“For too long, they’ve said we have to compromise our principles to win,” the video announcement of Scott Walker’s official presidential campaign announcement starts. “Scott Walker showed the path to victory is to run on our principles.” Perhaps more clearly, the video shows that Walker wants to run on his record more than his principles, in part because he actually has a record on which to run:
The record on Scott Walker is both record and principle, although the former is the differentiator in the presidential race. Walker attempts to split the competitive field into two camps. He mentions those who talk about fighting for principles but who have not ever been put in position to implement them; those would presumably be the non-governors, and perhaps especially the non-politicians. The second group, who have “won elections” but failed to remain true to their principles, would be the other governors. Not surprisingly, this puts Walker in a category of his own, although Bobby Jindal would object to that, given Jindal’s reform efforts in government and education.
Walker’s smart to run on his record, of course. He took on the public-employee unions and beat them in Wisconsin, and then he took on the rest of the unions, although he was not in the forefront of the right-to-work push. Because of Act 10, Walker was able to balance the budget earlier without wholesale cuts to education, but this time around higher education took a hit in the budget. Even with this head-on confrontation, Walker remains popular enough at home to have won three elections in four years by almost identical margins in a state that hasn’t gone for a Republican president since 1984.
Besides, “principles” might get in the way later on, when cooperation might sell better. A National Journal report from yesterday has made the rounds in advance of Walker’s announcement, fueled no doubt by some of the other campaigns. Tim Alberta reports that Walker’s team shockingly believes it’s better to run to the right in the primary and then back to the center in the general election than the other way around:
The son of a conservative small-town minister who showed his son how to be “pastoral,” Walker has mastered the art of governing in a manner that mobilizes the party faithful while campaigning in a way that doesn’t scare off moderates, independents, and even some Democrats. This misdirection has been the source of much of Walker’s political success.
“Even as he cut that abortion ad, there isn’t a single pro-life voter in the state who suddenly thinks he’s pro-choice,” said Matt Batzel, executive director of American Majority, a conservative activist group. “They know he shares their views.”
Batzel, who is based in Wisconsin and has had a front-row seat for Walker’s biggest political battles, added: “He has legislated very conservatively. But when you look at his tone and how he wins elections, it’s different. And that’s a needle he’s successfully been able to thread in Wisconsin.” …
“You start in Iowa and lock up conservatives, because if you don’t do that, none of the rest matters,” said one longtime Walker adviser, who requested anonymity to discuss campaign strategy. “It’s much easier to move from being a conservative to being a middle-of-the-road moderate later on.”
In other words, Walker’s team has rediscovered the wheel. Who doesn’t already know that? Hillary Clinton is running a mirror-image strategy on the other side, running far to the progressive Left before cutting back to the center for a general election campaign, assuming she makes it that far. The art of it is knowing just how far to tack in one direction and then the other. Walker has shown himself pretty successful in making that strategy work in Wisconsin three times in four years, while Hillary has never successfully pulled it off.
The media will start pulling at Walker’s record more than his principles, and in fact have already begun to do so. That will tell others where Walker’s strength is at, and the desire to sap it as quickly as possible.
Update: Fixed a “to” that should have been a “two.”