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Scott Walker—Conservatives’ Consensus Choice?

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s appearance at Iowa’s first major cattle call for Republican presidential candidates has attracted a lot of buzz [1].

Walker has never been a great orator, but he was able to win multiple standing ovations from the conservative crowd. It’s enough to make some Republicans wonder: does Walker make as much sense in practice as he does on paper?

Consider that Walker took on public-sector unions in labor-friendly Wisconsin and won. Ohio Gov. John Kasich picked much the same fight and lost [2]. Counting the recall election, Walker has thrice taken the best shot national Democratic and liberal organizations can deliver and won each time in what can fairly be described as a blue state.

Most of the other conservatives running for president are senators (or in one case a neurosurgeon [3]). Most of the other current and former governors running have some major liability among conservatives (including Indiana Gov. Mike Pence) or divide Republicans in their home state (particularly Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal). Not Walker.

Walker is acceptable to nearly every major conservative faction in a way most of the other options are not. But can he straddle two conservative camps that are often diametrically opposed? The groups in question would be the libertarian-tinged liberty movement and the hawkish national-security conservatives.

When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie picked his first fight with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, saying that the rise of libertarians within the party was dangerous [4], Walker initially sided with Christie [5]. But later, he sought a middle ground.

“I don’t know that you could put me in either camp, precisely,” Walker told [6] the Washington Post in reference to Christie and Paul. He also said there was value in a dialogue among Republicans about civil liberties.

Walker doesn’t seem to have well-defined foreign-policy views, but he’s probably said the least that will automatically repel realists, libertarians, and others on the right looking for a more cautious and restrained approach to military force abroad. That includes Kasich, who like the Republican Party itself was less interventionist in the 1990s and then more hawkish after 9/11 under George W. Bush, and Mitt Romney, who has vacillated between cartoonish saber-rattling and occasional acknowledgements that a repeat of the Iraq War would be a bad idea.

The path of least resistance within the GOP is to combine hawkish rhetoric with vague commitments, occasionally tossing less hawkish conservatives concessions on national-building, congressional war powers, and American troops fighting under foreign command. Anything more (or less) gets you into trouble with hawkish commentators, as Mitch Daniels discovered when he deviated even slightly from this script. Foreign-policy perspectives that were not long ago perfectly mainstream within the Republican Party (think Colin Powell, James Baker, even Robert Zoellick [7]) are now described in overheated terms once reserved for Ramsey Clark.

If Rand Paul is going to have the libertarian vote sewn up anyway, along with all the Republican foreign-policy advisers who sound appreciably different from John Bolton, why risk this kind of blowback?

There are a few reasons. One, unlike his father, Paul is unlikely to continue past the early states without a realistic path to the nomination. He doesn’t have the inclination for a quixotic bid, nor do Kentucky’s laws keeping him from running for two offices simultaneously (he’s up for reelection in 2016, too) and his own desire to remain influential past the primaries. That means he will either be running so well that he commands a larger slice of Republican voters than his father or that he will be out of the race and his votes will be gettable.

Gary Johnson won more than 1 million votes as the Libertarian Party nominee in 2012. At least some of those votes could have been won by a less hawkish Republican, and they could come in handy in a close race. If Paul exits the race early or comes up short before the Republican National Convention, it’s possible that an even larger number of voters will flock to the Libertarian Party or stay home in November—unless the GOP gives them someone to vote for.

Finally, Hillary Clinton is the likely Democratic nominee. After making some noises that suggested she learned at least a little bit from her Iraq vote, she is sounding hawkish again. It might not be bad for a Republican nominee to be able to campaign against her Bush-lite foreign-policy tendencies.

Even if Walker did decide he wanted to be able to unite the party on foreign policy and civil liberties, three big obstacles remain. The first is that less interventionist conservatives feel burned by Bush’s “humble foreign policy” talk in 2000 and would likely want assurances of the kind that would get Walker in trouble with his party’s hawks, which is probably a no-go. The second is that candidates polling where Walker is, even a year out, usually lose the Republican nomination. It’s not entirely clear he’s even a likelier nominee than Paul. The third is that the only non-telegenic men who have won the presidency in the television era first served as vice president under popular presidents. (Your mileage on Jimmy Carter may vary.)

Hawk or dove, it will take more than one speech to a partisan Iowa audience to prove Walker can fill the charisma gap.

