Commentary Magazine


Topic: Scott Walker

Scott Walker’s Reagan-Nixon Test

The brouhaha over the latest ambush interview of Scott Walker hadn’t even finished before the Wisconsin governor got some very good news that diminished the importance of some of his latest slipups with the press. The Quinnipiac University poll of Iowa Republicans published today showed Walker with an astonishing 12 percentage point lead over his nearest competitor among fellow Republican presidential hopefuls. But with success in a presidential race comes scrutiny, and Walker has been getting a lot of from sources that do not share the enthusiasm for his policies that exist among a broad spectrum of potential GOP voters. Though he’s polling well, his less-than-sparkling performance when grilled by liberal journalists about such ridiculous topics as evolution and whether President Obama is a Christian shows that he’s not only got a lot to learn about being a presidential candidate. The reaction to these stories also shows that he has a choice to make about what kind of a Republican he wants to be: Ronald Reagan or Richard Nixon?

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The brouhaha over the latest ambush interview of Scott Walker hadn’t even finished before the Wisconsin governor got some very good news that diminished the importance of some of his latest slipups with the press. The Quinnipiac University poll of Iowa Republicans published today showed Walker with an astonishing 12 percentage point lead over his nearest competitor among fellow Republican presidential hopefuls. But with success in a presidential race comes scrutiny, and Walker has been getting a lot of from sources that do not share the enthusiasm for his policies that exist among a broad spectrum of potential GOP voters. Though he’s polling well, his less-than-sparkling performance when grilled by liberal journalists about such ridiculous topics as evolution and whether President Obama is a Christian shows that he’s not only got a lot to learn about being a presidential candidate. The reaction to these stories also shows that he has a choice to make about what kind of a Republican he wants to be: Ronald Reagan or Richard Nixon?

With more than 11 months to go before they vote, nobody in Walker’s camp should be celebrating yet. But his streak to the top of the GOP field after a remarkably successful couple of months promoting his prospective candidacy should cause those anointing Jeb Bush as the overwhelming favorite and frontrunner to start hedging their bets. As I’ve written here before, Walker’s fights against union thugs and their Democratic enablers in Wisconsin made him a folk hero to Tea Partiers and other conservatives while his strong record of both electoral success and good governance along with a positive persona and commonsense approach to economics has endeared him to establishment Republicans too. His humble background also makes him attractive to a party that should have learned that nominating millionaires isn’t the way to shed their image as the party of the rich.

But nobody gets to be president without going through the gauntlet of intense press scrutiny that is part of any national campaign. No matter what you’ve gone through on a state level—even in a purple/blue state like Wisconsin—it doesn’t compare to playing in the big leagues of presidential politics. Walker has gotten a taste of that in the last month as he’s found himself being quizzed about topics that have no relevance to the presidential race. His fumbles when faced with these absurd questions became fodder for the national press that viewed his equivocations about Darwin’s theory and the president’s faith to be proof that he was either a troglodyte fool or an incompetent bungler waiting to be taken down by a ravenous liberal media much in the manner that an unprepared Sarah Palin was felled during the 2008 campaign.

But Walker isn’t taking any of this lying down and he has reportedly used these questions to help fuel his fundraising by asking supporters whether they are going to let the liberal media crucify him over nonsense. Some conservative writers agree. Over at the National Review, Charles Cooke writes that rather than Walker being wrong-footed, it was the media that was embarrassing itself by trying to make a meal out of such inconsequential stuff.

But as much as I sympathize with Walker, I find myself more in agreement with veteran media writer Jack Shafer who points out in a Politico magazine article that what he is going through is par for the course for any presidential candidate, liberal or conservative. Shafer’s right. The “gotcha” journalism Walker and his supporters are denouncing is as old as American democracy. But even if we concede, as we should, that conservatives face a higher bar than liberals and that the bias of the press ensures that they will focus more on trying to make candidates like Walker look stupid, that doesn’t absolve the governor of his obligation to rise above this test and to even turn it to his advantage.

Like it or not, every Republican has the same choice when faced with a biased liberal mainstream media. They can rage at the media or they can rise above it.

There is some advantage to running against the liberal press, as doing so is sure to engender sympathy with the conservative base. Sarah Palin has retained a large following, albeit not large enough to ever cause her to risk her niche as a political celebrity by facing the voters again, by doing just that.

But Republicans who want to win need to emulate Ronald Reagan’s example and smile and shrug off the brickbats hurled at him by liberal journalists. A similarly good-natured George W. Bush did the same for as long as he could until the backwash of the Iraq War and the 2008 economic collapse overwhelmed him.

Instead, all too many conservatives opt for the Richard Nixon approach to the media, labeling them as enemies and snarling defensively at their attempts to trip them up.

The point is, the best way to deal with “gotcha” journalism is not to harp on the stupid questions you’re asked but to simply answer them in ways that don’t provide your opponents with juicy sound bites. The fault lies not in the press for asking Walker to give them some good material but with the governor for stumbling over questions that could be answered easily without saying something dumb or embarrassing. If Walker is going to be undone by a few easy questions now, how is he going to handle even worse as the campaign heats up?

Scott Walker has shown that he has the talent to win tough races and to be undaunted by liberal press. That’s part of what makes him such an attractive presidential candidate. But he won’t do it by whining about “gotcha” journalism. It’s time for him to be Reagan, not Nixon. If he can’t, his lead won’t last.

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Watch As the Media Creates A False Race Narrative in Real Time

The Obama administration’s recent losing streak has been a problem not only for the president but also for the bearers of bad news. As I wrote yesterday, the political media get noticeably uncomfortable when the White House’s failings can’t be easily spun away. What they needed was a distraction. And that’s exactly what they got when Politico reported Rudy Giuliani’s off-the-record remarks at a fundraiser casting doubt on whether Barack Obama “loves America.” In the media’s completely predictable and utterly embarrassing overreaction, you could watch two narratives develop in real time.

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The Obama administration’s recent losing streak has been a problem not only for the president but also for the bearers of bad news. As I wrote yesterday, the political media get noticeably uncomfortable when the White House’s failings can’t be easily spun away. What they needed was a distraction. And that’s exactly what they got when Politico reported Rudy Giuliani’s off-the-record remarks at a fundraiser casting doubt on whether Barack Obama “loves America.” In the media’s completely predictable and utterly embarrassing overreaction, you could watch two narratives develop in real time.

An overarching rule of the mainstream media’s in-kind contribution to the Obama political machine is to avoid anything that can be construed as actual debate. So while Giuliani’s comments were following in Obama’s own footsteps, as the president has not hesitated to question the patriotism of those who disagree with him, the outrage was immediate. In an indication of just how bad things have been for the Obama White House lately, the press has now made “Giuliani was mean to Dear Leader” a two-day story. And they’ve also telegraphed how they hope to take it further.

The first way is to make it part of the 2016 conversation. This is generally how the press responds to any controversial statements by a Republican: try to get the other Republicans on the record about it. Thus while Democrats are never held responsible as a party for the extreme statements made by fellow liberals, Republicans are to be hounded by the president’s attack dogs for the perceived thought crime of any other Republican.

Scott Walker was asked about it, and gave the proper reply: he’s not Giuliani’s keeper. So the press went to annoy other Republicans. Talking Points Memo posted a piece describing the leftist media’s battle plan: “5 Points On How Obama’s Love For America Became The GOP’s Next 2016 Test”:

“I’m not questioning his patriotism. He’s a patriot, I’m sure,” Giuliani said. “What I’m saying is that in his rhetoric, I very rarely hear him say the things that I used to hear Ronald Reagan say, the things I used to hear Bill Clinton say, about how much he loves America.”

In a Thursday morning interview on CNBC, Walker was asked about Giuliani’s remarks but declined to comment on whether he believed Obama “loves America.”

Later in the day, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) stood apart from his GOP counterparts by openly saying he has “no doubt” Obama loves the country, although he disagrees with the President’s policies.

And before long, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) issued a statement declaring his refusal to condemn Giuliani’s comments because the gist of them was “true.”

With that, it was official: Whether the President of the United States actually loves the United States had become the debate du jour among potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates.

Notice Republicans did not actually set out to make this silly debate a litmus test. But as TPM points out, the media did. And so it shall be.

And while this may seem haphazard, as if the media’s just throwing whatever it can against the wall to change the conversation from Team Obama’s serial incompetence, there’s a point here. Why does the left want Republicans to talk about Giuliani’s criticism of Obama? Because they—of course—have deemed it racist.

Although—or perhaps, because—this particular accusation is obviously untrue, political reporters chased it feverishly. The New York Times’s Maggie Haberman and Nicholas Confessore got Rudy on the record in response:

“Some people thought it was racist — I thought that was a joke, since he was brought up by a white mother, a white grandfather, went to white schools, and most of this he learned from white people,” Mr. Giuliani said in the interview. “This isn’t racism. This is socialism or possibly anti-colonialism.”

In other words: Giuliani thinks the racism angle is silly, because the aspect of Obama’s worldview he’s criticizing comes from Obama’s immersion in white environments. The president’s “blackness” has nothing to do with it; if anything, it’s the opposite.

So naturally the Times manipulated Giuliani’s statement and slapped a patently false headline on the story that seems almost designed to destroy the credibility of the reporters who got the quote: “Giuliani: Obama Had a White Mother, So I’m Not a Racist.” I don’t know if Haberman and Confessore objected, but I would hope so. They’re far more honest than their editors want you to think they are.

