Scott Walker: The GOP’s Sleeper Candidate For 2016?

Scott Walker could be the GOP's surprise candidate in 2016.

Scott Walker

National Journal’s Beth Reinhard notes that one of the most important player in the race for the Republican nomination in 2016 may be someone who has sort of slipped into the political background since being the center of attention in a battle with labor unions just two years ago:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker polls near the bottom of would-be presidential contenders. Unlike potential rivals, you won’t find him on the cover of Time magazine or slow-jamming the news with comedian Jimmy Fallon.

But he’s a conservative Republican who won election in a blue state, survived a brutal recall campaign, and now posts approval ratings over 50 percent. A budget-slashing chief executive and son of a Baptist minister who straddles the fiscal and social conservative camps. A proven fundraiser who has put his thumb in the eye of President Obama and Big Labor.

He’s poised to be the sleeper Republican presidential candidate of 2016.

“The recall was a gift to him in that it put him in touch with the big funders in the Republican Party, and I’m sure he keeps that Rolodex pretty close,” said Brian Sikma, a spokesman for a conservative government watchdog group in Wisconsin. “I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t run, and if you look at the tea leaves, he’s taking all the traditional steps.”

“I’m sure in next few months you’ll find him somewhere in New Hampshire,” said Milwaukee-based Republican consultant Todd Robert Murphy.

Walker has told the national media he’s not ruling out a White House bid, and he headlined a Republican Party fundraiser last month in Iowa, which traditionally hosts the first presidential nominating contest, followed by New Hampshire. The governor is also writing a book about his triumph in the 2012 recall election after he revoked collective bargaining rights and set off a political firestorm.

This positioning for the national stage comes as no surprise to Wisconsin Republicans, who joke that Walker has been running for president since he was an ambitious politician-in-the-making at the American Legion’s Badger Boys State. He was picked to represent Wisconsin at Boys Nation in Washington, D.C. and, in a moment he describes as seminal to his political career, met President Reagan. He was only 22 years old when he ran his first campaign for the State Assembly.

Last week, Walker gratified the religious right and provoked the Democratic Party when he said he would sign a bill requiring women seeking abortions to get ultrasound exams. The legislation is similar to the controversial law signed by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. Eager to keep flogging the GOP’s alleged “war on women,” Democrats linked Walker’s promise to sign the abortion bill with the recent vote by a all-male House committee to ban abortions after 20 weeks and Arizona Rep. Trent Franks’ comment that rape victims infrequently get pregnant.

One thing that Walker has going for him is that he’s a Governor rather than a Senator or a member of the House of Representatives. Historically, Governors, and especially Republican Governors, have had far greater success running for President than legislators. Indeed, going all the way back to 1968, every successful Republican candidate for President has either been a sitting or former Governor or a sitting or former Vice-President. Take it as far back as the Election of 1924, and you’ve got a former Governor in Coolidge, the former Administrator of food aid for Europe after World War One in Hoover, and the former Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War Two in Eisenhower. When it comes to successful Republican candidates for President, there seems to be clear historical preference for people with Executive experience of some kind and Governors are, of course, the Chief Executives of their state. Looking at it from that point of view, Walker or many of the other Governor’s in the GOP’s 2016 stable, ranging from Chris Christie to John Kaisch to pick just two names, would seem to be well -suited as a candidate. Interestingly, Walker, Christie, and Kaisch are all currently well-position to win their bids for re-election.

The problem that Walker and his fellow Governor’s might face, though, is that the very nature of their jobs require them to do things that are likely to raise the ire of the “Tea Party” base of the Republican Party, especially when held up against firebrands like Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio.1 Being a Governor means having engage in horse trading and negotiation with members of the opposition, and even members of one’s own party, in order to get the job done. Unlike Senators and Representatives who can make endless speech after endless speech, Governor’s have to do things like get budgets passed, deal with issues like education reform and economic development, and deal with natural disasters and other events out of the blue that may have an adverse impact on their state. Where Senators and Congressmen have the luxury of being as much of a political firebrand as their political position permits them to be, Governors have to put the interests of their state ahead of their own political interests. What all of this means, of course, is that Governors by their very nature create a record that can easily be attacked by hardliners as they attempt to appeal to the party base.  Where being a Governor used to be a big political advantage when running for the Republican nomination, it’s arguably the case that in the Tea Party era it is actually a detriment.

