Opinion

Scott Walker and the art of winning

Lots of conservative lawmakers abide by their core principles. But most of them lose.

General Patton famously declared that "Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser." He was right. And as we look to the 2016 presidential race, I think Taegan Goddard put his finger on something very true with this tweet:

In American politics, winning often isn't enough. You have to win on your own terms, too.

Conservatives have very obviously had enough of politicians who cave. That hold-the-line, never-give-in attitude has burned at the heart of the Tea Party for years. Less noticed, but equally important, is the fact that we have plenty of conservative lawmakers whose reputations are built on their adherence to principle, their total commitment to never cave — and who inevitably lose. They may make excuses and point fingers to try and claim that losing is winning — but they are still losers.

It's pretty clear when someone tries and fails: They try to oust the speaker of the House, but he's still here! They try to defund ObamaCare, but somehow it doesn't end!

We have squishes who win and stalwarts who lose. What we really crave is a conservative winner who doesn't cave. And Scott Walker is very arguably that guy.

He won in 2010. He picked a fight with Big Labor and won. He survived a recall. And he won again in 2014 — by almost the same margin as he did in 2010. That's three wins in four years for a man who governed as a conservative reformer in a state that the Republican presidential nominee hasn't carried since 1984. As Taegan said, Walker is a winner who doesn't cave.

Other conservative "fighters" may try to frame fighting the good fight (and losing) as the highest virtue, but fighting and winning is vastly superior. And on that count, Scott Walker took on the unions — and won.

Winning covers a multitude of sins. As Dave Weigel noted recently, part of the reason the conservative base gave George W. Bush a pass, and doesn't seem to be giving Jeb one, is that early polling showed Bush defeating Al Gore (no such polling shows Jeb — or anyone — beating Hillary Clinton). After eight years of Barack Obama, Republicans are anxious to back a winner, and time and again, Walker has pulled rabbits out of his hat. At some point, we want to believe in magic.

I'm still skeptical Walker has the requisite rock star charisma to make it all the way to the top, but I do buy the notion that he's the one guy that every faction of the GOP could unite behind. And — if one is to buy the argument that the base is looking for someone who a) doesn't cave, and b) actually wins, then he's in a class all his own.

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