They’ve already taken out one leading Republican presidential contender. Can they destroy another? That’s the only real point of interest about the release of 27,000 pages of emails from the office of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker from 2009 and 2010 when he was still only Milwaukee County executive. The massive information dump ordered by a Wisconsin judge after requests from news organizations led by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has some liberals crowing that the troubles faced by some members of his former staff could sink the governor.
The Nation could barely contain its glee in a story that led with a comparison to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Bridgegate woes and claimed the data revealed scandals that are “shining new light on the extent to which the controversial governor’s legal, ethical and political troubles will make his transition to the national stage difficult.” That sounds like big trouble for Walker as well as bad timing, considering that he has just been anointed by Politico as one of the two “strongest” 2016 GOP presidential contenders and is also in the middle of a challenging reelection race.
But just because Christie was felled by rogue staffers and friends and will now spend the rest of his tenure in Trenton answering for their bizarre shenanigans doesn’t mean Walker is in similar trouble. The problem for Democrats here is that although liberal media hounds will have great fun sorting through Walker’s communications from the period before he became governor, there’s no reason to believe there’s any scandal here. Though some of Walker’s staff from that time did get in trouble for malfeasance, the theft of campaign funds by one has nothing to do with Walker. The only charge that can even remotely be tied to Walker is the one that resulted in an aide being convicted for conducting political activities on government time. But does anyone, even at the Nation, let alone in the Democratic leadership, think that Americans will be outraged over an aide blurring the division between political activity and governing at a time when the entire Obama White House seems to do nothing but that?
The Walker story isn’t merely a dead end for Democrats. The fishing expedition into his past will, like the ill-fated effort to recall him in 2012, only strengthen him in Wisconsin and endear the governor even more to both the Republican grass-roots and the establishment types who see him as Christie’s replacement in 2016.
The lack of any real scandal here hasn’t deterred much of the mainstream media from acting as if Walker was in genuine trouble. The emails were released as part of the fallout from a case brought against Kelly M. Rindfleisch, Walker’s deputy chief of staff, who was convicted of one count of performing political work for someone other than Walker on county time. Wisconsin has extremely stringent laws about such activity that contrast with those that exist in most of the rest of the nation as well as on the federal level. But, as even the New York Times lengthy story about the affair today noted, the documents show that Walker tried to rein any violations by his staff and is nowhere tied to their activities. Walker was absolved in the state investigations of the case and there doesn’t appear to be anything even amid the deluge of emails that would lead to that judgment being reversed.
So no matter how much liberals keep repeating the refrain about Walker being investigated or tied to a scandal, it’s clear that, unlike Christie, he has no real legal or ethical problem. That’s especially true when you realize that if the same standard were applied to the Obama White House, virtually the entire West Wing would be carted off in handcuffs. The best Democrats can hope for is that somewhere in that mountain of emails there will be some, or even one, in which he says something embarrassing rather than legally troublesome.
But so far the worst the fishing expedition has uncovered are some email jokes that were not sent by Walker and one in which he did participate in which a doctor was fired from a hospital after a discussion about her being a thong model. Not only is that not remotely comparable to the real damage done to the public by Bridgegate, but it also doesn’t contain anything that could even be used in a Democratic attack ad.
Provided that he isn’t defeated for reelection this fall, Walker is in a unique position that justifies Politico’s putting him in the top rank of 2016 contenders along with Rand Paul. Beloved by the party base and Tea Partiers for his successful battle with unions and leftist thugs in 2011 to enact reform measures, he’s also liked by the party establishment that sees him as a mainstream answer to more marginal figures like Paul or Ted Cruz.
Like all politicians, Walker isn’t bulletproof and there is plenty of time for him to commit gaffes or for his staff to go haywire in the manner in which Christie’s did before 2016. But the portrait that emerges from the emails doesn’t appear to do anything to damage the governor’s presidential prospects.