The Beltway is abuzz over Scott Walker.
The Wisconsin governor is the talk of Washington Republicans following his much-heralded speech in Iowa last weekend during the state’s first 2016 candidate cattle call.
Walker’s strong showing in the Hawkeye State is reverberating back in D.C., where donors, kingmakers and lawmakers in both houses of Congress are talking about him as a top-tier candidate in the crowded GOP field…
“He’s one of the few political leaders who has the respect to unite the party, who has trust and respect on the right for his many previous accomplishments in Wisconsin, and yet he doesn’t offend in any way the moderates and comes across to them as a sensible pragmatic person,” Malek continued. “He can bring it all together and he’ll be a really credible candidate.”
“Wow he’s good,” said Jane Hodoly, as Walker spoke. Later, in an interview, the Tea Party member from Ottumwa, Iowa said, “We need a warrior in the presidential office.” Walker, who retold the story of his battle with the unions (along with the death threats he faced) and what it took to win three elections in four years (including becoming the first governor to survive a recall) appealed to this desire. “If you are not afraid to go big and bold, you can actually get results,” Walker told the audience. Pat Scanlon, another Tea Party member, from Oskaloosa, Iowa said: “I wish he were our governor.”…
But as Walker spoke you could almost hear the political boxes being checked off. He thanked the conservative voters of Iowa, and the country, for supporting him in his fight against unions with money and prayers. This wasn’t only good form—it highlighted that he has a national fundraising base (i.e. he can go the distance) and that he is a man of faith (i.e. he’s just like you). Perhaps the best moment was when Walker made an analogy about taxes by talking about buying a sweater at a discount at Kohl’s department store. He talked at length about cobbling together so many coupons and store rewards until “the next thing you know they are paying me to buy that shirt!”
As an analogy it was confusing, but that wasn’t the point. The message was: I’m one of you. For a party competing over how to talk to middle-class voters while fashioning a response to President Obama’s appeal to them, this wasn’t a bad way to connect with voters who often care most about whether a candidate understands their lives.
“It was a clear Walker victory. He had expectations coming in here, he was on everyone’s shortlist and he had to meet those expectations and I thought he far exceeded them,” said former Iowa Republican Party political director Craig Robinson. “I thought his speech was just perfect, and I thought his delivery was perfect. The delivery really surprised me.”
Walker held his own against Ted Cruz, the event’s other star. While the Texas senator always turns in commanding performances with conservative crowds, the governor next door helped himself the most by making a strong first impression with many Iowa activists who simply knew him from his showdown with the unions…
The biggest question surrounding Walker heading into the weekend is whether his charisma could stack up against the other White House contenders. It was a worry Walker shared — one Republican who talked to him backstage said the governor expressed concern that people would view him as “bland.” But as the strode onstage with his shirt sleeves rolled up and paced about the floor, those worries vanished.
“Walker found a way to talk about himself, talk about the country and talk about Iowa in perfect proportionality, and he did so with a style that was very easy and engaging,” said Republican pollster Frank Luntz. “He connected to these people — you could see it.”
As Walker starts his run, will be he able to turn his obvious assets into a strong presidential run? Or is he the next Tim Pawlenty?…
“Because of his epic battles with the unions and other people in Wisconsin, he became a national figure with a national platform and a national fundraising base, which puts him in a stronger position than I was,” Pawlenty said.
Walker, Pawlenty added, has had another advantage. Voters, particularly Republicans, will reward the management experience governors have more than in past campaigns, after some of the execution mistakes of President Obama’s tenure, such as the botched roll-out of the Obamacare website.
“It doesn’t mean you can be boring, but the experience and qualifications, those factors are going to be weighed more heavily this time,” Pawlenty said. He added, “you do have to cross a threshold of being entertaining without being cartoonish … And Scott Walker clearly has the ability to inspire.”
3. He has done at the state level the things Republicans want to do nationally — cut taxes, implement school choice, achieve health-care reform, promote business and job growth, and defend taxpayers against public employee unions. In other words, his record is relevant to this presidential election.
4. He can articulate well a vision that does not appeal only to entrepreneurs. As he likes to say, every American wants the chance “to live his or her piece of the American dream.” That dream does not necessarily include starting one’s own business, but can be owning a home, sending a kid to college, raising a family in a safe city, etc…
8. There is no obvious flaw. The “Pawlenty did too” argument does not wash; former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty did not have the record nor the political chops Walker does. The issue here is: Who else could appeal to the full gamut of Republicans?…
10. He can embrace his ordinariness, his modest background and his lack of a college degree. He received no advantage from family, inherited wealth, or extraordinary luck. He succeeded by tenacity and desire — the precise qualities he suggests should allow any American to rise.