W. James Antle III is managing editor of the Daily Caller and author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? [8]

40 Comments (Open | Close)

40 Comments To "Scott Walker—Conservatives’ Consensus Choice?"

#1 Comment By sean On January 26, 2015 @ 7:35 am

“There are a few reasons. One, unlike his father, Paul is unlikely to continue past the early states without a realistic path to the nomination. He doesn’t have the inclination for a quixotic bid, nor do Kentucky’s laws keeping him from running for two offices simultaneously (he’s up for reelection in 2016, too) and his own desire to remain influential past the primaries. That means he will either be running so well that he commands a larger slice of Republican voters than his father or that he will be out of the race and his votes will be gettable.”

These are good reasons why Paul shouldn’t even run in the first place. With so many candidates, foreign policy not a major topic of conversation among Republican voters and the sad that any foreign event turns rank n’file voters into temporary neocons means that Paul and his supporters need to worry more about changing minds in the party than winning the nomination because one will not happen without the other.

#2 Comment By balconesfault On January 26, 2015 @ 9:09 am

Walker certainly does hate organized labor enough. And if there is one thing that seems to have unified the big donors of the GOP for decades … it is hatred of unions.

#3 Comment By John On January 26, 2015 @ 9:43 am

First, Walker won all of his gubernatorial races in Wisconsin outside of the presidential cycle – November of 2010, June of 2012, and November of 2014. For an idea of how much that might matter here, look at the U.S. Senate election in 2012. While Obama won about 52-46 in the presidential election, Tammy Baldwin won 51-45 against Tommy Thompson – the former Secretary of Health and Human Services under George W. Bush, and the former governor of Wisconsin between 1987 and 2001. Clearly Walker and his circle have some organizational skill to win three gubernatorial elections, no matter the circumstances; I’m just putting this achievement in perspective.

Second, Walker may be “acceptable to nearly every major conservative faction in a way most of the other options are not” only because he avoids speaking on issues unless he is forced to do so. That restraint is smart, but he won’t have that option when he begins campaigning in Iowa, South Carolina and Vermont. He will be forced to make choices, even if it is to refuse to make choices, and by so doing, he will anger one faction as he gladdens another.

Also, he never finished his degree. It may not matter, but remember that Sarah Palin and Rick Perry at least finished theirs, and look how they came across in interviews and debates.

#4 Comment By ScottinMD On January 26, 2015 @ 9:48 am

The only knock against Walker in the eyes of a typical GOP primary voter is he not have taken a big enough victory lap after beating the dreaded libruls 3 times. They may perceive him as weak because of that.

#5 Comment By ScottinMD On January 26, 2015 @ 9:53 am

*may not have taken.

#6 Comment By A.K. On January 26, 2015 @ 10:03 am

This article seems to be making a lot of assumptions, especially about Scott Walker’s presumed willingness and capability of convincingly running to Christie’s left on foreign policy. Anybody who falls for that Ian Murphy stunt doesn’t strike me as being capable of pretending to hold drastically different views in the face of national scrutiny than he actually does. And there is not an iota’s worth of evidence his views are anything other than boilerplate hawk.

#7 Comment By EngineerScotty On January 26, 2015 @ 11:20 am

There is also the matter of the “John Doe” investigation in Wisconsin…

#8 Comment By Lee Thompson On January 26, 2015 @ 11:22 am

Seems to me that Republican conservatives should have their own forum where they can select a candidate. In this way, they won’t divide their power so hopelessly that another establishment candidate (read Jeb Bush in this go round) wins the day by default. Of course setting up such a forum would one of those “herding cats” things, admittedly.

#9 Comment By Bugg On January 26, 2015 @ 12:08 pm

Some of the few decent job left for middle class Americans are unionized-teachers, cops, firefighters, utility workers, construction trades.Those people are the tax-paying backbone of this country. And here the GOP’s big idea with Walker is to have as their nominee a man who would attack those people.Walker would be a disaster. But he could get a lot of donors, which seems to be all GOP cares about. Good luck with that. Hillary! will win 40+ states vs. Walker.

#10 Comment By LauraNo On January 26, 2015 @ 12:37 pm

Walker won those elections thanks to white people in the state. Like Romney, he can’t beat the electoral college that way.