But the Times report did get one more good quote out of Giuliani. This one was also prefaced with concern it would be controversial, but at least this time Giuliani helped himself by saying something indisputably true:

Mr. Giuliani said he also objected to the president’s comments about the Crusades at the National Prayer Breakfast this month, in which Mr. Obama said that during the Inquisition, people had “committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

“Now we know there’s something wrong with the guy,” Mr. Giuliani said of the president. “I thought that one sort of went off the cliff.’’

He added: “What I don’t find with Obama — this will get me in more trouble again — is a really deep knowledge of history. I think it’s a dilettante’s knowledge of history.”

As I wrote last week, Obama’s historical ignorance has come to be the defining feature of his public remarks. What was more troubling was the fact that no one around Obama seems to know much history either. But no matter: whenever the president’s own behavior is indefensible, they can always find someone to call a racist.

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Why the 2016 Primaries Will Be a Wild Ride for the GOP

Normally, the Republican Party picks its nominee the way the British pick their monarch. The candidate “next in line” gets to run in the general election, no questions asked. Meanwhile, the Democrats are known for rollicking, unpredictable contests that stretch the full length of the primary calendar. But 2016 will probably see a reversal of the trend. The Republican field will be the raucous one, while Hillary Clinton looks to consolidate the Democratic nomination earlier than any non-incumbent in generations.

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Normally, the Republican Party picks its nominee the way the British pick their monarch. The candidate “next in line” gets to run in the general election, no questions asked. Meanwhile, the Democrats are known for rollicking, unpredictable contests that stretch the full length of the primary calendar. But 2016 will probably see a reversal of the trend. The Republican field will be the raucous one, while Hillary Clinton looks to consolidate the Democratic nomination earlier than any non-incumbent in generations.

Why the reversal? To start, the Democrats are not dealing from a position of strength. The fact is that their midterm defeats of 2010 and 2014–not just in the Senate, but state governorships as well–have decimated the party’s bench. There are precious few credible presidential candidates who could run, besides Hillary Clinton. If Joe Biden were not so gaffe-prone, he might be able to challenge her, and he might still. But beyond that their bench is weak. So, it is not so much that Clinton’s stature is much improved compared to 2008, when she faced a broad, formidable field for the nomination; it is, rather, that the quality of her would-be competitors has dropped markedly.

Meanwhile, the Republican triumphs in the Senate and governorships have created a wealth of would-be candidates. Ironically, Obama has been very good for the Republican Party. There are a plethora of prospective candidates–Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Mike Pence, Marco Rubio, Rick Snyder, and Scott Walker–who became a senator or governor during the Obama era, in part by running against him. Further, an unpopular Obama helped Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal cruise to their reelections, in 2010 and 2011, respectively. And the same considerations even apply to Ben Carson. Would he be running strongly in Iowa right now if he had not publicly criticized ObamaCare in front of the president?

Still, there is more to the story. Usually, we think of the Democratic Party as a motley assortment of various, often contradictory interest groups, more or less evenly matched. This is why Jimmy Carter could come from nowhere to win in 1976, why Gary Hart could almost take the nomination from Walter Mondale in 1984, why Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton could win their contests even though a majority of Democrats voted for somebody else, and ultimately why Barack Obama basically tied Hillary Clinton in 2008. Meanwhile, the Republican Party is strikingly uniform–more or less the married, white middle class–and this homogeny has facilitated its coronation process. There are just fewer disagreements among Republicans, so they come together on a nominee in an orderly fashion.

This conception of the GOP is not quite right. As I argue in my new book A Republic No More: Big Government and the Rise of American Political Corruption, the Republican Party has long been factional as well, just less so than the Democrats. In the late 19th century, for instance, it was an alliance between the middle class, Yankees of New England, industrialists and financiers, Midwestern factory workers, and Western farmers. More often than not, these groups saw eye to eye, but issues like tariffs, the gold standard, and civil-service reform could split them into factions. These divisions were nothing compared to 19th century Democrats–who somehow combined the Southern plantation gentry with the ethnic vote in the big Northern cities–but they were still there, and still mattered under the right circumstances.

Today, the same remains true. Republicans are still factional, even if they are more united than the Democrats. There is the “establishment,” which resides mostly in Democratic-controlled areas like New York City and Washington D.C., but provides the campaign contributions, experts, and consultants necessary to run campaigns; there are cultural conservatives, particularly strong in Midwest caucus states like Iowa; there are small-government reformers, who turn out to vote in New Hampshire primaries; there are pro-growth Sun Belters in states like Florida and Texas; there are pro-military Republicans, for instance in South Carolina; and there are libertarian-style Republicans, strong in Western caucus states. And so on. These groups are all closer to one another than any are to the Democrats, but there are disagreements among them. In the Obama era, there has been tension within the GOP on how quickly and aggressively the party should challenge the president, as well as what to do about immigration reform.

In fact, the Obama administration–while unifying Republicans in shared opposition to the Democratic party–has created some pretty heated disagreements within it about what to do next. We see this in Congress now, as it struggles to formulate and implement an agenda to counter Obama’s. And we probably are going to see it in the primary battle next year, as a major bone of contention will not be whether the country should depart from the Obama policies, but how dramatically it should do so.

And ironically, the strength of the prospective field is probably exacerbating the internal cleavages as well. Right now, each of those factions can point to a credible candidate who agrees predominantly with its perspective. Sometimes, there may be more than one. The establishment figures like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie. The cultural conservatives adore Ben Carson and Ted Cruz. Scott Walker is the first choice among reformers. Libertarians like Rand Paul. The field is so strong that no faction within the party is forced to say, “OK–my ideal candidate isn’t running. So, who is my compromise choice?”

Will this be a bad thing for the GOP? Possibly. Sean Trende has highlighted the possibility of no clear nominee being found prior to the convention, but that is unprecedented in the modern era. It could still happen, but nobody in the party has an interest in such disunion right before the general election. The most likely outcome is that somebody will emerge to unite a critical mass of the various forces, and become a consensus choice–maybe that candidate will not win a majority of the primary vote, but he or she will have won more than anybody else and be acceptable to all the major factions. And, just like in the free market, political competition can spark innovation and generate upside surprises. The battle will not only improve the ultimate nominee’s campaign skills, but maybe point the way to a better line of attack against Clinton in the general election. If Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” works for capitalism, it can work for Republican politics, too.

So, for now, the more, the merrier!

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Scott Walker’s Dropout Advantage

It is a measure how much the Scott Walker boomlet is worrying the left that there is suddenly a plethora of attacks on him, each and every one, of course, tendentious.
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It is a measure how much the Scott Walker boomlet is worrying the left that there is suddenly a plethora of attacks on him, each and every one, of course, tendentious.
Gail Collins of the New York Times wrote a column on Friday, entitled “Scott Walker Needs an Eraser,” denouncing Walker for cutting Wisconsin school funding in 2010, causing teacher layoffs. Despite the prodigious depth of her research, she failed to notice that he took office in 2011. Finally, on Sunday, the Times applied an eraser to Collins’s column and ran a correction. As Hot Air points out, the rest of the column doesn’t make much sense without the sentence that was deleted.

The Times itself ran an editorial on February 6 denouncing Walker for proposing a cut in the budget of the University of Wisconsin, implicitly arguing that a university with 180,000 students and 26 campuses could not possibly run a tighter ship. It claims he came to prominence in 2011 “with his attacks on collective bargaining rights and attempts to curtail the benefits of state workers,” as though it is impossible for state workers to have excessive benefits or too many collective bargaining rights.

It’s at it again this morning. Expect this to become a regular drum beat; the higher Walker gets in the polls the more the drum will be beaten.

But I think what really annoys both the “Paper of Record” and the intellectual snobs who think its editorial page is actually worth reading is that Walker is not an Ivy League intellectual. Indeed he didn’t go to an Ivy League school and he didn’t even graduate from Marquette, where he did go. To Howard Dean, that makes him unqualified to be president. Of course, Howard Dean, who went to Yale and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine on his father’s money, thinks it has been “generations” since a president lacked a college degree. In fact it has been only two generations since Harry Truman did a great job as president in the dangerous years after World War II despite a post-high-school education consisting of only one semester at Spalding’s Commercial College, a Kansas City business school. Woodrow Wilson, in contrast, had a Ph.D. from Princeton in political science and made a total dog’s breakfast of guiding the nation through the dangerous years after World War I.

Scott Walker dropped out of Marquette, lacking only one semester. So Howard Dean is implicitly arguing that had he stayed around Marquette four months longer and taken courses on American antebellum literature, astronomy, symbolic logic, and the French Revolution, he’d be qualified to be president. As George Orwell wrote, that is an idea so stupid only an intellectual could believe it.

Glenn Reynolds, of Instapundit fame, thinks Walker’s lack of B.A. after his name would be a breath of fresh air in “an Ivy-League suffocated government.” I suspect that the 68 percent of the population who also lack college degrees may well feel the same. And then, the day after the election in 2016, Gail Collins, Howard Dean, etc., will be sitting around wondering how Scott Walker could possibly have won the election. After all, they won’t have known anyone who voted for him.

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ISIS’s Rise Means 2016 May Be a Foreign-Policy Election

In Britain on a trade mission, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was quizzed about foreign policy at a session at London’s Chatham House. But rather than say anything that might help bolster the potential 2016 candidate’s foreign-policy credentials, Walker channeled mid-20th century Senate giant Arthur Vandendberg and acted as if partisan politics really should stop “at the water’s edge” and avoided saying anything that might be taken as a criticism of President Obama or even an opinion about various world crises. That might be considered principled, but if Walker wants to actually win his party’s nomination he’ll have to do better in the future (as well as avoiding being trapped into giving equivocal answers about his belief in evolution). That the exchange happened the same day that Congress began considering the president’s proposal for a new war powers resolution authorizing the use of force in the Middle East also means the same lesson will apply to other candidates. Though conventional wisdom tells us that economic questions will always dominate presidential elections, the rise of ISIS has ensured that anyone who is thinking about the White House needs to have a coherent vision of American foreign policy.

