Mounting the stage last night at his victory rally in a large pavilion at Wisconsin's State Fair Park, Gov. Scott Walker delivered a speech unlike any other he's given in a moment of victory. References to Wisconsin were replaced by references to America, comments about state political foes were replaced by references to special interests in Washington, D.C. and aside from a couple of mentions of Wisconsin unity, much was said about the American dream and the national future.
If there was any doubt that Walker is looking for national prime time, it was wiped away last night.
His resume is impressive for a governor just wrapping up his first term.
Walker's first big move back as governor was to challenge public sector unions. He not only got the national spotlight, but he also won against Big Labor. A champion of lower taxes, Walker has used his budgets and other legislation to reduce property and income taxes. He froze tuition rates for the University of Wisconsin system, signed tort reform into law, and approved pro-life legislation that led to the closure of several Planned Parenthood clinics.
Among Republican governors his approach to ObamaCare has been notable. He rejected a state-based ObamaCare exchange, which would have cost Wisconsin taxpayers more money and required the state to involve itself even more in the already burdensome mandates of an unpopular healthcare reform law. While other governors from his party rushed to accept federal Medicaid expansion funds from ObamaCare, Walker refused to take the money. Instead, he introduced a plan of his own that moved some low- income individuals on Medicaid to a subsidized ObamaCare plan. Those moved from Medicaid (BadgerCare, as it is known in Wisconsin) to ObamaCare opened up spots in the program for other low-income individuals who had been on a waiting list. The move played ObamaCare against itself without adding any liability to state taxpayers.
Looking at Wisconsin today it is easy to forget that just a few years ago it was hardly a Republican state. The shift started in 2010, when Walker and Republicans swept to power in Madison and Republicans picked up a U.S. Senate seat and gained two U.S. House seats. Democrats consoled themselves in 2012 when Wisconsin again cast its electoral votes for the Democratic candidate for president and elected a Democratic U.S. senator. But last night, Republicans expanded the number of seats they hold in the state legislature and Walker won by a roughly 5-point margin (52% to 47%).
Walker's ability to win in a once blue - now purple - state and turn it into a red state in midterm election years is remarkable. It is a skill that could put him in much demand in 2016.
The GOP has sought after the right balance of inspiring and moderate in its attempts to carry the White House in 2008 and 2012. It failed miserably both times.
Walker's message is inspiring and conservative. He's not shied away from talking about lower taxes, limited government, or his opposition to misguided federal programs. Would-be 2016 contenders may want to take note of what is happening in Wisconsin.