#11 Comment By ADL On January 26, 2015 @ 1:44 pm

Walker has a chance in a scenario where the GOP base refuses the “establishment” anointed one (Bush, Cristie, Romney?– good lord!), but can’t agree on Rand Paul vs. a cultural conservative (Santorum, Jindal, Huckabee?– good lord!).

On the foreign policy front, Paul is the only candidate that truly believes in a more modest US involvement abroad, something that isn’t likely to win him a lot of votes after 8 years of foreign policy being lead by Chicago community activists.

The next president will have to show Americans that he/she can “contain” China, Russia, jihadi beheaders, while preventing an imploding Euro from causing another financial system meltdown. US foreign policy can’t afford another campus protester president who cares more about “micro-aggressions” than an aggressive Russia.

Walker has the domestic policy angle covered and he can afford to be more hawkish on foreign policy.

#12 Comment By Noah172 On January 26, 2015 @ 1:44 pm

Walker is acceptable to Sheldon Adelson, which makes him unacceptable to any patriotic American, let alone a principled paleocon or libertarian. Unless and until Walker is willing to anger Adelson to the point that Adelson would refuse to fund Walker for the general election, Walker is just another Bush.

#13 Comment By Noah172 On January 26, 2015 @ 1:47 pm

LauraNo wrote:

Walker won those elections thanks to white people in the state

Which is like saying he won because of the bipedal primates in that state. Whites are in the neighborhood of 90% of voters in Wisconsin. I thought “progressives” were all about “count every vote”. Do they (you) really mean, “count every vote except those by whites for Republicans”?

#14 Comment By grumpy realist On January 26, 2015 @ 1:59 pm

As opposed to the other “none of the above” candidates, Walker is probably the most generic Republican candidate.

Romney: oh no, not HIM again!
Bush: Haven’t we had enough from you and your family?
Perry: Wearing those glasses doesn’t make you look any smarter, Mr. “I forgot the third department”
Rubio: You’re on the wrong side of the immigration issue
Cruz: It would be great to nominate you just to see the liberals freak out, but…..no.

…and so on and so forth.

#15 Comment By e marker On January 26, 2015 @ 2:01 pm

We need a candidate like Scott walker to run for president in2016 I certainly would vote for him. Scott walker has proven that he is a person who.can get things done. Wisconsin is a shining example of what needs to happen in a

#16 Comment By balconesfault On January 26, 2015 @ 3:25 pm

@ADL On the foreign policy front, Paul is the only candidate that truly believes in a more modest US involvement abroad, something that isn’t likely to win him a lot of votes after 8 years of foreign policy being lead by Chicago community activists.

You need to read Mr. Larison a bit more?

@grumpy realist Cruz: It would be great to nominate you just to see the liberals freak out, but…..no.

Oh please, please, PLEASE!

The GOP needs to finally nominate a Cruz … so the mythology of “we’d be able to win the Presidency if we only nominated a true conservative who will get out the base” can have a stake driven through it’s heart.

#17 Comment By Spengler On January 26, 2015 @ 3:44 pm

nominating Walker would strengthen the democrats, giving their base a reason to turn their nose up to the neoliberal hawk Hillary and vote in 2016.

#18 Comment By Student On January 26, 2015 @ 4:24 pm

Walker is pro-amnesty, which is perhaps why Sheldon Adelson likes him…in other words, a Jeb Bush mini-me. To my mind, he is as unacceptable as Mr. Bush.

#19 Comment By Clint On January 26, 2015 @ 5:30 pm

Where Walker is wavering on his opposition to Common Core, scaling back his demand for a legislative repeal to allowing school districts to choose on the issue,Rand Paul would rather see local schools develop their own standards, which he argued would encourage innovation. Paul also added that if elected, he would eliminate the U.S. Department of Education

#20 Comment By JohnG On January 26, 2015 @ 7:53 pm

But can he straddle two conservative camps that are often diametrically opposed? The groups in question would be the libertarian-tinged liberty movement and the hawkish national-security conservatives.

The way I see it, the libertarian wing is up against a coalition of the war/neocon party and crony corporate (primarily banking & defense) interests. The second camp is remarkably good at wooing cultural conservatives, despite the fact that they let them down over and over again, as soon as the vote was in (what exactly has GW done for cultural conservatives?)

This will not change until the conservative vote realizes that the libertarian ticket is their best bet. Forget about banning abortion and winning culture wars, that’s just not going to happen. What CAN be done, though, is the defense against an overly intrusive liberal state that wants to impose ITS values in our personal and family lives. Even left libertarians can and should be allies in this battle.