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In Britain on a trade mission, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was quizzed about foreign policy at a session at London’s Chatham House. But rather than say anything that might help bolster the potential 2016 candidate’s foreign-policy credentials, Walker channeled mid-20th century Senate giant Arthur Vandendberg and acted as if partisan politics really should stop “at the water’s edge” and avoided saying anything that might be taken as a criticism of President Obama or even an opinion about various world crises. That might be considered principled, but if Walker wants to actually win his party’s nomination he’ll have to do better in the future (as well as avoiding being trapped into giving equivocal answers about his belief in evolution). That the exchange happened the same day that Congress began considering the president’s proposal for a new war powers resolution authorizing the use of force in the Middle East also means the same lesson will apply to other candidates. Though conventional wisdom tells us that economic questions will always dominate presidential elections, the rise of ISIS has ensured that anyone who is thinking about the White House needs to have a coherent vision of American foreign policy.

As our Max Boot termed it, Obama’s proposal for authorizing U.S. actions against terrorists in the Middle East is “a classic muddle.” By attempting to balance the administration’s allergic reaction to a U.S. commitment that might actually defeat ISIS while providing a legal basis for its ongoing half-hearted efforts, the president has provoked criticism from both the right and the left. But rather than being a compromise that makes sense, it merely confirms for those who weren’t already convinced that the president has no real strategy for eliminating ISIS or even for significantly “degrading” it.

It’s not clear what exactly will come out of the Congress as both House and Senate leaders struggle to come up with a formula that makes more sense than the administration’s attempt to set up one with limitations that ensures the U.S. can’t prevail in the conflict. But while his critics may demand that the president demonstrate that he has a path to victory over ISIS, they have very little leverage over his choices. No matter the outcome of the votes on a force authorization, nothing can make the president prosecute this war with conviction. Indeed, the U.S. is increasingly showing signs that the president is more interested in making common cause with Iran than in actually rolling back ISIS’s vast territorial gains in Iraq and Syria. That means the connection between Obama’s equivocal approach to the nuclear talks with Iran is not only worrisome in and of itself but a sign of an overall strategy in which the U.S. will acquiesce to Iran becoming a nuclear threshold state and obtaining regional hegemony in return for cooperation against ISIS.

All this makes it even more important than it normally might be that potential 2016 GOP presidential candidates have more to say about foreign policy than platitudes. In 2008 the presidential contest—or at least the Democratic nomination that year—was essentially decided on the basis of Barack Obama’s adamant opposition to the Iraq war. Yet every new ISIS atrocity and terror attack is going to make it harder for anyone—whether on the right or the left—to run on a platform of keeping the U.S. out of the Middle East or to avoid conflicts.

For Democrats, this might make it even harder for those outliers with the temerity to challenge the Hillary Clinton juggernaut to get some traction by outflanking her on the left with another anti-war campaign. For Republicans, the more attention paid to ISIS murders of Americans, the harder it will be for Rand Paul to break out from the ideological box that his libertarian isolationist base has put him.

Nevertheless, Republican candidates need to do more than merely carp at Obama or issue ringing rhetoric about fighting terror. Unlike in 2008 and 2012, when many Americans thought they were electing a president to get them out of unpopular wars, the force authorization vote ensures that whoever wins next year will be leading a war effort that may well dominate their presidencies.

Unless something very unexpected happens in the next year, Republican candidates will be competing in primaries where they will be expected to tell us how they are prepared to beat an enemy that is, contrary to President Obama’s assurances, very much not on the run. That gives an advantage to a candidate like Senator Marco Rubio, who has been speaking with some authority on foreign policy throughout his first term in the Senate. Jeb Bush will have to also show whether his approach to foreign policy is, as some reports have indicated, a knockoff of his father’s “realist” policies that may not provide much of a contrast with Obama’s equivocations. By contrast, it puts those GOP governors that many of us have been assuming will be formidable candidates on the spot to quickly get up to speed on foreign policy. Walker is not the only one who fits in that category, but after his recent surge in the polls in Iowa, it’s obvious that if he wants to stay on top, he’s going to have to say something more than “no comment” about Iran.

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Why They Fear Scott Walker

As I write this, the No. 1 “most read” story on the Washington Post’s website is its investigation into the college years of Scott Walker, headlined: “As Scott Walker mulls White House bid, questions linger over college exit.” Most of the time, you don’t need to read such a story to know what it’s about: for Republicans, every silly comment or stunt in their teenage years is in the public interest, and for Democrats the same investigative practice is racist, racist, racist. (Though in 2016 it will be sexist, sexist, sexist.) But there is one aspect of this story that is tangentially related to issues that a rational voter might actually care about. It’s just not what the Post thinks.

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As I write this, the No. 1 “most read” story on the Washington Post’s website is its investigation into the college years of Scott Walker, headlined: “As Scott Walker mulls White House bid, questions linger over college exit.” Most of the time, you don’t need to read such a story to know what it’s about: for Republicans, every silly comment or stunt in their teenage years is in the public interest, and for Democrats the same investigative practice is racist, racist, racist. (Though in 2016 it will be sexist, sexist, sexist.) But there is one aspect of this story that is tangentially related to issues that a rational voter might actually care about. It’s just not what the Post thinks.

The story didn’t come up with anything newsworthy–not even a case of Walker cutting somebody’s hair, like the alleged monster Mitt Romney apparently did. The headline alludes to this monumental failure of journalism: “questions linger” is journospeak for: “we asked a bunch of questions.” In other words, the story is about the media, not Walker. And “questions” only “linger” because their answers were a nonstory. When a newspaper gets its questions answered but still wants to talk only about its questions, they’re basically Geraldo at the opening of the vault.

So why should anyone care? For one, the questions about Walker not finishing school will keep coming up in part because leftists will seek to tie it to Walker’s education policy. A good example of this comes from MSNBC’s David Taintor, who offers the following lede to a story about Walker’s education budget cuts:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a potential 2016 GOP contender who never earned a college degree, has proposed a huge cut in funding for the University of Wisconsin system over the next two years.

Now, is that framing of the issue, to borrow a phrase from A Few Good Men, galactically stupid? Yes, it surely is galactically stupid. But that only makes it more likely that others on the left will use this formulation.

When you combine the budget cuts with the Post’s story on how Walker wasn’t an engaged student and never earned his degree, you see the left painting a certain picture: Not only did Walker not graduate, but he’s out for revenge against the system of higher education that was so unwelcome to him in his youth. A more benign version would hold that he just doesn’t value what they do, but that’s hard to square with the fact that his son attends Marquette, the same school Walker dropped out of.

Is Walker’s college history truly relevant to his budget approach? No. But the line of questioning, and the liberal focus on Walker’s dropout status, is quite relevant to the debate heading into 2016. That’s because Walker’s success despite not obtaining that degree represents a real threat to the government’s education cartel, the public unions it sustains, and the maintenance of the pipeline of left-liberal groupthink and its young adherents.

There is not, and has not been for a long time, a question of the existence of overwhelming liberal bias at institutions of higher education. The inquiries into the phenomenon focus on why that structural bias exists and persists. Whatever the reasons, it’s easy to understand why the liberal establishment wants to protect the biased architecture of American education.

And protect it they do. A college degree has become a kind of certification for entry into many of the higher reaches of the American economy. The government benefits from this financially by running the student-loan scheme, which drives up tuition costs and thus benefits not only big government but its liberal allies in academic administration.

And it’s a self-perpetuating cycle, which is why Democrats are so keen to guard it jealously. The system as it’s currently set up means educational attainment correlates, in general, to higher income. But that education gets increasingly expensive, which puts it in easier reach of those with higher income, who tend to have more education, etc. As the Economist notes, “the best predictor of an American child’s success in school has long been the parents’ educational level”–though money, which is also now related to educational level, “is an increasingly important factor.”

The Democrats’ approach thus perpetuates inequality, which they blame on “the rich” in order to win national office, which they use to perpetuate this system of inequality–another cycle.

Scott Walker calls this whole scheme into question. It’s not that his experience teaches that you don’t need a college degree to get a good job; it’s that you shouldn’t need to need a college degree to have professional and/or political success. Kids shouldn’t be discouraged from going to college and getting their degree as long as the current system persists, in which it usually makes sense for them to get that degree (if they can).

The point is that the system itself shouldn’t persist, at least in its current form. Walker, then, is living proof that the system can and should be reformed, and the world won’t end. Walker is representative of the potential of those outside the liberal economic elite and those who are severely underserved by the government’s college racket and union-friendly approach to education. That’s why Walker’s personal story matters, and why it’s such a threat to the left.

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Scott Walker: the GOP’s Elizabeth Warren?

You knew that Ted Cruz had made his mark on national politics when Elizabeth Warren started earning the moniker “the Democrats’ Ted Cruz.” Now Warren herself might be returning the favor. The Republicans have a national candidate whose defining political moment bears striking resemblance to Warren’s meteoric political rise. Despite the manifold differences in style and substance, there’s a case to be made that when Democrats set out to topple Scott Walker mid-term and failed, they did for Walker what Republicans did for Warren by blocking her initial attempt to run her own federal bureaucracy: they created a star.

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You knew that Ted Cruz had made his mark on national politics when Elizabeth Warren started earning the moniker “the Democrats’ Ted Cruz.” Now Warren herself might be returning the favor. The Republicans have a national candidate whose defining political moment bears striking resemblance to Warren’s meteoric political rise. Despite the manifold differences in style and substance, there’s a case to be made that when Democrats set out to topple Scott Walker mid-term and failed, they did for Walker what Republicans did for Warren by blocking her initial attempt to run her own federal bureaucracy: they created a star.

