The magnitude of change on the state level is beginning to cause a striking “bifurcation” in state fiscal management, says Chris Edwards, who since 2008 has produced the Cato Institute’s report card on governors. While fiscal conservatives have moved to shore up their states for a generation, liberal-dominated states such as California, Illinois and Connecticut have adhered to the deadly cycle of more spending, greater taxes and bigger future liabilities. The contrast between the policies—and results—of conservative and liberal governors is so stark that it will help underline for voters what’s at stake in the presidential election.
And that gets us to the politics. Policy aside, Republican reform governors have served as potent local resistance movements to the Obama agenda. Conservative governors have spurned stimulus and ObamaCare dollars, defying federal intrusion. Governors such as Mrs. Haley have called out the administration’s union payoffs, like the National Labor Relations Board decision blocking Boeing’s new plant in South Carolina. It was the states that led the legal charge against ObamaCare—and passed initiatives rejecting pieces of the health law.
Most important, these governors’ leadership, and their ability to survive the left’s onslaughts, have inspired followers and emboldened the party to continue tackling the tough stuff. “We like to talk about political capital, and how to spend it wisely,” says Mr. Daniels of Indiana. “But it happens that—just like other capital—if it is invested wisely, it returns to you, and you can put into the next effort, and the next, and the next.”