We're going to hear a lot in the next few days about how little Gov. Scott Walker's victory in the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election means going forward. Don't believe it. Walker's victory was huge.
Not only did Walker become the first governor in history to survive a recall, he showed politicians all over America they could make tough choices to promote job creation and fiscal responsibility without raising taxes, and survive.
In the state where public-sector unions began, he beat them at their own game. His operation was better funded, more organized, more thorough, and—almost inconceivably—far more enthusiastic. These are the tools unions use to win elections. But on Tuesday night, they built a victory for Scott Walker. [Photo Gallery: Wisconsin Voters Head to the Polls]
This was an election ripe for the picking by union forces. Union members turned out—they made up a full third of the electorate on Tuesday, up from 26 percent in 2010. They had every reason to be fired up—the election served as a referendum on the most comprehensive attack on public-sector union power in American political history. And they had tremendous historical advantages—the state has a long tradition of progressive politics and hadn't voted Republican for president since 1984.
Grover Norquist is right: Mitt Romney should execute "a friendly takeover" of Walker's entire campaign apparatus. He should keep the offices open and the staffers on the payroll. He should engage with the same conservative grassroots organizing groups who helped Governor Walker.
He should maintain Governor Walker's focus on grassroots, street-by-street level organizing, as opposed to broad TV ads. He should embrace the computer applications they used to coordinate get-out-the-vote efforts, and make flipping Wisconsin a priority going forward. Even President Obama's campaign acknowledges this is now possible. Romney even should consider Walker for his vice presidential short list.
Most importantly, Romney should embrace the reaction of Republican Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell—that Tuesday's results "rewarded political courage." Governor Walker won independents by a significant margin but lost moderates. He demonstrated, yet again, the action right now is not in the center of the political spectrum. It favors bold change, a bold commitment to principles, and a bold willingness to throw off old habits, tactics, and practices. Americans haven't yet settled on what does work, but they are confident what's going on now does not.
It is true President Obama beat former Governor Romney, 51-44, in exit polls taken Tuesday and that voters still seemed to favor President Obama on the economy. And it's true conservative glee over the millions of dollars unions squandered on this race will be short-lived. After all, Walker spent nearly eight times as much as Barrett.
But it's also true something extremely significant happened in the Badger State on Tuesday. Unapologetic conservative governance won. Boldness won. New organizational techniques won. These are lessons not only for Mitt Romney, but also for Republicans in Washington and throughout America as the big election—the only one deemed more important than Tuesday—moves closer.