform. He turned down $800 million in federal funds for transportation projects, because he correctly saw that the costs of taking the money outweighed the benefits for taxpayers. He recognized the lack of foresight in the insider/establishment position of almost always seeking more federal dollars. The consequences suffered by states that chose to go after the federal money, such as California, have vindicated his position.
Governor Walker then went to work with his budget reforms – which led to the recall effort – and turned a deficit larger than $3 billion into a surplus, without raising taxes. As a result, unemployment has decreased, property taxes have gone down for the first time in more than a decade, and job creation is up, with more than 23,000 jobs created in 2011.
Of course, none of this means that conservatives and would-be conservative policymakers can abandon thoughtfulness or political prudence and expect to win. Rather, it means that if conservatives support bold leaders who will pursue a conservative policy agenda in a thoughtful and prudent way designed to produce results, they will win.