If the GOP is going to give me another neocon & corporate clone that just PRETENDS to be culturally conservative and merely less hawkish than John McCain or HRC, I simply have no interest. When given Romney, I voted for Gary Johnson and we got 1%, despite the exclusion from the TV debates. It’s up to the GOP to decide whether it wants my vote this time, I guess…

#21 Comment By Gregory On January 26, 2015 @ 10:58 pm

Walker can easily win my support as Bush and Christie have veered too far to the center. Cruz and Paul are too far to the right and unelectable in Nov. ’16, and Jindal is too willing to stick to silly statements and ideas that I don’t even think *he* actually believes in but is so desperate to prove himself to the Tea Partiers, that he compromises his integrity to do so.

Walker has a proven track record. He has shown incredible guts and tenaciousness in that office. He is a conservative, but is not beholden to the TP’ers anymore than he is an enemy of the “establishment” GOP. He would be the guy I want at the tiller in dealing with our biggest domestic problems, like entitlement reform, tax reform, K-12 education reform, etc.

#22 Comment By Lisa On January 26, 2015 @ 11:27 pm

Walker and his evil twin, Chris Christie, caved to the LGBTQQ lobby, and judicial activism, respectively, allowing “marriage equality” in their states, the peoples’ will be damned. No true conservative would even think of doing that.

#23 Comment By Uncle Billy On January 27, 2015 @ 10:42 am

Walker could sneak into the GOP nomination, due to being a sitting Governor, and thus “relevent” and not being hated as much as some other candidates. Given that the GOP in recent memory has had people like Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and other buffoons pretend to be serious candidates, Walker actually looks fairly good by comparision.

#24 Comment By Josh On January 28, 2015 @ 2:11 am

Walker does not have any “charisma deficit.” He is the only candidate who is dangerous to the Democrats’ chances of winning the White House in 2016. The rest of the field is virtually worthless, and Clinton would have a relatively easy time racking up electoral votes against them.

Walker, though– he’s potent and has Reagan-like teflon coating. Nothing seems to stick to him, even though he has repeatedly violated laws throughout his time in public service. That near-indictment may one day be looked at by history as an indication of just how close we came to not having him as president. I hope he loses in the primaries, because he has the ability to charm moderate voters while selling policies and ideas that put no distance between him and most of the rest of the field.

#25 Comment By Josh On January 28, 2015 @ 2:14 am

Also, @Gregory– Walker has continually placed the concerns of the wealthy over those of the middle class and poor during his time in office. When you’re heavily funded by outside money, as he was, it becomes easier to be “tenacious.”

#26 Comment By wildroot On January 28, 2015 @ 3:39 pm

Scott Walker got this thing all sewed up! He’s beaten the DIMs like a rented mule THREE times in the past 4 years!And he can do it in ’16!

#27 Comment By brock2118 On January 28, 2015 @ 4:00 pm

I think he would make a great VEEP candidate behind Rubio. Rubio has a bigger nationwide reputation and has dealt with aggressive press and international questions more than Walker.

#28 Comment By Honet Abe On January 28, 2015 @ 7:37 pm

Gov. Walker is a terrific Wisconsin politician.

yes, he did well in two off year elections and a recall vote.

But he was not running against Hillary Clinton in a year when Foriegn Policy will be a much important issue.

Hillary will get 5-10% more votes because she would breaking the female barrier to the presidency.

The best choice on the Republican side is clearly Marco Rubio.

He’s charismatic, fast on his feet, principled, an expert on foriegn policy, and is the only repubican candidiate elected to office on the local, state, and federal levels.

Rubio has a positive demeanor and a likable personality.

His humble background–that of an immigrant–would be very helpful in debates.

As good a governor as Walker is, Rubio is more formidable–and more likely to defeat Hillary Clinton in a General Election match-up.

#29 Comment By Honest Abe On January 28, 2015 @ 7:38 pm

Meant to type, “Honest Abe.”

#30 Comment By Joe On January 28, 2015 @ 8:46 pm

The internet is full of people with strong opinions about things they don’t really know.

What we know is that Democrats have good reason to fear Walker, on substantive grounds. They wouldn’t have gone after him the way they did if they didn’t think so. They will tell you who they’re scared of by who they attack the most viciously.

