By John David Dyche
On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin! Grand old badger state!
We, thy loyal sons and daughters, Hail thee, good and great.
On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin! Champion of the right,
'Forward', our motto - God will give thee might!
So goes Wisconsin's state song. Beleaguered Republicans across America now look to the Badger State where two champions of the political right – Rep. Paul Ryan and Governor Scott Walker – are proving they have what it takes to move both party and country forward.
Since the government shutdown Gallup reported, "The Republican Party is now viewed favorably by 28% of Americans, down from 38% in September. This is the lowest favorable rating measured for either party since Gallup began asking this question in 1992."
The respected polling outfit added that the GOP "is clearly taking a bigger political hit from" the government shutdown, which indicates that "the Republican Party's current strategy in the fiscal debates may not be paying dividends." This is not surprising.
Yet some who live, move, and have their being within the self-reinforcing conservative media echo chamber claim success with the shutdown strategy because some polls show that President Obama and congressional Democrats are also unpopular. This hardly qualifies as victory!
Thank goodness the party has cheeseheads like Ryan and Walker, and not merely meatheads who got it into the current mess. The Wisconsin duo of happy warriors demonstrates how their party, which sometimes seems bent on self-destruction, can succeed on both policy and politics.
Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee, first showed political courage by proposing specific entitlement reforms in his "Roadmap for America's Future." Conventional Washington wisdom thought this political suicide, but Ryan not only survived; he prospered.
He further distinguished himself as Mitt Romney's running mate in the 2012 presidential election. Ryan has repeatedly worked across the aisle to tackle tough problems.
For example, he teamed with Oregon's Senator Ron Wyden, a liberal Democrat, to offer real bipartisan Medicare reform. Some Republicans are now attacking Ryan for supporting immigration reform that includes a path for illegals to eventually become citizens.
Ryan recently wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed calling for a sensible compromise to solve the shutdown and debt ceiling stalemates. He made no Obamacare demands, but instead proposed to "open the federal government," "pay our bills today," and "make sure we can pay our bills tomorrow" by negotiating "an agreement to make modest reforms to entitlement programs and the tax code."
Wisconsin elected Walker governor in 2010 after he served eight years as chief executive of the county containing Milwaukee. He immediately took on unions to enact bold fiscal reforms. His opponents forced a recall election, but Walker won it with more votes and by a higher percentage than when he was first elected.
Walker touted his record in a recent Washington Post op-ed. "Working with the state legislature, we took a $3.6?billion budget deficit and turned it into a budget surplus of more than half a billion dollars," he said. "And we built the largest rainy-day fund balance in state history."
"When I ran for governor," Walker noted, "the unemployment rate topped out at 9.2?percent and Wisconsin ranked 43rd on Chief Executive Magazine's list of best states for business." Now, "our unemployment rate has dropped to 6.7 percent and Wisconsin has moved up to 17th on the magazine's list."
There is a good chance that one or both of these impressive Wisconsinites will seek the presidency in 2016. If that happens, the GOP nominating electorate will have a clear choice.
Republicans can pick Wisconsin-style center-right pragmatism that actually seeks to solve problems and can conceivably win a national election. Or they can opt instead for the absolutist ideological purity of other likely candidates who disdain compromise just as Obama does on the left.
The Republican Party was born in a schoolhouse anti-slavery meeting in Ripon, Wisconsin in 1854. It would therefore be fitting if the GOP was saved (largely from itself) by the commonsense, problem-solving conservatism exemplified in two of Wisconsin's finest sons.
But such salvation is anything but certain. As happens with some regularity, another battle for the Republican soul is raging. The time is nigh when every party member must choose.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is email@example.com.