Walker, of course, became something of a conservative hero in 2010 and 2011 when he led the effort to reform the public employee unions in Wisconsin. The law that he backed, and which the Republican held legislature passed, became the focal point for protests that lasted for weeks, lawsuits that dragged on quite long before being decided in Walker’s favor, and a series of recall elections, including one directed at Walker himself that was ultimately unsuccessful. After those battles fade away, though, Walker sort of faded from the national scene and the GOP base moved on to more interesting “heroes” to rally behind. No doubt, he’s done plenty of things as Governor that the purity above all Tea Party base of the GOP would disagree with and that will likely cause problems for him if he choose to run in 2016.

Walker’s not really much of a known quantity right now, and he’d certainly be a long shot if he did jump into the race. The possibility that he’d end up suffering the fate of candidates like Jon Huntsman is quite real. Additionally, the GOP does not have a history of giving its nomination to relative unknowns. Despite all of that, though, Walker has the kind of resume and record that would seem to me to do the GOP far more good than that of a Senator or Representative. The only question is whether Republican voters in 2016 will want to go for the candidate who represents competence, or the one who repeats the Tea Party talking points with sufficient precision. If it’s the second, then candidates like Walker don’t stand any chance at all.

1 Although Rubio has been a Tea Party darling from the time he threw his hat in the ring for Senate in 2010, his stock has fallen recently thanks to his decision to support comprehensive immigration reform. It’s unclear how that might impact his chances in 2016.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Caj says:

    Sleeper candidate! Just look at his washed out half asleep eyes. They’ve got the sleeper part spot on!!

  2. Mark Ivey says:

    Scott “ultrasound exam” Walker 2016! WooT LoL

  3. Mr. Prosser says:

    Charles Pierce has been pounding this guy like a cheap steak as Walker sells off Wisconsin resources at bargain prices. State employment has plummeted and it’s now rated lower than some southern states. He has also been dodging some financial shenanigans from back when he was a county pol. There is no way this guy compares to Jon Huntsman.

  4. Dustin says:

    No doubt, he’s done plenty of things as Governor that the purity above all Tea Party base of the GOP would disagree with and that will likely cause problems for him if he choose to run in 2016.

    Actually no, he’s had Republican control of the assembly and senate for the most part, and they’re overwhelmingly from the same cloth as Walker.

    If fact, his current budget going through now, a few Republicans in the state senate publicly disagreed with key portions of it (expanding school vouchers and income tax cuts), and in the end they gave him more than he wanted on both fronts. Plus Wisconsin is very quietly working through the same type of anti-abortion measures that failed miserably in 2012.

    He’s going to have quite a strong Tea Party following when he puts his hat in.

    But he’ll have a harder time running on that record to the rest of the world, as Wisconsin has slide backward economically under his policies and he’s going to fail miserably on his big campaign promise of “Open For Business”.

  5. Except that locals say,

    With his appeal to Tea Party activists, Walker could have an edge in the Iowa Caucuses, where the most conservative factions of Republicans have great sway. Mordecai Lee, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, told the Register that Walker is “a talk-radio Republican,” in that he’s both highly ideological and uninterested in moderation or compromise.

    “Walker was Tea Party before there was a Tea Party,” Lee said.

    Time for a post now on how Walker can’t win because he has tea party support.

  6. EddieInCA says:

    Please, please, please make Scott Walker the GOP candidate for 2016. Pretty much any Dem would win handily when Walkers record in Wisconsin is exposed.

    Wisconsin has fallen DRAMATICALLY since the implementation of Walker’s policies.

    Google is your friend.

  7. Woody says:

    Walker has two problems: first, he’s lacking in charisma – not a problem for the authoritarian worshipping GOP, but a real problem for anyone outside Murdoch Nation. Secondly, the economic performance of Wisconsin is awful since he entered office.

    He has been a successful bully, though, which really appeals to many conservatives.

    oh, yes:

    he led the effort to reform eviscerate the public employee unions in Wisconsin.

    Fixed.

  8. Jen says:

    Walker gratified the religious right and provoked the Democratic Party when he said he would sign a bill requiring women seeking abortions to get ultrasound exams

    .

    Well, I won’t be voting for him. These ultrasound bills are so unequivocally patronizing. What part of “safe, legal, and rare” do Republicans not understand?

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Give me a break Doug. Were you not alive in 2012? Walker is DOA.

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Jen: Jen, you will never find a hole deep enough, will you?

  11. I’m going to have to talk to Doug at another CPAC and explain to him what’s really happening in Wisconsin again, aren’t I?

  12. al-Ameda says:

    What is it with Wisconsin Republicans: Paul Ryan, Scott Walker, Joe McCarthy?

