Only weeks after taking this key state in the presidential race by surprise, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker defended his front-runner status in Iowa by pledging to support a federal ethanol mandate, shifting his position on renewable fuels at a Republican roundup on farm issues.

In the moderated discussion with ethanol magnate Bruce Rastetter, Walker dropped his previous flat opposition to ethanol mandates, offering a new stance that’s well-suited to a state covered in cornfields. Walker signaled that he favors keeping the mandate for now and phasing it outin the future — without saying over what period.

“It’s an access issue, and so it’s something I’m willing to go forward on continuing the Renewable Fuel Standard and pressing the EPA to make sure there’s certainty in terms of the blend levels set,” Walker said. “Now, long term — we’ve talked about this before as well — my goal would be to get to a point where we directly address those market access issues and I think that’s a part of the challenge. So that eventually you didn’t need to have a standard.”

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Iowa Gov. Terry E. Branstad says Republicans who support shutting down the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, which provides a major market for Midwestern corn farmers, could be kissing their White House hopes goodbye…

“I think it is a significant issue,” Mr. Branstad told The Washington Times. “If you are for closing that industry down and don’t want to give them access [to the market], I think that could be a very difficult thing to explain to the people who live in the state and really believe in renewable fuels.”

Asked whether the issue could make or break a campaign, Mr. Branstad answered, “Yes.”

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Walker’s move not only was a deep disappointment to economic conservatives who, based on his record in Wisconsin, see him as a principled supporter of limited government, it also undermines one of the central rationales of his candidacy.

The governor vaulted to the top of Republican presidential pack based on his record of fighting special interests, particularly public sector unions. The logic of his candidacy is if he was willing to stand up for what he thinks is right — in the face of an organized campaign to destroy him by the national Left — then he can do so on a larger stage…

The comments to Iowa farmers come in the wake of his reversal on immigration and his muddled answers on the Export-Import Bank, Department of Homeland Security funding and other issues. His goal seems to be to avoid offending anybody. True, this, to some extent, is to be expected in any presidential campaign.

But if one of the arguments Walker is going to make to those who say he isn’t ready for the international stage is that, like Ronald Reagan before him, he’s a governor with strong convictions, he’s going to have to take stands that are unpopular among some audiences…

To turn his own argument against him: If Walker can’t stand up to Iowans, how will he stand up to the Islamic State?

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In countless discussions I had at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference — as well as among people I’ve talked to who attended the Club for Growth meeting in Florida last weekend — the concern for friends, and the hope for foes, is that Walker is peaking too soon.

That the Wisconsin governor is not ready for prime time is rapidly becoming conventional wisdom…

Walker has been “punting” — his word — on such questions, but also on more serious topics. That is a fine tactic when few are paying attention. Other candidates have been punting on various issues too, but no one knows or cares because they aren’t the front-runner. When you’re in the spotlight, punting stops being a way to avoid giving an answer and instead it becomes the answer.

Walker is in danger of being the guy known for not having a good — or any — answer to tough questions. That’s particularly poisonous for him, given that he is running on leadership and truth-telling.

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Club for Growth President David McIntosh said Walker was warmly received at the event, which also featured a number of other likely presidential contenders, and said that many of the group’s heavy-hitting donors “gave him a pass” — for now — to catch up on some policy details…

“He acknowledged he was still getting up to speed on some issues, and here are his principles,” McIntosh said. “My sense in talking to his team is he has plans to do some pretty intensive economic briefings with experts to take his issues from state to federal issues.”…

“People are giving him a break because of how fast he was put into this situation, but he’s going to have to cram on [foreign policy] and a myriad of other policy issues now that he’s close to the front of the pack.” said Bonjean. “If Gov. Walker is making these mistakes this time next year I don’t think people will be very forgiving.”

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In contrast to the compelling and confident way Walker talks about his Wisconsin record, he has been shaky on foreign policy. He has traveled only rarely overseas and showed little interest in world politics in college or as governor. Policy experts and donors who have met with him privately said he lacks depth of knowledge about the international scene and speaks mostly in generalities. At a Club for Growth meeting last weekend, one major donor publicly portrayed Walker as “not prepared” to talk about global issues.

“I can pretty well guarantee you that he is not a subscriber to Foreign Affairs,” said Elliott Abrams, a prominent neoconservative who was among those briefing Walker at the Willard…

Lee Edwards, a Reagan biographer and distinguished fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said Walker has “plenty of homework to do” before he catches up to Reagan’s level of preparation ahead of the 1980 campaign.

“The world was on Reagan’s mind years, even decades, before he ran for president,” Edwards said. “He spent the mid-to-late 1970s studying and discussing the issues on his radio program, so he was comfortable with any question that came his way. That’s something Walker can’t claim.”

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“This is a guy who has literally been in elective office his entire adult life,” said a strategist for one rival campaign. “He has made his living off the government sector, the taxpayer. He has never really, to my knowledge, had any kind of serious existence outside of the public sector.”…

“I think he tries to present himself as this steadfast conservative, but I am not sure the record will match that.  He had to get elected in a left-leaning county and then in a centrist state,” added another rival. “And now he is running for the Republican nomination. I think you can easily a line where this guy looks like the kind of person who will say anything to get elected.”…

“He gave a good speech in Iowa. I grant him that,” said an aide to a rival campaign. “And so what happens next is that conservative voters just assign to him everything they want from a conservative candidate. They assume he shares all the values that they do, and we will have to see if it holds up under scrutiny.”

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Scott Walker in 2015 is a lot like Barack Obama circa 2007; he’s relatively unknown and yet well-known at the same time. Obama’s speech at the DNC in 2004 propelled him to rock-star status among the Democratic faithful, while Walker’s victory over the public sector labor unions in 2011 made him a legend among conservatives. The Wisconsin Governor begins this campaign as a vessel into which voters can pour their hopes and aspirations. The question now is whether the idea of Walker can match up with the reality of Walker…

Walker’s quick rise in the polls is a double-edged sword. While it gets him in front of GOP donors and voters who wouldn’t have given him much thought, it also puts a big target on his back. And, it’s clear that he’s not yet prepared for the scrutiny. One top level Republican campaign operative not affiliated with any candidate in 2016 described Walker as a candidate who has “gotten out in front of his supply lines.”…

At the end of the day, Walker’s biggest asset is that he’s not offensive to any of the GOP factions. His appeal is superficial but significant. At some point, however, Walker will have to go deeper. It is then where we’ll see if his frontrunner status is for real – or just a flash in the pan.

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Wisconsin voted to make the state the 25th to pass right-to-work legislation, and Governor Scott Walker is expected to sign the bill with some satisfaction. That’s 25 down, 25 to go. (Our optimism is not so unanchored as to consider the sorry case of the District of Columbia.)

Right-to-work laws end the practice of union bosses’ enriching their organizations through a legal variety of extortion under which all workers are required to pay the equivalent of union dues, whether they wish to be represented by a particular union or do not. The traditional position of Democrats, toward whose campaign coffers a great deal of that money is destined, is that this practice is necessary to ensure “fairness” — that workers enjoy the unions’ protection whether they want it or not. But the correct term for an arrangement like that isn’t “fairness” — it is “protection racket,” and Governor Walker’s signature will put an end to this particular brand of racketeering.

A great deal of attention is being paid, and will be paid, to what this means for the presidential aspirations of Wisconsin’s governor, who confronted and trounced entrenched public-sector interests and then trounced them again when they tried to recall him. Governor Walker is an impressive man offering a welcome infusion of ordinary good governance to the Republican presidential pageant, but the political concerns here are secondary. The most important consideration is the excision of a cancer from the American economy and the American body politic.