On Friday, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s Twitter account put out a message that he was officially in the race. Walker then denied that this was an accurate tweet (or that it was his fault), took it down and held firm of his intentions to declare today. So today came, he declared he’s running, and now we can officially write about the candidate that no one is talking about (but should be). Donald Trump’s ascension in the presidential race has taken up quite a bit of the political conversation today, but we all know his star will eventually fade. Trump will eventually go the way of Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty.
Getting back to Walker (whom I believe does actually have a chance at winning), what’s unclear at the moment is how exactly he is going to attempt to bridge the divide between Establishment/moderate Republicans and the Tea Party/anti-Establishment/very conservative wing of the party. He holds views that both camps could support. The moderate side of the party likes his controversial record of severely curtailing collective bargaining for public sector unions (sans police and firefighters unions) in Wisconsin, and they also like his recent record of implementing right-to-work laws in the state (as Merideth Shiner explains on Yahoo Politics, these laws “…[give] all workers in unionized industries the choice of whether or not to join or contribute to unions, which had been able to require workers to pay fees in return for benefiting from union’s collective bargaining power on wages, benefits and hours”). The Very Conservative wing of the party likes his support for rolling back gun control laws, his implementation of a 20-week abortion ban and defunding Planned Parenthood, his vow to call for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that will allow states to ban same-sex marriage, and his refusal to implement the Medicaid expansion as part of the ACA (Obamacare). However, there are still questions surrounding his campaign:
–Where does he stand on immigration? This is where the most heated GOP debate is right now. Former Florida Governor and current front-runner Jeb Bush has advocated for what seems to be a path to legalization (but not citizenship), while all other candidates are following Donald Trump’s lead of highlighting the bad apples in the undocumented immigrant community. Walker himself has flip-flopped on this issue, and it is unclear whether he will continue to stay committed to an anti-“amnesty” position or if he will pivot when given more attention from the general voting public.
–Lack of college degree: This should not be an issue, as we have already had presidents who lacked a college degree (Harry Truman). However, as he is currently making cuts the the University of Wisconsin state-wide school system (roughly $300 million for 13 four-year colleges), this will probably come up as a potential deficiency of his. According to this article from the NY Times, GOP primary voters are describing him as “authentic” and “approachable” but not “smart” or “sophisticated”. I have to say that while I can see where GOP primary voters came up with this assessment, I do think Walker is an intelligent guy who is a politically capable figure.
–Can he run a competent campaign? In August of 2011, it was all but assured that Rick Perry was going to swoop in and save the day by galvanizing a crowd of unenthusiastic GOP primary voters. We all know how that went. And it wasn’t solely because of his disastrous debate and media performances. Perry quickly realized that running a gubernatorial campaign in Texas is not the equivalent of running a nationwide campaign for president. To borrow a phrase of his, both Perry and his campaign staff “stepped in it” quite a bit during his few months of running for president. Is Walker doomed to suffer the same fate that Perry did? After all, Walker only just declared today and has already had quite a few slip-ups (including the above-mentioned situation on Friday where he or someone on his campaign staff boneheadedly declared on Twitter that he was running). Also, will he be able to make a splash during the debates? Is his unncharismatic personality going to make him invisible to GOP primary voters? He is certainly not gaffe-prone, but then again neither was Perry until he stepped into the national spotlight.
My take: if any candidate is going to give Jeb Bush trouble, it is either going to be Walker or Florida Senator Marco Rubio. As of the latest poll from Monmouth University this morning, it is “…Jeb Bush nominally leading the GOP presidential pack nationally with 15%, followed by Donald Trump at 13%, and Ted Cruz at 9%. The next group of candidates includes Scott Walker at 7%, Mike Huckabee at 7%, Marco Rubio at 6%, Ben Carson at 6%, and Rand Paul at 6%” (H/T Taegan Goddard). Now while this is underwhelming news for Walker, he is already well ahead in Iowa, where the first GOP primary/caucus will take place. Not to mention that his strong suits as a politician will eventually show themselves. After all, there is something to be said for a man who was elected Governor twice (technically three times due to the 2012 recall election) in a state that has not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1984. Despite the aforementioned lack of college degree, Walker comes off as articulate and well-schooled in the art of politics. Furthermore, Walker’s temperate demeanor can be just as captivating as Donald Trump or Chris Christie’s bellicose personalities’. You have to also consider how the State of Wisconsin is: a 4.6% unemployment rate (the National average is 5.4%), a decent record of economic growth under Walker’s tenure, and a state economy that has not seen its credit downgraded during the Great Recession.
However, Walker is not new to politics. In an article I will also link to below, Alec MacGillis goes to the very start of Walker’s political career as running for student government president at Marquette University (where Walker attended but did not graduate from). MacGillis also covers Walker’s history growing up in Iowa and Wisconsin as the son of an Evangelical priest and how spent his childhood worshiping Ronald Reagan (something Walker continues today). As a (mostly) liberal Democrat, walker is definitely the guy who scares me the most in the GOP primary field (yes, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson are way scarier than Walker, but neither Cruz nor Carson have any chance of winning).
Further reading – I’ll recommend two pieces on Walker: the first, admittedly, is a bit of a hit piece. Nonetheless, Alec MacGillis of the New Republic did an excellent job portraying the fascinating divide between the Madison and Milwaukee suburbs (Walker’s base) and the cities themselves (who consider themselves anathema to Walker’s politics), as well as the effect of conservative talk radio in the 2010 and 2014 gubernatorial races. The second piece, written at Bloomberg by infamous political gossip kings Jon Heilemann and Mark Halperin, is a brief rundown of Walker’s attributes in a “scouting report”.