Less than twelve hours after he won the election to recall him from office, Scott Walker made a direct and forceful pitch to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney: go big, and go bold.
“In order for him to be competitive, not only in Wisconsin but in states like Wisconsin, he’s going to have to come out and show an aggressive plan to take on what we know are even bigger problems in our federal government. If he can do that, I think he can be competitive in Wisconsin,” Walker told Jonathan Karl of ABC News.
Romney needs “to get out and make a very compelling case about how he’s willing to take on the tough challenges,” Walker said this morning in an interview on Fox & Friends. “You know, Paul Ryan and I grew up just down the road from each other. We love people like Paul Ryan in Wisconsin because he has the courage to tackle these big issues at the national level. If Governor Romney wants to be competitive in Wisconsin, and I think he can, he needs to tackle those same issues.”
In a series of television and radio interviews the day after his victory in the recall election, Walker repeatedly returned to that point. His exhortations highlight an interesting divide among Republican strategists and elected officials about the best way for Romney to run against Barack Obama.
The issue is clear: Is the 2012 presidential election about stewardship or leadership? Should it be a referendum or a choice?
Most GOP strategists, including several of those advising Romney, believe that Republicans should take a minimalist approach to the November contest. Focus on jobs, emphasize competence, and pitch Mitt Romney as the candidate better equipped to manage the U.S. economy and usher in a real recovery. The fewer specifics, the better. The goal is to make the election a simple referendum on Obama, with a heavy emphasis on his stewardship of the economy. It’s a risk-averse approach that would seem to fit well with Romney’s inclination toward caution.
This approach got a boost last week with the dreadful jobs numbers on Friday. Romney “needs to be credible, serious and mistake-free. A pure November referendum on Obama is Romney’s best chance for victory,” wrote strategist Ed Rogers after the dismal unemployment report.
Other Republicans believe that Romney should offer a clear contrast to Obama. They, too, want the election to be about the economy, but in the broader context of America’s long-term fiscal health. So Romney, they think, should talk about unemployment and high taxes and regulations, but he should also provide details about his plans to address debt, deficits, and, yes, entitlement reform.
Walker is squarely in the second camp. It’s not enough to talk about these issues in generalities, he says. “I think the country is hungry – when you look at the response to Paul Ryan’s budget plan, I think the country is hungry for leaders who are going to stand up and tell it like it is – who tell people what they’re going to do and mean it,” Walker told ABC’s Karl in response to a question about whether Romney will need to offer specifics on his reform plans. “I think if the governor can really lay it out crystal clear to voters here in Wisconsin and across the country, I think he’ll be competitive.”
Walker’s argument sets up an interesting conflict. One of the only accurate things Tom Barrett said about Walker during the recall debates is that Walker is a “right-wing rock star.” Many of the conservatives who provided the energy that led to historic victories in 2010 see Walker as their leader. As ABC’s Rick Klein asked Wednesday morning: “Will any Republican – up to an including Mitt Romney – get a bigger ovation at the Republican National Convention than Scott Walker?” Maybe Marco Rubio – he’s a star in his own right and the convention is in his state. But with his win Tuesday, Walker solidified his place as one of the chief spokesman for the conservative reform wing of the Republican party.
Cameron Sutton hosted Walker in Des Moines last October for a Heritage Foundation speech. Sutton, who was one of the small group of influential Iowa Republicans tried to recruit to convince Chris Christie to run for president, says Walker was a huge draw back then -- nine months before his recall victory. "He was the speaker here in Des Moines last October for a Heritage Foundation fundraiser. Not only did he blow the crowd away with his comments, but he helped make the event the largest fundraiser Heritage has had outside of Washington."
And after his win Tuesday?
"I can assure you that his stock as a fundraiser and speaker will skyrocket," says Sutton. "What we like the most about him is that when he took office he was unwilling to compromise with the liberals/trade unions and stuck with his conservative roots. This was key to his victory in 2010 and again in the recall."
Although some of Romney’s top advisers would probably prefer that Walker keep his strategic advice to himself, Walker is providing this counsel to help the Republican nominee, not to complicate his efforts. Walker is clearly fond of Romney. “He called me several times in the thick of it to tell me to stand by my principles,” he recalled Wednesday, “and not everybody took the time to do that.”
Walker said repeatedly Wednesday that he’s not interested in being considered as Romney’s running mate. But he pushed for another young, Wisconsin conservative reformer. "If Governor Romney wants to put somebody great on the ticket from Wisconsin I'll tell him repeatedly he should pick my friend Paul Ryan,” Walker to “Don & Roma” on Chicago’s WLS radio. “Paul understands what needs to be done probably better than anybody in Washington. He's got that great Midwestern spirit. I didn't go through a campaign this long to go tackle some other issue. I'm focused on making sure Wisconsin is moving forward but I certainly would encourage him to look at someone like Paul because he'd be spectacular.”
We don’t know if Romney will heed Walker’s advice to go bold or take his recommendation on a running mate. But even as some of his most-trusted advisers are telling him to be cautious and to avoid the inevitable attacks that come with embracing the bold reform agendas championed by Ryan and Walker, Romney isn’t exactly running away. He dispatched Ryan to North Carolina yesterday to conduct a town hall with business leaders on his behalf.
“We have a choice,” Ryan told reporters, mostly ignoring jeers from a protester holding a sign that read “Say No to Romney-Ryan Budget.”
“Do we want to go on the current path we are on, that President Obama has put us on – a nation of debt, a nation of doubt and a nation of decline with a terrible jobs result? Or are we going to elect a new president who will tackle these fiscal problems, who will get the economy turned around, who will get job creation, and who will prevent a debt crisis so our kids will have a debt-free nation and our seniors can rely on the promises that have been promised to them.”
If Wisconsin is to be competitive this fall—and it should be—it’ll be hard to ignore advice from two of the most popular conservatives in the state, and in the country.