Yes, Scott Walker is in, and is hitting the ground running after his successful debut in the Iowa Freedom Summit. “America stands on the brink,” his first campaign ad starts, and the only solution is to cast our eyes to those “incubators of reform — the states.” Stop looking to the past for answers, Scott Walker declares, and start looking to the future (via TWS):
It’s a clever ad, on multiple levels. Its length means that it won’t air on television, at least not in paid slots, although portions of it will no doubt air on cable news over the next few days. Walker avoids snark and instead goes for a tone of sincere, Reaganesque revival — matching his “Our American Revival” campaign theme. It’s designed to boost optimism in the future rather than spend too much time looking to the past, although Walker’s team made sure to include a shot of Barack Obama bowing to the emperor of Japan when talking about “weakness abroad.”
“America can’t stop this by looking to the past,” the ad declares with a shot of Hillary Clinton staring blankly, stage left, “or for answers in Washington DC.” That may look like an attack on Obama and Clinton, and it certainly is on one level, but it’s a shot across the bow in the Republican primary, too. Looking to the past includes people like Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush as well as Democrats across the aisle.
The emphasis on looking to the states is even more clearly an argument against drafting the next nominee from the US Senate. “To reclaim our destiny,” the ad continues, “we must turn to bold, fresh, and new ideas from those incubators of reform — the states.” Expect more than one sitting governor to make that same argument, and the recently retired Rick Perry as well, as an argument against Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul. That sounds a lot less clumsy than trying to compare them to Obama in terms of experience and lack thereof.
In short, Walker makes it clear that he and his team have been strategizing over this launch for a while, and are hitting all of the right notes for an effective argument. In my column for The Week, I argue that this shows that the GOP has a bright future to tend to, rather than a regurgitation of its past:
The most fulsome praise — and the most important for the 2016 cycle — came from Rush Limbaugh. The most prominent conservative talk-radio host in the country explicitly stopped short of an outright endorsement of Walker, but Limbaugh told conservatives that Walker had provided the blueprint of a successful nominee, especially against Hillary Clinton. “Scott Walker demonstrates that you can win and win big by presenting a stark contrast between yourself and the American left,” Limbaugh told his audience. “He has not tried to steal some of their language and incorporate it so as to be less offensive. He took them on right between the eyes and beat ’em back,” he continued, and then emphasized: “He has been fearless.”
That quality among all others is what conservative activists seek. Experience and discernment is what larger donors, think tanks, and organizers like. Walker brings both into play, and can bridge the differences between the Tea Party activists and the so-called establishment in the GOP. Walker isn’t alone in that position, either; other two-term Republican governors can make similar claims, such as Bobby Jindal, Susana Martinez, Nikki Haley, and even Perry, all of whom won executive office in the post-bailout, post-ObamaCare era, the same as senators such as Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul.
Walker, though, is striking while the iron is still hot. He launched a new committee and website (with a reform-minded name, Our American Revival), hoping to use the momentum from Iowa to move into the forefront of the early primary fight. With Romney and Bush jockeying amongst themselves for the same old donors, and looking for ways to refresh their calcified images, Walker may have made the case for relegating them to the past, once and for all. And in so doing, he may well have seized the future for the next generation of Republican stars. And take note, America: Walker is one of the brightest.
There is a long campaign ahead, but Walker’s getting a good jump on the pack. Can he sustain it even while Jeb Bush is racking up donors by keeping his powder dry?