Scott Walker has led his state from 11th to 44th in job creation, designed a health care plan that will cost Wisconsinites millions and spent much of his term embroiled in a campaign investigation, but he’s still a frontrunner for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.
A Walker 2016 candidacy sounded like a fantasy penned by Ayn Rand when Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball named the governor the frontrunner for the nomination. But the union-buster’s trip to Iowa over the weekend suggests such speculation has to be taken seriously.
While the beltway presidential buzz has focused on Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), Walker’s admirers say his record as a conservative warrior, folksy Midwestern demeanor and big fundraising connections could make him a contender.
“Gov. Walker has a lot going for him and he’d be a very appealing candidate in a state like Iowa for the caucuses,” says Bob Vander Plaats, an influential social conservative kingmaker in the state. “Not only is he right on a lot of issues, he’s been very bold and courageous on his leadership on a lot of those issues. And being a neighbor to Iowa doesn’t guarantee you success but it certainly doesn’t hurt.”
How you feel about Scott Walker’s record likely reveals where you are on America’s political spectrum.
While the left may see his tenure as proof that austerity and attacking public workers don’t improve a state’s economy, conservative activists love that Walker defeated — with the help of lots of out-of-state donors — a recall effort and thus rubbed his dramatic attack on public-sector unions in labor’s face. Walker even has a narrowly positive approval rating of +4, even though he hasn’t come close to creating the 250,000 jobs he promised.
In his spare time, the governor also defunded Planned Parenthood, rejected federal funding for Medicaid expansion and is now pushing tax cuts that mostly benefit the rich. Basically he’s checked every conservative box and he’s won two statewide elections in an actual swing state.
Though activists rightly see Walker as “sort of a boring version of Michele Bachmann,” he proved in his recall battle that he at least knows how to nod to the center. And unlike Mitt Romney, he has the conservative credentials that will give him the freedom to do so.
The few Republican governors from states President Obama won with positive approval ratings — Chris Christie (R-NJ), +42, Bob McDonnell (R-VA), +32 and John Kasich (R-OH), +16 — all have committed some act of conservative heresy — like trying to get poor people health care, compromising on something or hugging President Obama. Wisconsin’s governor isn’t wasting his political capital trying to get immigration reform passed, and he doesn’t waste his time positioning himself against fellow Republicans as Cruz and Paul do.
Scott Walker is an ultra-orthodox conservative with a passion for taking on unions that extends back to his first bill as an elected official. That’s a passion he shares with many of the right wing’s biggest donors. And if they have their way, what happens to America after 2016 will resemble what’s happened to Wisconsin since 2010.
AP Photo/Morry Gash