Walker is playing a supporting role to his friend and fellow Wisconsinite and to Romney. But the rousing reception he got from the delegates when he walked on stage Tuesday night points to the emotional bond he has forged with the party’s conservative base after standing his ground and winning a recall election in June.
In conversation, Walker is soft-spoken, in contrast to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his in-your-face rhetoric. But Walker is not faint of heart. He made his reputation in Wisconsin pursuing a fiscal reform agenda of tax and spending cuts that included ending most collective-bargaining rights for public employees.
He survived angry protests that filled the state capitol in Madison in the months after he was sworn into office, and he prevailed, rather comfortably, in the recall election that resulted from the turmoil.
He says he has tried to lower temperatures since then, at least a bit. But do not look to Walker to sound a “change the tone” message. He prefers a leadership style built on taking strong stands and bold action rather than making compromises for the sake of bipartisanship.
“Bipartisanship’s good if it’s done for the right reasons,” he told reporters from The Washington Post and Bloomberg News at a breakfast Wednesday morning. “But bipartisanship by its nature is not necessarily a good thing if it’s done for the wrong reason.”
Walker embodies a view of governing that has increasingly taken hold in the Republican Party, a view that says it’s better to tell voters what you want to do and then stick to those principles, even if the public isn’t initially with you.
“As messed up as Washington is,” he said, “you’ve got to have leadership that just comes in and says, ‘Here’s what we got to do,’ make the case to do it, and probably, like Reagan did, use the bully pulpit and make it convincingly around the country.”
This is much the same view that Christie described in his keynote address Tuesday night. It’s not that these Republican governors aren’t looking for Democratic votes; in some cases, as in New Jersey, they can’t operate without Democratic votes. It’s that they are determined to use the power of their office to bend public opinion to force their opponents to follow their lead.
“My view is, give people a shot,” Walker said Wednesday morning. “Right after the November 2, 2010, election, I came in and spoke to all the legislative Republicans, those in office, those newly elected, and said, ‘It’s put-up-or-shut-up time.’ I said, ‘If . . . we don’t do the things we campaigned on, if we don’t make a fundamental change from where we’ve been the last few years, when Democrats controlled everything, if we’re just slightly less bad than they are, two years from now the voters have every right to kick us out.’ ”