I just read Unintimidated by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (co-authored by former Bush-43 speechwriter Marc Thiessen). It was an enjoyable read, which I highly recommend. It provides a blueprint that should be followed by whoever the Republican presidential nominee turns out to be. Walker’s experience in Wisconsin also offers important lessons for whoever runs for Missouri Governor next year.
Walker is best known for taking on Wisconsin’s corrupt public employee unions, but that’s not the point of this post. Collective bargaining reform was right for Wisconsin because, as Walker points out, public employee union abuses were so over the top there and a direct cause of the financial crisis Walker inherited from his Democratic predecessor. Walker noted that his reforms probably wouldn’t have passed if the need hadn’t been so critical, because people are more willing to make tough choices only when there are no easy ones available that will work. More informed people than I need to ascertain whether Missouri is ripe for collective bargaining reform, but my gut feeling is that it is not. But Missouri, after eight years of Jay Nixon, has many problems that could benefit from Walker-style reforms. Republicans should nominate someone who is sufficiently principled, creative and savvy to identify Missouri’s worst problems and, more important, propose conservative solutions to fix them.
Walker’s lessons have more universal application that the just the substance of collective bargaining reform. Unintimidated explains these lessons (and others), and Walker’s experiences that led him to his conclusions, in much greater detail than my brief summary, and conservatives interested in learning from them should check out the book.
Missouri’s Republican gubernatorial nominee can especially benefit from the following six lessons from Walker’s success:
Be principled. If the policy is right but the public doesn’t like it, educate the public and persuade them that it is right. Care more about getting things done than getting reelected. Independent voters respect the courage to stand on principle. Walker observes, “If you back away from your principles, you not only lose your base, you also lose the one thing that attracted these independent voters to you in the first place.” If the policies are right, the public will see that eventually, and reelection will take care of itself.
Be positive. Run a campaign based on hope and optimism. Refute the opponent when you must, but make specific, positive proposals to make things better the centerpiece of the campaign. Walker contrasted how President Obama had won in 2008 with a positive campaign of hope and change, while Mitt Romney had lost in 2012 by dwelling on criticism of Obama instead of emphasizing how he would make things better.
Be decent. The Democrat playbook calls for demonizing the Republicans. Union protesters in Wisconsin compared Walker to Hitler and slave masters, vandalized the state capitol, venues where Walker spoke and the homes of Republican legislators, and terrorized their families. Walker refused to respond in kind, and stayed above the fray, even in the most trying circumstances. “In the end,” Walker noted, “the contrast between our conduct and their outrageous behavior helped turn public opinion in our favor.”
Be bold. Attack the identified problem with direct, not half-hearted, solutions that actually solve the problem. A big crisis is a chance to do big things. Timidity is the enemy.
Be fair. To persuade the voters, we need to move their hearts as well as their minds. Walker won the people when they thought his reforms were fair, and he nearly lost them when they thought they weren’t fair. Demonstrate how your proposals will make things better for ordinary people. Point out where unfairness results from the policies you are trying to change, and emphasize how savings brought about by Republican reforms will provide the resources to strengthen public services, improve education and lower taxes.
Be a leader. Leadership is a function of all of the above. Walker explains that independent, reform-minded voters want leadership in times of crisis. “They don’t care if it is Republican leadership or Democratic leadership. If you step forward and offer a reform agenda that is hopeful and optimistic, they will give you a shot. And if you have the courage to follow through and keep your promises, they will stick with you.” Demonstrate empathy by trumpeting the fairness of Republican reforms. Resist responding in kind to abusive Democrat attacks. A surprising number of people, upwards of 10% of all voters, cast their ballots for both Obama and Walker, in spite of their political differences.
If the lessons sound familiar, it’s because they were successfully employed by President Ronald Reagan. His leadership and bold policies ended the inflationary cycle born in Lyndon Johnson’s administration and nurtured and worsened by Nixon, Ford and especially Jimmy Carter, and Reagan’s much maligned massive tax cuts (“trickle down economics”) launched two decades of unparalleled prosperity.
Walker reminds us of how those lessons are still viable today. And of Reagan.