This week I attended the lecture by Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin at the American Enterprise Institute. (You can watch the video here. ) After he was through, a discussion was held by National Review political journalist Robert Costa and Weekly Standard reporter Steve Hayes; it was moderated by Walker’s co-author, Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen.
The mainstream media has practically anointed Gov. Chris Christie the GOP frontrunner for the most likely candidate to win a national election in 2016. Christie was featured on the cover of Time, and appeared on virtually every TV Sunday talk show following his New Jersey victory. Despite serious questions about his ability to transfer his East Coast win to the Midwest and Southern GOP primaries, and the question of whether or not his aggressive New York-Jersey “in your face style” will play elsewhere, the media and many pundits have acted as if the question of who will get the Republican nomination is all but over.
Those who have looked no further than Christie many years before an actual candidate will be chosen should take a deep breath and reconsider. They should, especially, take a good close look at Governor Walker. Listening to him and talking to him briefly after his speech, I was struck how down to earth he is. Scott Walker is the opposite of a striving, somewhat phony politician. He comes off as a regular guy, a man of principle who believes in the concept of public service, a man who is serious, thoughtful, and anything but the caricature of a sleazy politician in it for power. Moreover, he is solidly middle-class. No one can brand him the way that Mitt Romney was — as a candidate of the super-rich who disdains and scorns the 47 percent.
Indeed, Walker said during his talk that while he has great respect for Romney and thinks he would have made a great president, he thinks the former governor was shortsighted not to stress that conservatives favor an opportunity society in which those on the bottom rungs have the ability and the encouragement to move into a better place for themselves and their children — just as working-class people and poor immigrants have done in America’s past.
Walker, I believe, is a potential candidate who has the ability to bridge the gap between the Tea Party and regular Republicans, emphasizing what all conservatives agree upon and helping to create a conservative majority and a center-right nation. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Walker spelled out some of the same themes he addressed in his speech.
He emphasizes that conservatives do not have to compromise their principles to win or take a supposedly wise turn to the center in order to gain a victory. No one, as Thiessen said, can accuse Walker of being the kind of man who gives up his principles to score votes, or who cannot stand firm under great pressure.
Remember all those TV reports during the siege by the Left of the Wisconsin State Capitol before the recall vote in Wisconsin? Thiessen was there, and reported how the unruly mobs — thugs in fact — were banging on Walker’s door trying to break in, and doing everything possible to prevent the governor from conducting business. Not only did he remain calm and proceed to do his job, he stood firm against the teachers’ union. When they agreed to give in some on pensions and contributions to their health care if Walker gave in on compulsory dues checkoff, Walker held firm. As we all know, he won and was victorious in the recall election despite a huge campaign against him and massive rallies of the Left’s troops.
Moreover, as Walker points out, 11% of Wisconsin’s voters voted for both him and Barack Obama! That, as he writes, means that one of nine voters who voted for him in the recall election planned to vote for Obama a few months later. To put it as boldly as possible: liberal Obama supporters voted for an outspoken conservative who did not moderate his position to gain their votes! Walker adds that recent polls reveal that 11% of the people in Wisconsin still support him and Obama.
Governing as a “conservative reformer” — advocating the path suggested by Senator Mike Lee in his recent National Review article and elsewhere — Walker has had major success. People expected the sky to fall after he won election, given the dire predictions made by his opposition. Instead, they found jobs were saved, the schools have not suffered, and he reformed collective bargaining in the public sector against tremendous odds. A $3.6 billion deficit was turned into a $760 million surplus, and in addition, Walker was able to cut taxes as well.
As to the prospects for replicating this nationally, Walker knows that whoever becomes the GOP’s nominee has to win the same Obama-Walker voters as in Wisconsin. That means Reagan Democrats — the white working class, and those who are “independent, reform-minded voters.” After all, these non-partisan voters want change, and they will support the type of candidate from either party who can offer them a better future. Given that liberal Democrats are the true reactionaries, trying to turn back the clock to follow Woodrow Wilson’s statist path, a solidly conservative Republican who has come up with real answers to the problems of this era can win.
As Walker writes, this means a “reform agenda that is hopeful and optimistic,” not one based on government-run entitlements in which the technocrats of the corporate state make the decisions that impact our lives, as is the case with the current ObamaCare disaster. Walker writes:
The way Republicans can win those in the middle is not by abandoning their principles. To the contrary, the courage to stand on principle is what these voters respect. The way to win the center is to lead.
That’s why those arguing that conservatives have to “moderate” their views if they want to appeal to the country are so wrong. If our principles were the problem, then why are so many Republican governors winning elections by campaigning on them? Since Barack Obama took office in 2009, the GOP has gone from controlling both the legislature and governor’s mansion in nine states to 23 states today. Not one sitting Republican governor has lost a general election since 2007.
Obviously, Walker is seriously considering whether or not he should enter the race. It is clear, however, that he believes a good candidate cannot come from the Senate or the House, with the exception, as he said in his speech, of his friend and fellow Wisconsinite, Paul Ryan. Walker notes that the divisive fights in Washington over things like the fiscal cliff and the shutdown are different from fights in the states. Here, he writes, Republicans “focus on improving education, caring for the poor, reforming government, lowering taxes, fixing entitlements, reducing dependency, improving health care, and creating jobs and opportunity for the unemployed.”
So is Walker, or someone else, more easily able to win the country and appeal to the vital bloc of independents? Some would say that he is too low-key and not charismatic, and that he cannot create the kind of enthusiasm that many of Senator Ted Cruz’s supporters have for him. Others argue that someone like John Kasich might have more of a chance, and would be a stronger candidate. And in the discussion at AEI, Marc Thiessen doubted that if Ryan decided to be a nominee Walker would go up against him. Robert Costa, however, disagreed, and thought he would not attack Ryan in any debates, but merely stay in and try to make the case for himself.
Having seen Walker in the flesh, I, like so many others, cannot help but be very, very impressed. He is a solid and decent family man who has a core set of beliefs he affirms and boldly stands for. He knows how to talk to voters, even those who differ with him. They may disagree, but they respect him for his beliefs and know that he will fight for them. I’m sure Scott Walker has not as yet decided what he will do, but I hope he does enter the race.