As for style, his performance in this speech (I actually watched it, I wonder how many did) showed a candidate farther along than many expected in terms of being a solid national candidate. But it was still a fairly “wonky” policy speech.

What he needs to do substantively is to fully flesh out his positions on every issue with informed ideas. Stylistically, he then needs to identify a few big themes about where he thinks the country needs to go, the most important issues that need to be dealt with the most urgently, and put together a way of expressing those things that resonates with a large audience, is easily digestible, and is expressed in a convincing and inspiring way.

So he needs to get in the weeds enough to know things backwards and forwards in policy debates, but he also needs to have a big, inspiring, and perhaps even simplistic vision for where he wants to lead the country.

He’s got the raw materials, but it’s up to him to put it together and take the next step. In my opinion, he’s shown that he has the capability. But he needs to take a step up from being a governor to being a national leader. It’s a psychological and stylistic step that he’s got to navigate.

#31 Comment By tps On January 28, 2015 @ 9:04 pm

I have been saying for the last year that Walker will be elected president in 2016. My friends either laughed or asked, “Who?”

The ticket will be: Walker/Rubio or Walker/Fiorina. It will win, and win big. Not a Reagan BIG, but big.

You saw it here first.

Go Seahawks (only because I can’t stand the Patriots.)

#32 Comment By Josh On January 28, 2015 @ 9:54 pm

I am quite literally laughing at the ridiculous post above about Rubio. The man will be a worthless presidential candidate. I guess he could be a VP pick, but that’s about all. Daniel Larison has savaged him repeatedly here, and for good reason. Rubio is always busy trying to meddle in other countries’ business, while simultaneously displaying massive ignorance about matters at home. He’ll go nowhere. If he did (somehow) emerge with the Republican nomination, Clinton would crush him.

Not so much with Walker, who is a formidable candidate in waiting. Clinton would and will need everything she’s got to defeat Walker, plus some extra help from Democratic presidents past and present.

#33 Comment By Don On January 29, 2015 @ 10:14 am

Boring. White. Guy. Won’t. Beat. Hillary. We need Rubio.

#34 Comment By RoyFan51 On January 29, 2015 @ 10:28 am

It is unlikely that Walker can win his own state in a Presidential year. In the Wisconsin 2012 election, Obama beat his GOP opponent by a whopping 7%. Walker is the proverbial poster boy for being lucky enough to run in off-years when the shape of the electorate is very different. If he runs in 2016, and against the first female candidate in history, the 2012 margin of defeat will be small in comparison.

#35 Comment By the unworthy craftsman On January 29, 2015 @ 11:20 am

When he shows as much zeal for going after parasitical crony capital as he does for going after firefighters and nurses, I’ll vote for him.

#36 Comment By Marcus Tullius On January 29, 2015 @ 8:07 pm

Analyst Sean Trend at realclearpolitics.com has shown that Romney lost because working class whites stayed home. Walker’s high school diploma and coupon-clipping connect with white wage earners. They distrust the government deeply but distrust big business more.

#37 Comment By EliteCommInc. On January 29, 2015 @ 8:47 pm

“Finally, Hillary Clinton is the likely Democratic nominee. After making some noises that suggested she learned at least a little bit from her Iraq vote. . .”

I would be curious just what voice box you heard such a thing.
_________________

“When he shows as much zeal for going after parasitical crony capital as he does for going after firefighters and nurses, I’ll vote for him.”

I take it you opposed the bail outs. In a very real sense reigning in the public sector unions is an attack on that very problem.

Importing illegal immigrants, most federal and state construction projects, etc. Even the invasions of Iraq are government funded . . . stimulus packages.

#38 Comment By a spencer On January 30, 2015 @ 1:29 am

Y’all know Walker wouldn’t take Wisconsin against Hillary, right?

Walker wouldn’t take Wisconsin against Amy Klobuchar.

#39 Comment By a spencer On January 30, 2015 @ 1:35 am

2012: Paul Ryan was on the Romney ticket and they lost Wisconsin to Obama by 7 points!

#40 Comment By Josh On January 30, 2015 @ 11:57 am

@Marcus

Walker conveys an air that resonates with those voters. The thing is that he is as much a product of big business as anyone alive, but manages not to come across that way.

Without Koch brothers support, Walker wouldn’t have gotten anywhere.