Toward the conclusion of Scott Walker’s well received speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit, the Wisconsin governor went for a feel-good, aspirational flourish about the American dream and American exceptionalism:
“I want to end by telling you this: In America, it is one of the few places left in the world where it doesn’t matter what class you were born into. It doesn’t matter what your parents did for a living. In America, the opportunity is equal for each and every one of us. But in America, the ultimate outcome is up to each and every one of us individually.”
Opportunity is equal? The data, unfortunately, do not seem to support Walker’s optimistic claim. First, there are other countries, such as Sweden and Canada, where the chances of escaping the bottom are just as good as in the United States. Second, American mobility rates have been stagnant over the past 40 years. Third, mobility rates vary greatly by race with 74 percent of white sons making it out of the bottom fifth versus 49 percent of African-American sons. Fourth, even the smartest kids have only a 1-in-4 chance of making it from the bottom fifth to the top fifth. At the same time, the worst-scoring wealthier kids have only a 1-in-4 chance of falling from the top fifth to the bottom fifth.
Slice and dice the data any which way and the same conclusion is unavoidable: Opportunity in America is neither optimal nor acceptable.
Walker’s rise is a reminder that among Republican primary voters, and especially Iowa-caucus goers, the market for ideological or even stylistic innovation, may be smaller than the media assumes. Because the most striking thing about Scott Walker’s speech at the Freedom Summit, and his emerging campaign message more generally, is how retro it is. Walker concedes nothing to the conventional wisdom about what the GOP must do to compete in a more culturally tolerant, ethnically diverse and economically insecure America. And the GOP faithful love it…
He’s not updating it on economics either. In recent months, many of Walker’s likely GOP opponents have moved beyond a purely anti-government message to suggest conservative-sounding ways government can give Americans an economic boost. Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio have proposed new anti-poverty tax credits. Mitt Romney has backed a higher minimum wage.
Walker’s having none of it. His message is simple and old-fashioned: “Take control from the federal government and big-government special interests and give it back to hard-working taxpayers.”…
After the 2012 election, many pundits deemed it inevitable that Congressional Republicans would respond to Romney’s defeat by passing immigration reform. They didn’t. Now pundits are lavishing attention on those GOP presidential candidates who are trying to update their party’s image and message. But Scott Walker is betting that conservative activists aren’t interesting in adapting to Obama’s America. And if last weekend’s Freedom Summit is any guide, he may be right.
[I]f the minority electorate looks like it did in 2012—with high black participation and strong Latino preference for Democrats—Republicans will have to either push back or, as Trende argues, try to run the table with white voters and win as a fully homogenous political party.
Which brings us back to Scott Walker. Unlike Mitt Romney—who was merely adopted by the world of racially polarized politics—Walker was born in it and molded by it. As MacGillis notes, Walker’s home turf of metropolitan Milwaukee is home to “profound racial inequality, extreme political segregation, [and] a parallel-universe news media,” trends that predate Walker, “but have enabled his ascent.”
If any candidate could run a rigid campaign of polarization—aimed at winning as many white voters as possible—it’s Walker. His language is already there. In his Iowa speech, he touted voter-identification laws and portrayed disadvantage as a pure product of personal failure. “In America the opportunity is equal for each and every one of us but … the ultimate outcome is up to each and every one of us individually.”
Walker, in other words, represents the other path: The chance to win without broadening your base or changing your priorities. Victory, but at the price of greater racial polarization. It’s a seductive vision—and an inherently divisive one.
Walker said voters want the next president to be someone who hasn’t served in Washington, a fresh face with a proven record. He took a dig at potential Republican candidates Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, as well as Democrat Hillary Clinton, without mentioning any of them by name.
“They want new, fresh leadership, particularly if Republicans are going to take on a candidate from the past,” Walker said of voters. “I think increasingly people believe they need a candidate from the future, not a name from the past to take on a name from the past.”
During an earlier interview on a Milwaukee radio station, Walker spoke about the Republican field that’s shaping up. In assessing who is stepping up to address the country’s problems, “I see a lot of good people out there, but I see gaps,” the governor said.
“The media is going to peg any prospective candidate with a tag. I’d rather have ‘bland and uncharismatic’ than ‘dumb’ or ‘ignorant’ or ‘corrupt’ or any of the other things they would label other would-be candidates out there — or ‘old’ for that matter,” Walker told Wisconsin’s WTMJ radio on Wednesday…
“We have a steady as you go, stick with a commonsense conservative, fiscally strong message. Follow through on your principals. You don’t have to throw red meat all the time. Just say what you’re going to do and then do what you say and get it done. I think people are hungry. After six-and-a-half-years of a guy who reads great off a teleprompter, I think what Americans want of any political background is authentic leadership that gets the job done.”
“I don’t think it’s ever been good to bet against me.”