Based upon his recent performance at the Iowa Freedom Summit, Scott Walker has been the talk of the Republican Party. Admittedly, there is plenty to like here as his speech in Des Moines demonstrated. This writer has been rather consistent in his support of Scott Walker, but I am fully cognizant of the fact that this is only the very beginning of the 2016 election cycle for President. There is still a long way to go and there are minefields along the way. Part of that process is looking at each candidate from within the party before the Democrats get a shot at the eventual winner. Walker, like all candidates, is not immune to criticism from fellow Republicans or conservatives and how he acts in response to those inevitable criticisms is what will set the eventual winner apart from the remainder of a strong field of potential candidates this time.
Some Leftist sites and even some mainstream media sites are making a claim that Walker is riding a wave of popularity based upon something that happened over 4 years ago- his standing up to the public worker unions, the mess that occurred in Madison with the protests, and surviving a recall. It is something to be proud of, but these sites then insinuate that this all there is to Scott Walker. Overlooked by the media is an incredible string of accomplishments in his first term: a balanced budget without tax increases, turning a $3 billion deficit into a surplus, a property tax cap, decreased state borrowing by 20%, a voter ID law, a concealed carry law, expanded school choice, etc. The results have been a decrease in the state unemployment rate, job growth twice the national rate, an actual decrease in property taxes, and jumping 17 spots from 41 to 24 as best states to do business.
It is true that Walker has had the benefit of a Republican legislature to help push through his agenda. It was what prompted the immature Democratic reaction in 2011 in the first place when they ran for the friendly confines of Illinois to hide rather than cast a vote. In the wake of his recall election, Walker also emerged politically stronger and his reelection in 2014 simply put an exclamation point on his career. And he helped increase the GOP majorities in the state legislature.
The Left is left with quibbling over “campaign promises not kept” and, failing that, dirty tricks. In the first category, they note that Walker promised to create 250,000 jobs in his first term. Walker would hardly be the first candidate to fail to keep a promise of this nature. And job creation is something a Governor can take credit for when things go well and can equally disavow when things go south. Regardless, over 101,000 jobs were added in Wisconsin in his first term and the state’s unemployment rate has dropped to 5.8%. And it should be noted that if one takes the two largest cities out of the equation (Milwaukee and Madison), Wisconsin’s economy looks even stronger. Incidentally, both cities have very liberal Democratic mayors. Its kind of funny, but the Left claims that Walker’s actions early in his tenure spooked businesses from setting up in Wisconsin. Yet, those were unions, the OWS types, and misinformed college students occupying the state capitol building and protesting in the streets. If anyone spooked anyone in Wisconsin, it was the actions of the Left. After that episode, there was some trepidation among independents in the state who gave him a 25% approval rating. Obviously, things have changed dramatically.
Now they are playing up the Republican legislature’s attempt to establish Wisconsin as a right-to-work state. Walker has privately been asking them to hold off using the budget as an excuse to delay action. Whether an emboldened Republican legislature complies is great political intrigue in Wisconsin, but not exactly dismissive of a Walker presidential candidacy. This could potentially be a political hot potato, especially if the Democrats follow through on protests and a prolonged fight which is why Walker is focusing on tax cuts over RTW status to lure businesses. The Democrats are itching for a fight to tarnish Walker’s resume and this proposal or the proposed ban on abortions after 20 weeks plus reform of so-called “John Doe investigations” are other areas where Democrats hope to gain a foothold against Walker. Any of these measures would be great political intrigue in Wisconsin, but since Walker has emerged as a strong candidate in 2016, that interest has spilled beyond their borders.
Someone once described the GOP as four factions in one party: movement conservatives, the donor class, libertarians, and the center/right. Walker epitomizes the movement conservatives, Bush or Romney the donor class and [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ] the libertarians. This latter group is gradually shrinking in the GOP in terms of influence. Thus, the battle will be to win over those center/right people. All those mentioned in this category (like Christie) have slightly diminished choices this time out. That is what potentially scares the Democratic Party and why they are gearing up the smear campaign against Walker- he has the ability to bridge that gap between the two main factions of the GOP which as a voting bloc would beat the donor class. Remember: it is people who cast votes, not dollar bills.
Which explains why Walker is focused on Iowa and why he had to perform well there recently. The knock on Walker is his lack of charisma. But, he overcame that persona in Des Moines. If he could have a good showing in Iowa and New Hampshire (not necessarily win), he can break through to other states like South Carolina and delegate-rich Texas who both have a large movement conservative constituency. After that, it would be on to his home turf- the Midwest. Just gaining traction and momentum out of the early primary/caucus states, the nomination could be his.
Regarding that lack of charisma, obviously it is an important component of the overall package. But, Walker has a compelling story that can be parlayed into charisma. He hails from the Midwest whose politicians tend to be pragmatically conservative. Although he may not be the most flashy speaker all the time, neither is he prone to crazy comments that create great opposition sound bites.
For his part, he recently formed an organization- Our American Revival- that can get his message out on a national basis. It was set up as a 527 corporation which must reveal its donors in July. As a 527, it cannot transfer its balance to an eventual Walker presidential campaign, nor can it write checks to other candidates who share his views (it is not a PAC per se). What it can do is test the fundraising waters not through endorsement of a particular candidate, but through an endorsement of ideas. It will also serve as a breeding ground for eventual campaign staffers. It is a shrewd move.
He has also brought in RNC fundraiser Rick Wiley as a political adviser and is awaiting arrival of long time strategist Andrew Hitt to form some semblance of a campaign team. Already, there is behind-the-scenes efforts to ramp up an Iowa organization. He is also actively searching out a finance and communications director, although it is hard to come by any names. He recently met with an important South Carolina political operative within the state GOP who also recently hosted Chris Christie. Its obvious that he wants to complete the budget process in Madison and likely will not officially announce until June when that process plays out. The sooner there is agreement on a budget, the sooner he will officially announce.
Until then, Walker gets some deference given the fact he does apparently appear to be the real deal. What needs to be done is an airing of any potential dirty laundry to get it out before Democrats jump on it and make more of it than is due. Look at the political damage done by that Mitt Romney video in 2012. The idea is not to rip Walker down internally, but to vet him fully and properly and let the chips fall where they may. The GOP can be confident in this task realizing that the 2016 field of potential candidates is probably the strongest in many cycles.