That’s one takeaway from yesterday’s fascinating Washington Post story on how in Walker’s attempt to fend off the left’s recall, he built the foundations of a national network of donors and connections. The story rings true for anyone with close knowledge of conservative politics. The attempt to recall Walker showed the national GOP that Walker had struck a chord in his reforms, and that for those reforms to have any positive reverberations outside Wisconsin, Republicans would have to hold Madison and solidify their gains.

It also showed conservatives a rabid side of the public unions. Death threats were received not just by Walker and his family but by donors to and supporters of his campaign as well. Conservatives won their battles through democratic politics; the left responded with antidemocratic stunts and even violence. It proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Walker was in the right, and that public unions had to be reined in. A Walker loss would have been a win for thuggish brute force over democratic debate.

Liberals were right, in other words, that there was much at stake. They were just on the wrong side of the issue. And when the recall became a national battle, both large donors and small donors rallied to Walker’s side. Here’s the Post:

Since surviving the recall attempt, Walker has assiduously maintained his relationships with an expanding roster of top party fundraisers and financiers, courting them with regular phone calls, chummy visits and invitations to his inauguration last month.

“The recall provided him with a really interesting opportunity, because he made so many connections nationally with so many donors,” said Chart Westcott, a Dallas-based hedge fund executive, who introduced Walker at the breakfast fundraiser held last month at his parents’ home in Indian Wells. “He already has this base of people who have given him six figures in the past. Not a lot of the other candidates have a national network like that.”

In all, Walker raised almost $83 million for his three statewide races in the past four years — an eye-popping sum for a governor of a modest-size Midwestern state. Of the nearly 300,000 people who gave to his campaigns, three out of four donated $75 or less, according to people familiar with the figures.

“He has a mammoth small-donor list,” rivaled only by libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), said Ron Weiser, a former finance chairman of the Republican National Committee.

He has the big-donor network to rival longtime national establishment figures and the small-donor network like the one that fuels the Paul family’s supporters. It’s a tremendous advantage, especially over other Midwestern politicians, and it gives Walker a head start on many of his opponents.

But while many will (rightly) focus on the advantage of having large donors in your corner, the small-donor network is just as important. It shows the extent to which Walker became a grassroots hero on the right. It built a persona, not just a fundraising apparatus.

This is where the comparison to Warren comes in. Warren was supposed to lead the Obama administration’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a bureaucratic watchdog agency hatched in 2010 and launched in 2011. Republicans blocked her appointment in opposition to the agency. But it didn’t prevent the agency from being formed (and working first without a director, then only with an unconstitutionally appointed apparatchik at the helm).

It also left Warren with an unfulfilled desire for power. So she ran for Senate in Massachusetts and beat Scott Brown, who had gone into the election with high approval ratings. Thus the GOP handed the Democrats virtually the only candidate they had who could have beaten Brown in that particular election. (They probably would have gotten the seat back at some point in the future, but for the time being it helped Republicans to have an unlikely “extra” Senate seat in the age of Obama, when they needed all the help they could get.)

Republicans, in crucial ways, created Elizabeth Warren–or at least the phenomenon that is Elizabeth Warren, in which legions of devoted liberals are trying to draft Warren to run for president. Democrats may have done something similar here with Walker.

It’s obviously a long way out from the 2016 election, and Walker will face a strong primary field of which he is not even the frontrunner. But the national sensation that is Scott Walker owes much to the governor’s successful attempt to overcome the left’s campaign to destroy him by recalling him. They tried to kill the king, and what didn’t kill him made him stronger.

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Should College Professors Teach More Classes and Do More Work?

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker has taken some heat for claiming that “it’s time for faculty and staff to start thinking about teaching more classes and doing more work.” I think that much of the criticism Walker has drawn is justified. While UW’s own survey research, suggesting that its professors work more than sixty hours per week, cannot be taken at face value, professors, whether they are at big research universities or small liberal arts colleges, have plenty to do.

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Wisconsin governor Scott Walker has taken some heat for claiming that “it’s time for faculty and staff to start thinking about teaching more classes and doing more work.” I think that much of the criticism Walker has drawn is justified. While UW’s own survey research, suggesting that its professors work more than sixty hours per week, cannot be taken at face value, professors, whether they are at big research universities or small liberal arts colleges, have plenty to do.

They teach classes, which entails extensive preparation, grading, and communication with students outside of the classroom. They conduct research, which often entails supervising and mentoring students, as well as grant writing. And they serve both on the committees involved in governing colleges and universities and, informally, in various ways, from bringing in guest speakers to advising the campus newspaper. As in all professions, one finds people who are not conscientious, but those who actually do their jobs work hard, often for considerably less than other professionals earn. Still, as two different commentators pointed out this week, Walker’s heavy-handed comments may point to a real problem.

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Jacques Berlinerblau, a professor of Jewish civilization at Georgetown University, observes that research universities like his make every effort—Berlinerblau has to teach only three courses per year—to release professors from teaching responsibilities. Insofar as everyone benefits from the pursuit of knowledge, even if the case is harder to make out for the study of Chaucer than it is for the study of antibiotics, we need not necessarily be troubled by the light teaching loads of professors at places like Georgetown, especially since many of them are superb, hardworking teachers and mentors. But by a kind of contagion, or because of a race for prestige, the emphasis on research at these powerhouses trickles down to colleges and universities whose primary function is teaching undergraduates. Although I think Berlinerblau exaggerates the case some, it rings true to me when he says that although “teaching undergraduates is, normally, a large part of a professor’s job, success in our field is correlated with a professor’s ability to avoid teaching undergraduates.” We live, he says, “by the unspoken creed that teaching is … not really what one is supposed to be doing. Conversely, doing a lot of teaching is construed as a sign that one is not doing well.”

Berlinerblau thinks that by neglecting teaching, or at least by not thinking more carefully about the drawbacks of a system that devalues teaching, he and his colleagues have left themselves “fatally exposed” to politicians who question the value of a college education, and to educational entrepreneurs—typically bearing technological solutions to the high cost of education—who argue that they can’t do much worse at teaching undergraduates than professors are presently doing.

Sam Goldman, writing for Minding the Campus, calls Walker’s comments “lazy and ill-informed.” But he too thinks that there is a “good case” to be made that the “labor model on which the modern research university depends,” whatever its merits for a Harvard or M.I.T., is “financially unsustainable and educationally counterproductive.” Moreover, there is “nothing crazy” about the desire of many students and parents that professors “spend more time in the lecture hall and less in the lab or archive,” though Goldman insists, importantly, that actually catering to that desire requires changing the orientation of universities—and having fewer institutions that aspire to be first-rate research universities—not just tacking additional courses onto a professor’s schedule.

At least some colleges and universities that presently pride themselves on research will probably, in a competitive environment, have to persuade potential students and their parents that their primary mission is to teach. But Berlinerbrau’s piece touches on one additional problem. Speaking particularly of the humanities, Berlinerbrau concedes that “we erred … in politicizing inquiry to the extent that we did” and in bringing the “same dense and ideologically tinctured brand of” theory to bear on “our vast canon of texts and traditions.” Anyone who has been following the debate over the boycott-Israel movement on campus will understand that more teaching is not necessarily better if what’s being taught in classrooms is, for example, a simpleminded theory, barely, if at all, distinguishable from propaganda, that captures Ferguson and Palestine as two aspects of a single colonial and racist movement.

Goldman, to his credit, has written before of the case campus conservatives could make with other lovers of our “cultural inheritance” in favor of the liberal arts as precisely opposed to propaganda. Writers “like Tolstoy evade contemporary political categories” and pose questions that challenge any moral, political, or aesthetic commitments.” Some such robust defense of what is to be taught, and not only an emphasis on teaching, is needed. Merely giving further lip service to the amorphous category of “critical thinking,” or imagining, as one writer purporting to be an enthusiast for the liberal arts did this week, students as “content creators” and professors as “cognitive coaches” is unlikely to assuage the fears of those, both within and outside of the field of higher education, that we have lost our way.

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Walker’s Early Surge More Important Than It Might Seem

Given the frenetic activity by possible Republican presidential candidates in the last month, it’s important to remind ourselves at times that we’re still a year away from the first primaries. That’s why no one should be too impressed with polls this far away from the voting since they are still more of an indication of name recognition than firm support or how the various contenders will actually stack up against each other once the campaigning begins in earnest. But the latest Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll of Iowa Republicans is significant not so much because its results give us an idea of who will win next year but because it shows that one particular candidate has started to catch on. The person in question is Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker who leads the crowded field, albeit with only 15 percent of Iowans claiming him as their first choice. But the question facing Walker and his supporters is whether this surge from the bottom to the head of the pack is coming too soon.

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Given the frenetic activity by possible Republican presidential candidates in the last month, it’s important to remind ourselves at times that we’re still a year away from the first primaries. That’s why no one should be too impressed with polls this far away from the voting since they are still more of an indication of name recognition than firm support or how the various contenders will actually stack up against each other once the campaigning begins in earnest. But the latest Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll of Iowa Republicans is significant not so much because its results give us an idea of who will win next year but because it shows that one particular candidate has started to catch on. The person in question is Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker who leads the crowded field, albeit with only 15 percent of Iowans claiming him as their first choice. But the question facing Walker and his supporters is whether this surge from the bottom to the head of the pack is coming too soon.