  13. Dave D says:

    He doesn’t have a chance. Wisconsin has fallen to 44th in job creation since he took office. In that time only 66K jobs were added and only 30K after his budget was implemented. Last month WI was the only midwest state to lose jobs. Even ALEC funded studies on his economic policies are completely full of shit the journal-sentinel refused to publish their findings. His selling off of the government to his friends by the creation of the WEDC has been an absolute failure. His chief of staff is in prison on campaign fund misappropriations and he became the first sitting government ever to funnel money into his John Doe defense fund. The FBI still won’t comment as to whether or not he is still under investigation. He doesn’t have a college degree. And now the forced ultrasounds. But he did destroy state employment through union busting all so he could give his buddies a tax cut plan that overwhelmingly favors the rich so…

  14. Dave D says:

    @al-Ameda: We did have fightin’ Bob LaFollette and Milwaukee had a socialist mayor until 1960. Fiengold is very missed.

  15. superdestroyer says:

    @Mr. Prosser:

    the unemployment rate in Wisconsin is lower than in Michigan, Illinois, or Indiana. but is higher than in Texas. Have you criticized in Democrats in Illinois for having a higher unemployment rate? Cite

    The data on unemployment in Wisconsin does not support your claims and what coud the governor do to rectify world economic conditions? Is putting more people on the government payroll really a long term solution?

  16. Sam Malone says:

    Walker will be another…crap…what’s his name…well…you get the point.

  17. Sam Malone says:

    Tim Pawlenty.
    He was a supposed Republican saviour…then his economic policies wrecked havoc on Minnesota. Now…not so much.
    Ryan…another Republican wunderkid…and Wisconsonite…has an economic plan that is MATHEMATICALLY IMPOSSIBLE.
    See you in ’16.

  18. Sam Malone says:

    @ Super-duper…

    “…Is putting more people on the government payroll really a long term solution?…”

    Ask any Republican President…it’s what they have always done to help their economies.
    Government doesn’t grow as fast under Democrats.
    This in spite of your ideology. What a shock.

    http://dailydish.typepad.com/.a/6a00d83451c45669e20168e8f57e89970c-800wi
    http://www.epi.org/publication/public-sector-job-losses-unprecedented-drag/
    http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/05/04/business/economy/off-the-charts-shrinking-government.html?ref=economy&_r=0

  19. Must say, I have to love the intrepid ignorance of liberals trolling here from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel thinking my first comment is an attack on Walker. Sorry, it was a mild-mannered (and friendly) jab at Doug for how in 2012 I pretty much explained to him at CPAC that the Recall was all but over but the voting.

    So sorry Milwaukee-area liberals, you once again are proving yourself to be some of the stupidest God has ever placed on this planet. Guess I can only blame the public school system there, huh?

  20. @Dave D: Feingold is an asshat. I was proud to be a staffer in Ron Johnson’s campaign who helped bring his reign of terror to an end.

  21. al-Ameda says:

    @Kevin Binversie:

    @Dave D: Feingold is an asshat. I was proud to be a staffer in Ron Johnson’s campaign who helped bring his reign of terror to an end.

    Wow, Ron Johnson sure hires classy staffers.

  22. Dave D says:

    @Kevin Binversie: I like how you offer no meaningful defense of Walker, his policies and his abysmal jobs record which is now costing tax payers through the WEDC. When Belling is on your ass about it, it can’t be good. Also I am surprised you kept your neck away from the national razor when Fiengold was imposing his will on the countryside.

  23. Pinky says:

    A governorship isn’t that easy a path to the GOP nomination, at least with limited name recognition. He’d be better off serving out two full terms.

    The guy was born in Colorado and spent some time in Iowa. He’s the son of a Baptist preacher. Those aren’t the worst roots for a potential presidential candidate. He’s known as a fighter, now, but with experience comes a veneer of statesmanship. Two full terms would put him in two years out of 2020 and looking for a job. If there’s a Democrat in the White House, that’s perfect timing for him. If there’s a Republican president, then he can get a job in the administration and fill out his resume.

  24. Stan says:

    @Kevin Binversie: I’m a Waukesha County liberal. When I was going to college, the locals were enthusiastic for Joe McCarthy. A few years later they found a Democrat they liked, George Wallace. Now it’s Scott Walker. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

  25. Pinky says:

    @Stan:

    A few years later they found a Democrat they liked, George Wallace.

    False. Wallace got less than 7000 votes in 1968, trounced by Nixon and Humphrey. Wallace got a higher percentage of the vote in Milwaukee. But more to the point: what principles do McCarthy, Wallace, and Walker share? Please name them.

