March 8, 2015


The Remodeled Midwestern Republican (Sam Tanenhaus, 3/08/15, Bloomberg View)

The first thing to note is that Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio are all either "purple" or "blue," with a mix of urban as well as suburban and rural populations. Barack Obama captured all of them in two elections, and even Indiana went for him in 2008.

No Republican can effectively serve these diverse electorates by simply declaring himself "against" government or by rousing the conservative base. And appeals to identity politics or cultural warfare will only go so far. The emphasis falls instead on claiming to promote what one of the greatest of Midwestern Republicans, Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, called "efficient, honest and sound government." 

You can hear echoes of this approach from Walker, who has repeatedly drawn a bright line between beltway and statehouse Republicans. In November 2013, for instance, a month after the federal government shutdown that marked a low point of Republican politics in the Obama years, he wrote:

In Washington the fight is over "fiscal cliffs," "debt limits," "sequesters" and "shutdowns." In the states, Republicans focus on improving education, caring for the poor, reforming government, lowering taxes, fixing entitlements, reducing dependency, improving health care, and creating jobs and opportunity for the unemployed.

Yes, Texas Governor George W. Bush said similar things when he was running for president in 2000. But Walker's pitch is keyed to our particular moment -- for instance, in his description of a curious hybrid: "Obama-Walker" supporters, that is, the roughly 10 percent in Wisconsin who had voted for both men. Potentially, there are more such voters, Walker argued, but to attract them Republicans must take up the business of governing.

More recently, Walker has said that while his policies in Wisconsin place him at the "polar" end of the spectrum from his state's celebrated lineage of progressives, "I actually think I'm a progressive too. I think I fit in that tradition." This too echoes Taft, whose friends and allies in the Senate included Robert La Follette Jr., a member of the first family of Wisconsin politics.

Given that W and Jeb are two of the most successful governors in recent history, it's hardly surprising to see other governors follow their lead. 

Posted by at March 8, 2015 11:26 AM

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