The poll was taken before Mitt Romney decided on Friday that he wouldn’t run. But given that it asked respondents to list their first and second choices in the Republican caucus, Walker’s gains are not a fluke as he was also the runner-up for 10 percent, a figure that tied him with Romney for the most in that category. Indeed, if Romney’s supporters are given to those they named as their second choice, the standings with Walker on top don’t change.

The rave reviews for Walker’s speech at the recent Iowa Freedom Summit may have been the engine for the boost in his support. But Walker’s efforts to increase his national visibility in recent weeks, as he made no secret of his desire for the presidency, have gone well. Though he has yet to be put under the microscope of the national press or face the pressure of a presidential race, his experience as the left’s piñata during the battles over union legislation in Wisconsin during his first term in Madison have prepared him well for the ordeal.

And if we weren’t already convinced that he is moving up to the first tier from the ranks of the GOP wannabes, yesterday’s BloombergView column by Al Hunt made it clear that liberals are starting to take Walker seriously. Hunt previewed one of the key talking points that Democrats will use against the Wisconsin governor should he be the nominee by writing a piece that focused almost entirely on his lack of a college degree. As Seth Mandel wrote here last April, it was inevitable that should Walker become a presidential candidate, we would be hear the left dismiss him as a “college dropout.” Hunt digs deeper beyond the epithets and says the fact that more than 40 percent of Americans have such a degree bodes ill for Walker’s chances. What’s more, he says that anyone who doubts that this is a big problem for him should test out their theory at the next cocktail party they attend.

But if 60 percent of Americans are in the same boat as Walker, it’s likely that an even greater number of them don’t spend much time at cocktail parties, or at least the kind Hunt is referring to where those in attendance are expected to snigger at those lesser beings who haven’t finish college. Granted, it may be that a lot of us like the idea of putting the country in the hands of someone who is smart. But given the poor performance in the White House of a lot of the highly educated people we’ve put there in recent decades, as well as the fact that most Americans probably know a lot of dumbbells and timeservers who managed to graduate an institution of higher learning, that prejudice may not be dispositive. Certainly, Walker’s ability to articulate credible positions on the issues and manage a large government bureaucracy while withstanding withering attacks and attempts at intimidation by union thugs and their Democratic Party allies shows that not having a four-year degree is no bar to success in running a state.

Expect to hear more such attacks in the comings months as it becomes apparent that Walker is not merely one more outlier hoping for lightening to strike. Walker appeals to a broad range of Republican constituencies including the establishment business community that likes his record as governor, Tea Partiers who see him as a fellow opponent of taxes and spending, Evangelicals who see him as one of their own, and even foreign-policy hawks who like the things he’s been saying about President Obama’s failures. That gives him an edge that candidates who are despised by any combination of those groups don’t have.

But is it too soon for a candidate surge? During the 2012 race seemingly every candidate had his or her moment, including weeks or even months when people like Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, and even Herman Cain moved temporarily to the top of the pack. Good poll results are only meaningful if they lead directly to winning states.

But good poll results for Walker are important because they illustrate, just at the moment when Jeb Bush has assumed the mantle of frontrunner, that there is a viable alternative with significant support. That will give Walker the ability to raise money, including from some establishment types who might otherwise gravitate to Bush or Chris Christie, that will enable him to set up the organizations in states around the country that will give him a real chance for the nomination.

One poll does not a nominee make. But this one may have given Walker the ability to compete on something like a level playing field with all the other GOP hopefuls. And that, rather than winning a particular news cycle, is a very big deal indeed.

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Scott Walker Rejects Your Premise

The conventional wisdom after Republicans lost two presidential elections to Barack Obama was that the GOP needed to concede the premise of certain Democratic talking points. Suddenly immigration reform became urgent enough for a prospective GOP candidate to lead the effort in the Senate. And even more suddenly, talk of inequality has emerged in conservative circles. But what if the conventional wisdom is wrong? What if, instead, Scott Walker is right?

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The conventional wisdom after Republicans lost two presidential elections to Barack Obama was that the GOP needed to concede the premise of certain Democratic talking points. Suddenly immigration reform became urgent enough for a prospective GOP candidate to lead the effort in the Senate. And even more suddenly, talk of inequality has emerged in conservative circles. But what if the conventional wisdom is wrong? What if, instead, Scott Walker is right?

The Wisconsin governor is enjoying a bit of a boomlet right now, as Peter Beinart notes in a sharp piece on Walker’s unapologetic conservatism. And he’s earned it. He won three statewide elections in four years, and did so with national media attention and the concerted lunatic tactics of public unions (death threats, violence, compulsive Hitler comparisons) aimed at him and his supporters. He won comfortably and with a smile on his face. Walker never lost his composure and never stooped to the level of his fanatical liberal opponents.

None of this is news. What’s changed is that Walker has, in the last week, gone national. His speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit earned rave reviews, and was followed with what appears to be the first pro-Walker presidential ad. And everyone seems to have noticed what Walker’s opponents in Wisconsin have learned the hard way, repeatedly: he’s a formidable politician. This should worry his GOP rivals not only because of Walker’s win streak, but also because Walker is doing something many of them aren’t: he’s setting the terms of the debate instead of following the terms the Democrats have set.

A good example of how this plays out concerns Mitt Romney, who had been flirting with another presidential run. Romney was hurt by his infamous “47 percent” remark in which he appeared to write off voters he considered contentedly dependent on government. It became a catchphrase for the Republicans’ so-called empathy gap.

Before deciding to pass on running again, Romney had been trying to undo the lingering damage of the Monopoly Man reputation by expressing his concern for the poor. He was rewarded for stepping into this rhetorical bear trap with a giddy President Obama in full class warrior mode, as Politico notes:

“Even though their policies haven’t quite caught up yet, their rhetoric is starting to sound pretty Democratic,” Obama said of the Republicans during a House Democratic retreat. “We have a former presidential candidate on the other side and [who is] suddenly deeply concerned about poverty. That’s great, let’s go. Let’s do something about it.”

Even when trash talking, the president is not exactly a wordsmith. But the point, clumsy and juvenile though it is, shines through: whatever your policies, to simply care about poor people makes you sound “pretty Democratic,” as the intellectually cloistered president sees it.

This helps Democrats because even if Republicans come around to demonstrating the empathy they supposedly lack, it sends the message that the Democrats were right. Walker rejects the premise.

Beinart explains how the media missed this story until now:

Walker’s rise illustrates the pitfalls of media coverage of the GOP race. Not many national reporters live within the conservative media ecosystem. They therefore largely assume that in order to win over the non-white, female, millennial and working class voters who rejected John McCain and Mitt Romney, Republican presidential candidates must break from conservative orthodoxy, if not substantively, then at least rhetorically. Journalists are also drawn to storylines about change. Thus, when potential GOP candidates show signs of ideological deviation, the press perks up. After 2012, Marco Rubio garnered enormous media attention for his efforts at immigration reform. Rand Paul’s transgressions—whether on foreign policy, civil liberties or race—make headlines almost every week. In covering the launch of his new Super PAC, journalists made much of Jeb Bush’s discussion of income inequality and his fluent Spanish. Most recently, reporters have lavished attention on Mitt Romney’s new focus on the poor.

The lesson, as I interpret it, is that the press and the Democrats speak the same language. That’s not surprising; the mainstream press, especially during national elections, functions as a messaging office for the Democrats. Because of this, they just assume that in order to be a serious presidential candidate you have to be like them, like the Democrats.

Walker doesn’t agree. And he’s been extraordinarily successful of late by not agreeing.

Part of the media’s terrible coverage of national politics is the reliance on the personal: it matters to them who is saying it more than what is said. Romney got tagged as uncaring because he’s rich. But the classic conservative policies don’t reek of plutocracy when coming from the new crop of Republican stars, many of whom came from modest beginnings or are the children of immigrants, or both. Walker doesn’t even have a college degree, which itself is incomprehensible to modern Democrats, who are elitist and credentialist and genuinely don’t know what life is like in much of the country.

And neither does the media. Which is how someone like Walker could be so successful and still blindside the national press, who would struggle to find Wisconsin on a map. And it’s why Walker is a threat to other high-profile Republicans who have accepted the Democratic/media framing of the issues in order to make a national pitch. Only one of them can be right.

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More to Scott Walker Than Battling Unions

Earlier this week, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was sworn in for a second term and to no one’s surprise, some of his most vociferous critics, such as the editors at the New York Times, seem to be disappointed. That’s not just because liberals and Democrats have expended enormous resources trying to end his political career both in a failed recall effort and his recent successful reelection campaign. What really bothered them about his triumphant second inaugural in Madison is that he seems to lack interest in another knockdown drag-out battle with unions such as the nasty dustups that highlighted his first years in office. While being sworn in for a second term, Walker pointedly did not express support for plans to enact right-to-work legislation that would further erode the power of the unions. That’s not what opponents who would like to continue their vendetta against him were anticipating and even some members of the Republican majority in the state legislature weren’t happy about it either. But Walker’s decision to try and stay out of that fight shows that he has a wider agenda than just that one issue. It also is a clear indication, as if one were needed, that he is very interested in running for president in 2016.

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Earlier this week, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was sworn in for a second term and to no one’s surprise, some of his most vociferous critics, such as the editors at the New York Times, seem to be disappointed. That’s not just because liberals and Democrats have expended enormous resources trying to end his political career both in a failed recall effort and his recent successful reelection campaign. What really bothered them about his triumphant second inaugural in Madison is that he seems to lack interest in another knockdown drag-out battle with unions such as the nasty dustups that highlighted his first years in office. While being sworn in for a second term, Walker pointedly did not express support for plans to enact right-to-work legislation that would further erode the power of the unions. That’s not what opponents who would like to continue their vendetta against him were anticipating and even some members of the Republican majority in the state legislature weren’t happy about it either. But Walker’s decision to try and stay out of that fight shows that he has a wider agenda than just that one issue. It also is a clear indication, as if one were needed, that he is very interested in running for president in 2016.