  26. NickTamere says:

    @Kevin Binversie: I was proud to be a staffer in Ron Johnson’s campaign who helped bring his reign of terror to an end.

    Congratulations, you worked a guy who prevented child abuse victims from getting justice and opposed the only senator to vote against the original Patriot act.

  27. Stan says:

    @Pinky: There’s a segment of the electorate who feel that their hard earned dollars are being ripped off by pinko politicians and then given to people too dumb, too lazy, and too worthless to provide for themselves. This feeling was very strong among the adults in the town I grew up in before I left for college in ’54 and even stronger among the wealthy people who lived out on the lakes, many of whom were Birchers. In their different ways, McCarthy, Wallace, and Walker have a lot of appeal to this crowd. Obviously Walker doesn’t appeal to anticommunist paranoia or to racism, and maybe I’m being unfair to him. We’ll see what comes out when he runs for president.

  28. Pinky says:

    @Stan: You do see the irony in using guilt by association here, don’t you?

  29. al-Ameda says:

    @Pinky:

    But more to the point: what principles do McCarthy, Wallace, and Walker share? Please name them.

    They’re white, and they appeal to white middle class and working class resentment. It’s a timeless theme in the Republican Party.

  30. @Jen: No energy form, including sound, is harmless. I’ve had them because they provided a medical advantage in diagnosis, but what advantage do ultrasounds provide for the fetus? NONE, unless you include the risk of cell or organ damage as one. At high enough energy levels, sound can liquify cells and organs.

  31. @NickTamere: You mean a law that was a trial lawyer give away that even Peg Lautenschlager opposed.

    Next time, do some actual homework, not Googling through Dan “No, I’m Not a Liberal Hack At All…oh, what Scot Ross is on the phone, I’ll get back to you…” Bice column.

  32. G.A.Phillips says:

    Wisconsin has fallen DRAMATICALLY since the implementation of Walker’s policies.

    lol idiot…

    Damn there are some stupid fools on this site, same stupid crap over and over and over again.

    Please, please, please make Scott Walker the GOP candidate for 2016. Pretty much any Dem would win handily when Walkers record in Wisconsin is exposed.

    please, please , please, stop talking **** and lying about peoples governors when you are a lib voter from California!!!!!

    Can someone just kill me now so I don’t have to read this stupid crap or be part of this retarded ******* time in history anymore?!?!?!?!!?!

  33. Pinky says:

    @al-Ameda:

    They’re white, and they appeal to white middle class and working class resentment. It’s a timeless theme in the Republican Party.

    1) You’re a racist.
    2) Wallace was a Democrat.

  34. Pinky says:

    @Kevin Binversie: Yeah, there was obviously more to the story that Nick was leaving out. “Prevented child abuse victims from getting justice”, he said. It looks like the law actually only applied to civil cases, not criminal, and it extended the statute of limitations. That sounds good, on paper, because it often takes child victims years to come to terms with abuse, but we have statutes of limitations for a reason – evidence collection, witnesses, et cetera. It also expanded the list of potential defendents from the accused to institutions they may have been involved with. Again, that might be justifiable, but it would likely invite fishing expeditions. There are very rarely laws that have only positive effects that aren’t already on the books, but Nick was more interested in a broadside attack than an analysis.

  35. Sam Malone says:

    @ GA Phillips…

    “Can someone just kill me now so I don’t have to read this stupid crap or be part of this retarded ******* time in history anymore?!?!?!?!!?!

    If you want something done it’s generally best to do it yourself.
    I bet you don’t have the balls it would take.

  36. al-Ameda says:

    @Pinky:

    1) You’re a racist.
    2) Wallace was a Democrat.

    Two points:

    (1) I’m a racist because from 1968 to 2008 Republicans used a Southern Strategy that capitalized on race resentment among white working class Southern voters?

    (2) Did I say that George Wallace was a Republican?

  37. Pinky says:

    @al-Ameda: Words mean things. You didn’t interject skin color into the conversation by accident. You didn’t bring up a “timeless theme in the Republican Party” in a two-sentence reply by accident. Let’s not play coy here. You meant to paint McCarthy, Wallace, and Walker with the same brush, a white brush appealing to Republicans. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Racism has always been a tool of the left. They used it in 1860, in 1960, and today. They just package it as anti-racism these days. You just package your racism as anti-racism. But whether it’s in a Confederate uniform, a sheet, or whatever you’re wearing right now, it’s easily recognizable. (Too harsh? Maybe. But I hate racism and coyness, and in two sentences you exhibited both.)

