I’ve been tardy because I’ve been lazy,
1. Peter Lawler is right that the public perception of the recall procedure as being inappropriate for normal political disputes helped Walker win.
2. But Walker’s policies were also popular. The least popular parts of Walker’s reforms were the collective bargaining restrictions and he fought those issues down to a tie. The public was unambiguously on Walker’s side on everything else. If Walker had been seen as advancing bad policies that were making things worse, he probably would have lost.
3. Walker had a really good story to tell about how his policies had avoided tax increases (and allowed for some tax cuts), balanced the budget, and protected core government services by preventing mass layoffs of municipal employees. Walker could plausibly argue that he was the candidate of lower spending, lower taxes (relatively), and better government services. The message of smaller (compared to what the Democrats want) but more effective government is a big part of any winning formula for the center-right. I think that is missing from Mitt Romney’s message.
4. One lesson of Wisconsin is that spending cut-centered fiscal consolidation is sometimes unpopular in the short-run (think Mitch Daniels in 2005 or Walker in 2011), but, as the benefits of the policies take effect and the doomsday prophesies of the critics fail to come true, the fiscal consolidation tends to become more popular. The key is speed (getting the bundle of reforms through fast), and time (letting the reforms take effect and making case for how they are working.) Luck matters too.