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As we move inexorably closer to the date of the most important presidential election of the 21st century, small government, free market devotees find themselves caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Absent a governing record that inspires, what can Mitt Romney do to cement some support from the base beyond being the less unpalatable of the two main choices?
Here is one simple thing the Romney campaign can do: Associate Mitt Romney with Governor Walker’s success—and the successes of other governors—in making the case for a national agenda of conservative reform of a bloated and bankrupt welfare state.
Romney's record as Governor of Massachusetts can't be avoided but it can be run away from thanks to President Obama making "evolving" on issues the thing to do. It's also in the past.
Presently, we have a crop of Republican governors being the adults in the room and making difficult but necessary choices to halt bureaucratic bloat and the havoc it inevitably wreaks.
Even Chris Christie, by far the least conservative of the group, has gone to the right to resurrect his flagging state. He began his tenure by confronting the teachers unions, which are also at the center of California's financial woes but remain unchecked there. More recently, Christie vetoed legislation key to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Mitch Daniels, the man who featured so prominently in the brokered convention dreams of many conservatives just a few months ago, has presided over an extraordinary transformation in Indiana. He had lofty education reform goals that he ushered into reality and recently helped turn Indiana into a right-to-work state.
If Scott Walker survives (and it appears he will) the massively expensive Big Labor effort to recall him the message from Wisconsin will be almost too overwhelming to ignore in the presidential conversation. His focus on government efficiency and cutting spending have already saved Wisconsin taxpayers $1 billion.
Walker's approach is antithetical to the "Tax the Super Rich" mantra of the Democrats. And, as has been proven much to the chagrin of those who oppose any rational approach to reducing the size of government, it works. Should Walker prevail, the Romney camp will have been given a messaging gift that could shore up those in the conservative base who may be thinking of sitting out this election.
More from Kristol:
Campaigns tend to focus on making the case for their uniquely qualified candidate. But the case for Romney as president is immeasurably strengthened if it’s not just about Mitt Romney. His case is reinforced by the successes of governors like Mitch Daniels and Bobby Jindal and Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell and Scott Walker and Susana Martinez. These governors have had real successes dealing with the fiscal and financial challenges their states have faced. And this during the same period in which President Obama (and to some degree President Bush before him) failed to grapple with comparable problems at the national level—and at the same time that Democratic governors and legislators in states like Illinois and California have conspicuously failed.
By focusing on the very real present by and consistently highlighting the successes of Republican governors in the most difficult of times, Romney can give himself a buffer from a mixed record that probably won't be enough to carry him to victory on its own.
Fiscal conservatives have been straining to see a silver lining around the cloud that seemed to double in size as each candidate they preferred exited the race (or decided not to enter).
The cloud may still dominate the horizon for them but the lining is there. All Gov. Romney has to do is let them see it.