  38. Stan says:

    @Pinky: “Racism has always been a tool of the left. They used it in 1860, in 1960, and today. They just package it as anti-racism these days.”

    I don’t get this. To show why I’m confused, I was on the verge of voting for George H. W. Bush in 1988 but changed my mind after his campaign used the Willie Horton ad. When I voted for Dukakis, was I acting out of a racist impulse? Maybe you could explain.

  39. Pinky says:

    If you remember, the Bush campaign ran this “revolving door” ad:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmwhdDv8VrM.
    You can see “Bush Quayle” at the end of it.
    The Willie Horton ad http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Io9KMSSEZ0Y was run by the National Security PAC, if I read the fine print at the end correctly. It was an independent campaign organization. Candidates hate those, because they often (in this case, particularly) step on the message. I think the ad was racist, but you can’t blame the Bush people for it.

  40. Stan says:

    @Pinky: You really think the Bush campaign was blindsided by the Horton ad? Or, going back to 1980, that Ronald Reagan wasn’t aware of the implications when he talked up “States Rights” at Philadelphia, Mississippi, scene of the murders of Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman? If I ever have to give an example of a disingenuousness statement, I’ll use the last sentence of your post.

  41. Pinky says:

    It wasn’t disingenuous. Campaigns hate this kind of stuff. If you recall, Dukakis ran as the creator of The Massachusetts Miracle; Bush waited until the homestretch of the campaign and then hit back with the Revolving Door and Boston Harbor ads. That was great stuff. They didn’t need any kind of race angle. Suddenly Bush had to defend himself against charges of racism in the final leg of a presidential campaign.

  42. Stan says:

    @Pinky: This is from Wikipedia:

    The first person to mention the Massachusetts furlough program in the 1988 presidential campaign was Al Gore. During a debate before the New York primary, Gore took issue with the furlough program. However, he did not specifically mention the Horton incident or even his name, instead asking a general question about the Massachusetts furlough program.[7]

    Republicans picked up the Horton issue after Dukakis clinched the nomination. In June 1988, Republican candidate George H.W. Bush seized on the Horton case, bringing it up repeatedly in campaign speeches. Bush’s campaign manager, Lee Atwater, said “By the time we’re finished, they’re going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis’ running mate.”[8]

    Pinkerton returned with reams of material that Atwater told him to reduce to a 3×5 index card, telling him, “I’m giving you one thing. You can use both sides of the 3×5 card.” Pinkerton discovered the furlough issue by watching the Felt Forum debate. On May 25, 1988, Republican consultants met in Paramus, New Jersey, holding a focus group of Democrats who had voted for Ronald Reagan in 1984. These focus groups convinced Atwater and the other Republican consultants that they should ‘go negative’ against Dukakis. Further information regarding the furlough came from aide Andrew Card, a Massachusetts native whom President George W. Bush later named as his Chief of Staff.[9]

    Jumping the gun[edit]
    Although commercials about Willie Horton were not run until the fall campaign, Bush first mentioned him at the Texas Republican convention on June 9, 1988.

    Over the Fourth of July weekend in 1988, Atwater attended a motorcyclists’ convention in Luray, Virginia. Two couples were talking about the Horton story as featured in the July issue of Reader’s Digest. Atwater joined them without mentioning who he was. Later that night, a focus group in Alabama had turned completely against Dukakis when presented the information about Horton’s furlough. Atwater used this occurrence to argue the necessity of pounding Dukakis about the furlough issue.[9]

    The fall campaign[edit]
    Beginning on September 21, 1988, the Americans for Bush arm of the National Security Political Action Committee (NSPAC), under the auspices of Floyd Brown, began running a campaign ad entitled “Weekend Passes”, using the Horton case to attack Dukakis. The ad was produced by media consultant Larry McCarthy, who had previously worked for Roger Ailes. After clearing the ad with television stations, McCarthy added a menacing mug shot of Horton, who is African American. The ad was run as an independent expenditure, separate from the Bush campaign, which claimed not to have had any role in its production.[10]

    Wikipedia allows challenges of their posts. Maybe you should correct their version.

  43. Pinky says:

    @Stan: No reason to correct it; it agrees with what I said. There’s nothing in there about Willie Horton being identified as black or pictured in any of the Bush campaign’s activities.

  44. al-Ameda says:

    @Pinky:

    But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Racism has always been a tool of the left. They used it in 1860, in 1960, and today. They just package it as anti-racism these days.

    I’m still waiting for you to provide evidence that I am a racist.

  45. Pinky says:

    @al-Ameda:

    They’re white