Walker has supported right-to-work legislation in the past but though the majority leader of the State Senate says he plans to present such a bill, the governor obviously wants no part of that tussle. But Wisconsin voters not only gave Walker a third victory in four years. They also increased the Republican majorities in both houses of the state legislature. That’s encouraged the Senate majority leader to push for a bill that would end the ability of unions to force even those who are opposed to them to contribute to their coffers and he may have the votes to do just that.

But Walker seems to feel that unlike his efforts to prevent unions from bankrupting the state in his first term, this is a war of choice that both he and Wisconsin can live without. Instead, he wants to dedicate this next year to proving that he is a commonsense executive who is more interested in getting things done to improve the lives of the voters than in engaging in ideological battles.

That’s a smart strategy for any governor intent on building on his past victories in a second term. But it is also a good idea for someone with his eyes on the White House. Though the battles he fought with union thugs who sought to silence and intimidate their opponents forever endeared Walker to the conservative base of the GOP, he knows that another such bloody fight would be more of a distraction than a feather in his cap. Indeed, his inaugural speech seemed to indicate his 2016 strategy in which he would tout the contrast between the needless strife and gridlock in Washington and his effective style of governing.

Instead of locking horns with a union movement that he has already hamstrung with limits on collective bargaining that make it difficult for them to hold a cash-starved state hostage in negotiations for new state worker contracts, Walker prefers to concentrate his efforts on job creation. That’s something that would not only help Wisconsin but would do a great deal to burnish Walker’s image as a potential president. His emphasis on controlling taxes and spending also highlights his qualifications for fixing Washington’s budget mess with the same strong conservative medicine he has given Wisconsin.

Can his strategy work?

It’s far from clear that the state’s Democrats or Republicans are particularly interested in cooperating with Walker’s plans. Democrats will look to sabotage and demonize a national GOP star as they have always done. Meanwhile conservatives in the legislature think they’d be foolish not to use their victories to enact all of their agenda. But even some Democrats appear to think that Walker’s influence over his state party is sufficient to allow him to stop anything that might serve as a distraction or a burden to his plans.

With Jeb Bush seemingly already the victor of the hidden establishment primary and a host of other candidates thinking about getting into the race, Walker has a difficult task ahead of if he hopes to win the GOP nomination next year. But just as he has managed to retain the affection of Tea Partiers and social conservatives while also endearing himself to many in the party establishment, Walker seems to be counting on his ability to thread the needle and make himself acceptable to all branches of his party. But as he has shown throughout his time as governor, those who underestimate him are in for a shock.

There was always more to Walker than the union-basher stereotype that his opponents love to hate. It remains to be seen if he can mount a credible campaign for president or if he will hold up as well on the national stage as he has on that of his state. But by carefully steering his administration away from fights that won’t enhance his electoral appeal, Walker is signaling that he is a very serious candidate for president.

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The More, the Merrier for the GOP in 2016

In the aftermath of President Obama giving the Castro regime diplomatic recognition, Senator Marco Rubio has been pretty much everywhere, including multiple television appearances and authoring this Wall Street Journal op-ed. According to Senator Rubio, “By conceding to the oppressors in the Castro regime, this president and his administration have let the Cuban people down, further weakened America’s standing in the world and endangered Americans.”

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In the aftermath of President Obama giving the Castro regime diplomatic recognition, Senator Marco Rubio has been pretty much everywhere, including multiple television appearances and authoring this Wall Street Journal op-ed. According to Senator Rubio, “By conceding to the oppressors in the Castro regime, this president and his administration have let the Cuban people down, further weakened America’s standing in the world and endangered Americans.”

Whether or not one agrees with Rubio’s position–and I’m sympathetic to it–he makes his case clearly, intelligently, and with passion. Despite some differences with him now and then–I found his advocacy for the tactics that resulted in the 2013 government shutdown to be inexplicable, for example–I find Rubio to be one of the best advocates for conservatism in American public life.

Which brings me to the 2016 presidential race. Senator Rubio has signaled that the decision by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush to actively explore a run won’t affect what he does. I for one hope that’s the case.

I say that as someone who admirers Bush, who was a marvelously successful governor and someone I’ve defended several times (including here) against the ludicrous charge that’s he’s a RINO/moderate/neo-statist. So I’m delighted he’s inclined to throw his hat into the ring. Yet I’d feel the same way about Senator Rubio and Representative Paul Ryan, who I’m particularly close to; as well as others I have a high regard for, including Governors Kasich, Walker, and Jindal.

Beyond that, I hope that even those I’ve been critical of–including Senators Ted Cruz (for his style and approach to politics) and Rand Paul (who is too libertarian for my taste)–run as well. The same goes for Rick Perry, who seems to be preparing for this run more diligently than he did in 2012; and Governor Christie, who would be formidable if he enters the race.

There are several reasons I hope all these individuals (and others, like Mike Huckabee) run, starting with the fact that it’s impossible to know with certainty how well a candidate will do in a presidential campaign. Some people might look great on paper and do quite well during interviews on, say, Fox News Sunday–but that’s very different from running for president. The scrutiny, intensity, and demands of a presidential race–the fog that often descends in the middle of a campaign–are impossible to convey to anyone who hasn’t been a part of one.

Some candidates who run the first time, like George W. Bush, do very well; others, like Governor Perry, flame out. Still other candidates, like Ronald Reagan, run several times before they win. You just never know. To borrow an aphorism from sports: That’s why they play the game. I’d like to see who does well, and who doesn’t, in the heat of an actual campaign. So should you.

Beyond that, though, I’d like the most articulate advocates to make their case on the biggest political stage we have. Let Rand Paul and Marco Rubio debate America’s role in the world. Let Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush engage one another on immigration. Let John Kasich and Paul Ryan discuss whether governors should accept Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. Let’s find out, too, what areas of agreement there are; what each candidate’s priorities are; and whether they can move people’s hearts as well as appeal to their minds. Let’s give them the chance to elaborate on their views of the purposes of government and the nature of conservatism.

I considered the 2012 presidential field to be, with a few exceptions, a clown act. It was discouraging almost from beginning to end. This time around, I hope the very best in the ranks of the GOP run–and out of that contest the most impressive and attractive conservative emerges. That individual, after all, will probably be a slight underdog to whomever the Democratic Party nominates.

I have my favorites, of course, and I’m happy to offer my counsel to anyone who cares to hear it or read it. But generally speaking my view of the forthcoming race is as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Let the sharpening proceed.

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Walker’s Drug Test Move Is a Mistake

During his successful reelection fight, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker let the public know that in his second term, he intended to challenge federal rules about eligibility for food stamps and unemployment insurance. In the month since his victory, Walker’s determination to see that those seeking this aid should be tested for drugs is undiminished. The measure is, as Walker proved again at the polls, very popular. But as he begins the process of deciding whether a 2016 presidential run is in the cards, Walker ought to think twice about picking a fight that would ultimately be fought on unfavorable ground for conservatives and which will probably be thrown out by the courts anyway.

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During his successful reelection fight, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker let the public know that in his second term, he intended to challenge federal rules about eligibility for food stamps and unemployment insurance. In the month since his victory, Walker’s determination to see that those seeking this aid should be tested for drugs is undiminished. The measure is, as Walker proved again at the polls, very popular. But as he begins the process of deciding whether a 2016 presidential run is in the cards, Walker ought to think twice about picking a fight that would ultimately be fought on unfavorable ground for conservatives and which will probably be thrown out by the courts anyway.

Walker’s plans are, as the Wall Street Journal reported today, part of a series of similar moves by Republican governors across the nation seeking to create a new wave of welfare-reform measures to help people rise above poverty while also providing accountability for the taxpayers. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has already tightened restrictions on assistance and Indiana Governor Mike Pence, whom some also see as a potential presidential candidate even though he seems far less eager than Walker, wants Medicaid recipients to give back some of what they get to the state as a condition for their participation.

All of these ideas are, in theory, quite reasonable. Requiring people to stay off drugs while they are seeking work or getting extra assistance makes sense. The worst aspect of the welfare state is the way it subsidizes and even encourages destructive behavior. It’s also usually good politics since most citizens think of welfare as a privilege rather than a right and believe those who get it should give up a bit of their right to misbehave since such activities are, almost by definition, being conducted on the public’s money.

But Walker, who has to this point moved steadily if not flawlessly from a Milwaukee county executive unknown outside of his state to the status of a conservative folk hero on the strength of his epic fight with public employee unions and their Democratic allies, should rethink any emphasis on this issue if he really wants to run for president. This is not because he’s wrong—he’s not—but because what works politically when you’re running for governor can come across very differently when the presidency is the goal.

The problem with drug testing is twofold. The first is the legal obstacle to implementing such measures. Federal laws about such tests are fairly clear and have consistently been upheld by the courts. While states have rightly sought to gain the right to carry out assistance plans according to their own lights rather than being forced to follow rules designed by out-of-touch D.C. bureaucrats, such battles tend to end in the same way. While the fight for drug testing goes on all across the nations, the legal battles this idea has engendered don’t usually end well for conservatives.

Either the states give up and concede that this isn’t a fight they can win or they are slam dunked by the courts.

But the problem goes further than legal technicalities. Though the issue polls and often tests well at the local or statewide ballot box for conservatives, running for the presidency on the strength of denying aid to poor people may be a different story. The reason why these laws are usually overturned by judges is that they presuppose guilt in a manner that singles out the needy for treatment not afforded other Americans. Drug testing may be a good incentive to keep the poor out of trouble but it also can be portrayed as a form of discrimination. Even worse, it can be blamed for denying help to the poor, especially minorities.

