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Reading Romney

9:12 AM, Jun 6, 2012 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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Mitt Romney's statement last night was more interesting than the normal formulaic election night press releases of the genre. Here it is:

Mitt Romney

“I congratulate Scott Walker on his victory in Wisconsin. Governor Walker has demonstrated over the past year what sound fiscal policies can do to turn an economy around, and I believe that in November voters across the country will demonstrate that they want the same in Washington, D.C. Tonight’s results will echo beyond the borders of Wisconsin. Governor Walker has shown that citizens and taxpayers can fight back – and prevail – against the runaway government costs imposed by labor bosses. Tonight voters said ‘no’ to the tired, liberal ideas of yesterday, and ‘yes’ to fiscal responsibility and a new direction. I look forward to working with Governor Walker to help build a better, brighter future for all Americans.” 

Romney goes out of his way to associate his agenda with Walker's (the second sentence), and to identify himself personally with Walker (the last sentence). And he poses the choice at the presidential level as comparable with or analogous to the choice in Wisconsin: "the tired, liberal ideas of yesterday" vs. "fiscal responsibility and a new direction."

The Romney camp has been uncertain as to whether to associate its man with, or distance him from, the sometimes controversial and divisive, Tea Party-infused, anti-establishment Republicanism of 2010. Walker's victory—and his ability to increase his margin from 2010—might well have tipped the balance in the Romney camp toward running at the head of a phalanx of bold conservative reformers, who have after all been pretty successful at governing, rather than running away from them. Or, to put it differently: The Romney camp may conclude that Scott Walker, his message and his spirit, are not part of the problem but rather part of the solution to Romney's electoral task (especially with working-class voters, including private-sector union members). After all, if Romney could hold 94 percent of Walker's vote from last night in November, he'd win Wisconsin, and the presidency.

So I'd expect to see more of the spirit of Scott Walker—and of Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Susana Martinez, Bob McDonnell, Mitch Daniels, or, if you want to go back a bit, Tim Pawlenty and Jeb Bush—in Romney's message over the next weeks. I'd expect to see Romney calling attention to successful Republican governance at the state level. I'd expect him to show up more with such figures in swing states.

And I'd expect one of them to be on the ticket. I could still make a case for a reformist senator (Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio, Kelly Ayotte, or perhaps Rob Portman) or congressman (Paul Ryan). But given that Team Romney would like to run against Washington, I think they'll be inclined to pick a governor. And given Romney's insistence on his VP being ready to be president, they'd presumably prefer a governor who's got some national experience or at least two terms as governor plus national exposure. So I suspect we may be heading toward a Romney-Daniels ticket...or, possibly, Romney-Bush or Romney-Pawlenty. Or could Romney just decide not to over-think things and pick the governor who most clearly embodies Scott Walker's combination of policy and political success—Scott Walker?

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