By M.D. Kittle |Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – The Badger State is back, baby.
Let’s face it, Wisconsin never really left the national political spotlight.
Sure, it’s easier to bask in the glow of the campaign stage when you’re a vice presidential candidate.
Yes, there was a fleeting moment when it looked as if the Kenosha boy might face a plausible resistance movement in the Republican National Committee.
And there has certainly been no end of political gab about how conservative “rock star” Gov. Scott Walker and the harder-line tea party conservatives are on their way out of national prominence.
”First of all, Scott Walker continues to be a sort of rock star in conservative circles nationally,” said John McAdams, political science professor at Marquette University. “Paul Ryan is making the noise of someone who expects to be a voice in the Republican Party.”
And then there’s Kenosha native Priebus, who last week was re-elected chairman of the RNC, despite a rumored “whisper campaign” against him.
Priebus’ old pals at the Republican Party of Wisconsin, where the GOP bigwig used to serve as state party chairman, glowed with pride.
RPW chairman Brad Courtney noted Priebus yeoman’s work in cleaning up the financial mess and the organizational disarray of the RNC.
“Reince inherited a national party that was in turmoil,” Courtney said in a statement. “In a very short amount of time, he was able to put things back on track, bring the RNC out of debt, and instill confidence in leaders and activists across the country.
“His leadership is, without question, a major reason for the successes of the Party over the last two years, and his bold style of management will lead us to further success in the years to come.”
But there’s been a lot of criticism — from inside the RNC and out — following the re-election of President Obama, and the loss of Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The party now finds itself in a rebuilding mode, trying to figure out how to attract key voting populations, such as Hispanic voters, who overwhelmingly supported Obama.
Syndicated columnist David Brooks, in an editorial headlined “Who’s going to rebuild the GOP,” writes that the party has done a good job talking about rebuilding, but …
“In this reinvention process, Republicans seem to have spent no time talking to people who didn’t already vote for them,” Brooks asserts.
The key to that rebuilding effort, however, may be in who’s doing the talking.
Ryan, after a couple of months of “self-imposed silence,” is one of those key voices. The Republican House Budget Committee chairman delivered a widely followed speech recently to the National Review Institute, calling for a return to reason, and an emphasis on the cold, hard realities of fiscal discipline.
He has, again, been front and center in the meaty matters of debt reduction, proclaiming that he can eliminate the $1 trillion deficit in a decade, sans revenue increases. Budget experts say he can.
“As a purely mechanical exercise, Congress can cut enough spending — real cuts, not Washington-style cuts in the growth rate — to bring the budget into balance in a decade,” writes Bloomberg columnist Caroline Baum in a piece headlined, “Paul Ryan can do better than do-nothing Congress.”
For tea party conservatives, some of the Republican Party retooling must be disconcerting. There’s plenty of moderating talk going on, anyway.
Same can be said, arguably, for conservative stalwart Walker, the lion of public sector, collective-bargaining curbing Act 10, concealed carry, and regulatory reform. Some say the governor has shown softer spots of late, less than two years out from election, demurring on issues such as right-to-work and same-day voter registration, calling them distractions.
“There is a perception on the Republican side that Walker is invulnerable,” said Joe Heim, political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, noting the Teflon governor’s surviving last year’s bitter recall campaign. “I think he’s moving more toward the middle … I think the governor is more open to moderation.”
Perhaps. McAdams thinks it may be more of a case of been there, done that.
“He radically reduced union power and sharply improved Wisconsin’s budget status,” McAdams said. “That has been exhausted and maybe he’ll move on to other things.”
Plenty of pundits see Walker moving on to the national political stage. The governor has shown signs of taking his game to the next level — a presidential run in 2016.
And a sprinkle of moderation be damned, conservatives at large love Wisconsin’s governor.
“I think Walker’s striking success in his first year gives him a lot of political capital with conservatives,” McAdams said. “I think he’d have to turn into Colin Powell to make conservatives unhappy.”
While the Republican Party may be redefining itself nationally, that transition will be guided in large part from America’s Dairyland, McAdams predicts.
Contact Kittle at [email protected]