Rightly or wrongly, this is a time when Americans are becoming more focused on racial issues because of the Ferguson, Missouri shooting and the choking death of Eric Garner. That’s why Republican presidential candidates need to remember that the liberal press will interpret any move on their part that relates to large numbers of minorities as an excuse to justify tearing them apart.

The reason Walker has been so successful is that his conservative activism has focused on public-employee unions and their members who often receive better pay and far more benefits than ordinary citizens in the private sector get. Though the unions worked hard in three elections in four years to convince Wisconsin voters that Walker was a villain, he won each time because the object of his wrath was a class of people most citizens despise.

Walker has as good an argument to be made for his presidential candidacy as anyone else in the field including figures like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, who have more establishment support but can’t rouse the enthusiasm of the Tea Party or the GOP base as Walker can. But that doesn’t mean he is immune to liberal efforts to smear him as a racist because of his welfare reform fight.

Welfare recipients aren’t terribly popular but measures that can be distorted to portray Walker as not only insensitive but responsible for taking away food stamps or unemployment from the poor won’t help elect him president. While welfare reform is the right thing to do, Walker and other Republicans should avoid picking fights with people who are far more sympathetic than union fat cats and their thuggish storm troops. This is a battle that he can’t win and will damage his political brand.

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Big Labor’s Big Bluff

For interest groups seeking to be courted by political campaigns, there are two avenues to attract the necessary attention from the candidates. The first is to be valuable enough, and more valuable than their competitors, in the service of getting a politician elected. The second is to be convincingly courted by both sides, or to be courting both sides themselves.

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For interest groups seeking to be courted by political campaigns, there are two avenues to attract the necessary attention from the candidates. The first is to be valuable enough, and more valuable than their competitors, in the service of getting a politician elected. The second is to be convincingly courted by both sides, or to be courting both sides themselves.

Plenty of interest groups hedge their bets and court both sides: business, finance, gun-rights groups, etc. But what happens to an interest group that no one believes is on the fence, and which is also highly unlikely to sit out an election? Such is the fate of the unions, if a Politico story on the unofficial campaign of the unofficial Democratic Party frontrunner is right. The subheadline claims that “Union leaders vow they won’t be taken for granted in 2016.”

In fact, they will. Politico reports:

Frustrated by President Barack Obama and wary of Hillary Clinton’s perceived closeness to Wall Street, several leading figures in organized labor are resisting falling in line early behind the former secretary of state as the inevitable Democratic presidential nominee.

Top officials at AFL-CIO are pressing its affiliates to hold off on an endorsement and make the eventual nominee earn their support and spell out a clear agenda. The strategy is designed to maximize labor’s strength after years of waning clout and ensure a focus on strengthening the middle class, but it could provide an opening for a candidate running to Clinton’s left to make a play for union support.

“We do have a process in place, which says before anybody endorses, we’ll talk to the candidates,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in an interview. That could postpone an endorsement until the second half of 2015, he said.

“The big question we want to know is, ‘What’s the agenda?’” added Trumka. “We don’t want to hear that people have a message about correcting the economy — we want to know that they have an agenda for correcting the economy. If we get the same economic [plan] no matter who the president is, you get the same results.”

Let me explain to Trumka how this will play out. His organization will endorse Hillary for the Democratic presidential nomination, and the AFL-CIO will pull out all the stops to help get her elected in the general. Trumka can stomp his feet all he wants, but the only extra attention he’ll get is from his downstairs neighbor.

The unions are not going anywhere, and here’s why. They have become a liberal interest group, and nobody believes they’ll even cast a glance across the aisle. In the primaries, it will make no sense to back a challenger to Hillary because they almost surely won’t win, and the Clintons are infamously petty and vindictive. Death, taxes, and Clintonian grudges are the three sure things in this world. They will retaliate. If Trumka thinks he’s getting a cold reception now, just wait until he tests the Clintons’ patience and their memories.

And no one believes for a moment Trumka’s up for grabs in the general. He could argue, however, that the unions are about more than just money and endorsements. They are a key get-out-the-vote ally, and they can magnify turnout, which has been the key for Democrats in general elections. Trumka can, theoretically, threaten to hold back these efforts, since the midterm election disasters of recent years have shown the Democrats just how important presidential-year turnout is for them.

This won’t happen either. Two of the GOP contenders who would be strongest in a general election are candidates for whom the unions have developed a deranged level of hatred: Scott Walker and Chris Christie. One of the most important unions in Trumka’s organization is currently the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Think they would sit this one out?

And Christie and Walker aren’t the only high-profile candidates with anti-public-union credibility. Bobby Jindal sure looks to be running for president this time around. And those three–Christie, Walker, and Jindal–represent the anti-public-union zeitgeist of the modern Republican Party. One is from New Jersey, one Wisconsin, the other Louisiana. Reining in public unions is not a regional fixation and it is not a fringe position in the GOP. If someone besides those three is to get the Republican nomination, in all likelihood they will press to demonstrate their bona fides on this issue along the way as well.

Trumka will view the upcoming presidential election–especially if Walker is the nominee–as nothing less than a battle for the unions’ very survival. He will say so, and he will use intemperate language in the process. He will emit a blinding rage, and give the impression that he is experiencing some sort of extended meltdown. What he will not do is withhold his support from the Clinton machine, nor will he convincingly pretend to.

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The Republicans Hillary Fears–And the Ones She Should

In 2008 the early race for the GOP presidential nomination was shaped by the belief that Hillary Clinton was going to be the Democratic nominee. While this certainly did not cost Republicans the election–preparing earlier for Obama would likely not have yielded a different party nominee or changed the outcome of the general election for John McCain–it was evidence of a misreading of the electorate and the challenges ahead. It’s possible now that Hillary Clinton, presumptive favorite for the Democratic nomination in 2016, is making the same mistake.

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In 2008 the early race for the GOP presidential nomination was shaped by the belief that Hillary Clinton was going to be the Democratic nominee. While this certainly did not cost Republicans the election–preparing earlier for Obama would likely not have yielded a different party nominee or changed the outcome of the general election for John McCain–it was evidence of a misreading of the electorate and the challenges ahead. It’s possible now that Hillary Clinton, presumptive favorite for the Democratic nomination in 2016, is making the same mistake.

The Hill reports that Clintonland is preparing for four Republican candidates “who worry Hillary.” They are: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, and Scott Walker. The act of preparing ahead of time is wise; Clinton does not appear to have a nomination fight on her hands, so she might as well concentrate on defining her possible Republican challenger before he can do so himself. Additionally, she can’t possibly concentrate on every GOP candidate, because to do so would be to concentrate on none.

So she must settle on a group she feels poses the biggest threat to her. Has she chosen wisely? Yes and no. But mostly no.

Bush and Christie are obvious picks for her, because they would, theoretically, be strong general-election candidates. Both have name recognition and would have an easy time raising gobs of money, which is what Hillary will do herself. They are also intelligent, well-versed on the issues (though they’ll have to play catchup on foreign policy against the former secretary of state), and could potentially appeal to minorities in ways other Republicans don’t (Bush to Hispanics, Christie to African-Americans).

And yet, the path to the nomination for either of them seems a long and winding road, to say the least. Bush may not even run, and he might not even be the Floridian Hillary should fear most. Marco Rubio’s name does not appear in The Hill’s story; on paper Rubio matches Bush’s strengths but surpasses him on foreign policy. Christie is almost certainly running, or at least planning on it. Neither is beloved by the conservative base, nor is the field weak enough for a Romney-like candidate to once again jog to the nomination.

It’s hard to imagine how Hillary ends up facing either Bush or Christie in the general election. Additionally, because they have high name recognition, her early attempts to define them for the voters won’t be as fruitful as they might be against lesser-known challengers.

What about Rand Paul? Although he is popular with conservatives, he too faces a tough road to the nomination (though an easier road, probably, than Bush or Christie would have) that only gets tougher if he doesn’t have Jeb Bush in the race.

In Paul’s favor, however, is his ability to connect with younger voters and his willingness, like Christie, to talk to minority communities instead of at them. Paul walks the walk, too: he supports criminal-justice and sentencing reform, for example. In this, he would pose something of a threat to Hillary. But he would still be an underdog both in the primaries and in the general election, where he would likely run to Hillary’s left on foreign policy and national security. That’s not an easy sell, no matter how “war weary” the voters are.

So there’s an element of rationality in Hillary’s concern regarding Bush, Christie, and Paul, though there’s an opportunity cost in preparing for longshot nominees. Clintonland’s decision to prepare for Scott Walker, on the other hand, is entirely rational and prudent.

We don’t yet know how Walker will play on the national stage. And it’s far too early to label anyone a frontrunner. But on paper Walker is an outstanding candidate. He’s a two-term governor. He’s deeply admired by the base but doesn’t scare the establishment. He is a successful reformer. He hails from a state that supported Obama twice but which he could realistically hope to flip. He proved he can–like Christie–take on the unions and win. And he’s a happy warrior, not a dour scold or a bully.

No one’s a shoo-in, including Walker. But it makes sense for Hillary to try to solve the riddle that has bedeviled the Angry Left thus far. And it also helps in her bid to increase Democratic turnout and fundraising to have someone that has inspired a permanent psychotic break among the liberal base.

But the opportunity cost to preparing for the others is still notable. Ted Cruz has a far clearer path to the nomination than Bush or Christie, and probably Paul as well. So does Rubio. You might even be able to say that about popular social conservatives like Mike Pence and Mike Huckabee. Bobby Jindal is popular enough among the base to make a run at the nomination too (though he, like Cruz, would be a longshot in the general).

