Two events this past week combined to remove most doubt regarding whether Scott Walker is running for president and must be taken seriously.
The first was Paul Ryan’s announcement that he is not running. Though a Ryan candidacy seemed unlikely the moment he was offered chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee, his announcement officially removes what would have been the most credible obstacle to a Walker candidacy. The two old political friends now look forward to a possible fruitful collaboration rather than a rivalry.
The second event was the annual State of the State address Tuesday night. Coming on the heels of his inaugural speech on January 5, the speech was notable both for its relative brevity — the governor spoke for less than half an hour in a speech format which typically runs twice as long — and also for the obvious seeds of a campaign for federal office planted within it.
Governor Walker emphasized the need to shrink the scope of government and to streamline burdensome regulations in order to foster an environment conducive and attractive to business and job creation. This is certainly a theme of the second Walker administration in Wisconsin. The Republican candidate for state treasurer, Matt Adamczyk, ran successfully on an explicit promise to do his utmost (in collaboration with the governor, who approves) to eliminate his position and work his way out of a job. However, Walker explicitly and pointedly mentioned the federal government and federal regulation as well.
In a not-so-veiled swipe at potential primary opponent Chris Christie of New Jersey, Walker spoke of the Green Bay Packers football team as one thing in the state which unites both Democrats and Republicans. He mentioned hugging owners in the stands at the NFL playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys, an allusion to Chris Christie’s hugging Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. (The Green Bay Packers are unique amongst NFL teams in that they are publicly owned by thousands of Wisconsin residents who hold shares in the team.)
In the same speech, Walker took aim at intrusive federal environmental regulations, which he characterized as threatening to raise energy costs for typical Wisconsin rate-payers by as much as 29 percent. He called on the federal government not to fight the states and impose regulations on them, but rather to work with the states in finding solutions, trusting that neither the citizenry nor the state governments wish to poison the environment.
Finally, Walker took his speech international, referring to the recent horrible drama in France involving Charlie Hebdo and the siege of the kosher supermarket in Paris. He characterized these attacks as the actions of people afraid of freedom, of people rejecting freedom of the press and freedom of religion. An attack on free people anywhere, he declared, is an attack on all of us, and cannot be allowed to stand.
With this speech, Scott Walker is plainly in the presidential campaign (and the local Democrats wasted no time in carping at him for it). If he now does not run for president, Scott Walker will have some explaining to do.