It makes some sense for Hillary to prepare for candidates she thinks would be strong opponents. But that has meant, so far, that she’s mostly preparing for candidates she is highly unlikely to face.

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The GOP Governors’ 2016 Derby

Chris Christie took a well-deserved victory lap this week at the annual meeting of the Republican Governor’s Association, basking in the glow of a midterm victory that capped off a highly successful year for him as chairman of the group. The New Jersey governor’s formidable fundraising skills played a significant role in the GOP’s victories around the country, including in blue states such as Maryland and Massachusetts. But, as Politico notes, Christie wasn’t getting much love, in terms of his 2016 prospects, from the candidates he helped. That’s not terribly surprising given the plethora of potential candidates, including a bevy of his fellow Republican governors. But the impressive lineup of would-be presidents in attendance at the RGA highlights a key problem for all of these hopefuls: the crowded field in which seemingly none of them has a political or even a geographical advantage renders the talk of the inevitability of a governor being the nominee a piece of useless conventional wisdom.

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Chris Christie took a well-deserved victory lap this week at the annual meeting of the Republican Governor’s Association, basking in the glow of a midterm victory that capped off a highly successful year for him as chairman of the group. The New Jersey governor’s formidable fundraising skills played a significant role in the GOP’s victories around the country, including in blue states such as Maryland and Massachusetts. But, as Politico notes, Christie wasn’t getting much love, in terms of his 2016 prospects, from the candidates he helped. That’s not terribly surprising given the plethora of potential candidates, including a bevy of his fellow Republican governors. But the impressive lineup of would-be presidents in attendance at the RGA highlights a key problem for all of these hopefuls: the crowded field in which seemingly none of them has a political or even a geographical advantage renders the talk of the inevitability of a governor being the nominee a piece of useless conventional wisdom.

As I noted last week, the assumption that governors make better presidents than, say, senators gets a mixed verdict from history. But the current crop of GOP governors do have a strong argument that their distance from Washington dysfunction and records of accomplishment stand them in good stead in any presidential race. The problem is not only that each of them also has their own set of liabilities but also that the sheer volume of contenders with a gubernatorial resume line makes it difficult for any one of them to credibly claim the mantle of the chief non-Washingtonian candidate of good governance.

Christie’s difficult path to the nomination is already well documented. While he may be in the process of putting the Bridgegate accusations behind him, the antipathy of the party’s conservative base for Christie is a formidable obstacle. So, too, is the difficulty of imagining someone with his irascible nature (“sit down and shut up”) and thin skin surviving on the stump amid the intense scrutiny of a presidential race.

But while doubts about the resurrection of Christie’s once high presidential expectations are well founded, the same skepticism ought to apply to the other governors preening for the national press this week. Chief among them is Ohio Governor John Kasich, who seems to be the flavor of the month after his huge reelection victory in perhaps the most crucial swing state in the country. But Kasich, with his equivocal stance on Medicare and ObamaCare as well his more moderate views on immigration is no more likely to be liked by the base than Christie, leaving him competing for establishment support with Christie and a flock of others.

Those others include Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, who will have a stronger claim on the base while also being able to connect with moderates. Indiana’s Mike Pence is similarly situated, albeit without the folk hero status Walker earned among conservatives with his epic battles with unions and the unsuccessful liberal attempt to recall him. But as much as both men are veteran politicians, they are untested outside of their states leaving even their fans uncertain as to how they’d fare in a presidential campaign.

Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal is another smart Republican governor with conservative credentials, but his efforts to edge out onto the national stage haven’t been universally successful. Buying into the notion that an intellectual southern governor/social conservative with as little charisma as he demonstrates can make the leap to the first tier in the primaries requires more religious faith than political acumen.

As for others, we also need to realize that the overlap between these candidates is a big problem. Whether or not you think Texas Governor Rick Perry has a shot at doing better in his second try for the presidency (after a wince-inducing and disastrous 2012 campaign), he is up against the fact that he will be competing for support with another Texan, Senator Ted Cruz, who has much a better chance of exciting Tea Partiers and other conservatives than Mr. “Oops.” Walker, Kasich, and Pence will compete for the title of leading Midwest governor making it difficult for any of them to seize a niche and make it their own.

That’s why outsiders like Carly Fiorina and Dr. Ben Carson are spinning scenarios in their heads about a path to the nomination even if their claims are far more dubious than those of potential competitors. The same applies to would-be establishment standard bearers like Jeb Bush and Christie. Yet Bush would also face competition in Florida from Senator Marco Rubio and Walker must also deal with the possibility that Rep. Paul Ryan, a fellow Wisconsin resident, will run.

Only Senator Rand Paul seems to have a constituency locked up—the libertarian crowd he seems to have inherited from his outlier father Ron—but there is doubt as to whether they will follow him blindly if he continues to edge closer to mainstream views on foreign policy in order to be more presentable.

But Kasich’s recent boomlet should also remind us about what will be the key factor in winnowing this field down to those who have an actual chance: gaffes. Kasich has stayed at home in Columbus the past few years far away from national media centers and earned a reputation as a good governor. But his past as a fast-talking, albeit relatively moderate conservative congressman and then as a sometime replacement host on Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly show makes it more than probable that Kasich will eventually say something that will undermine a presidential campaign. The same is true of the rest of this crowd. If it’s hard to know what will happen in the next year during the run-up to the start of the 2016 primaries, it is because we don’t know which of the candidates will sink themselves with a stray remark.

Seen in that light the competition for the 2016 nomination isn’t so much a cattle call for a bunch of governors as it is a demolition derby that will probably determine the outcome via gaffes and self-destructive impulses. All these governors have a chance but the one that is best at avoiding mistakes is the one who will get a shot at winning.

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Must Republicans Nominate a Governor?

Flush off his third election victory in four years, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wasn’t shy about telling Chuck Todd on Meet the Press this past Sunday what he thinks the Republican Party should do in 2016: nominate a governor for president. Walker was clearly thinking of himself when he said that, but it’s a theme that his ally/antagonist New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has also sounded (though doubtless he was thinking of a different name on the top of the ticket) as well as other less self-interested observers. But while the arguments for putting a person with executive experience outside of Washington in the Oval Office seem conclusive, the assumption that a governor is the only possible choice may not hold up under scrutiny or the travails of the presidential campaign trail.

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Flush off his third election victory in four years, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wasn’t shy about telling Chuck Todd on Meet the Press this past Sunday what he thinks the Republican Party should do in 2016: nominate a governor for president. Walker was clearly thinking of himself when he said that, but it’s a theme that his ally/antagonist New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has also sounded (though doubtless he was thinking of a different name on the top of the ticket) as well as other less self-interested observers. But while the arguments for putting a person with executive experience outside of Washington in the Oval Office seem conclusive, the assumption that a governor is the only possible choice may not hold up under scrutiny or the travails of the presidential campaign trail.

Walker’s case for nominating a governor is based partly on the notion that a president must be a proven executive, partly on the general disgust most Americans have for the inhabitants of Washington D.C. and partly on the ideological preference of conservatives for devolving power to the states away from the federal government:

SCOTT WALKER: We offer a fresh approach. Any of us, now 31 governors across the country have the executive experience from outside of Washington to provide a much better alternative to the old, tired, top-down approach you see out of Washington D.C. We need something fresh, organic, from the bottom up. And that’s what you get in the states.

CHUCK TODD: You’re not deferring to Paul Ryan, then? It sounds like you believe a governor, not a member of Congress should be the Republican nominee?

SCOTT WALKER: Paul Ryan may be the only exception to that rule. But overall, I think governors make much better presidents than members of Congress.

The first question to ask about this thesis is historical. Have governors always been better presidents than members of the Senate or House?

Conservatives start this discussion by citing the obvious example of Barack Obama, a senator with not even much experience on the Hill who never ran anything before arriving in the White House and has, in their view, run the country straight into the ground since then. In that sense, if one leaves aside his unique historical status as our first African-American president, we can view him as a latter-day Warren Harding, another senator who presided (albeit briefly before he died in office) over a government that was a disaster. By contrast, some of the most effective presidents in our history have been governors. Examples from the last century include Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Franklin Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, and Theodore Roosevelt.

But not all governors make good presidents and not all good presidents were governors.

Leaving George W. Bush out of the discussion (liberals think him the worst president since Nixon or Harding while conservatives believe history will judge him more kindly), the name of Jimmy Carter should stand as a definitive rebuke to those who say all governors are better presidents than other individuals. And while he still has many admirers, Woodrow Wilson also strikes me as a cautionary tale for those who laud gubernatorial virtues, though it can be argued that his memory is more of an argument against electing university presidents than governors.

As for non-governors who were effective in the White House, there is Dwight Eisenhower, who proved a career as a staff officer in the U.S. Army was as good a preparation for the presidency as it was for leading the Allied Expeditionary Force against Hitler’s Nazi empire. Even more counterintuitive for the Walker-Christie thesis is Harry Truman, who was only a senator and yet proved capable of running the country and making the sort of executive decisions on foreign policy, military, and domestic issues that are the epitome of managerial accountability (“the buck stops here”). Less convincing is the example of Lyndon Johnson, who demonstrated that knowledge of how Congress works could enable a president to achieve an ambitious legislative agenda while still being hopelessly ill-prepared for crucial foreign-policy issues.

These comparisons, like all presidential rating games, make for fun arguments but don’t tell us much about what is truly important in a future president. Though being a governor is probably the best preparation for the presidency, it must be recognized that operating a successful state house doesn’t remotely compare with the enormous burdens of running the United States of America. For all of the good qualities governors like Walker or John Kasich in Ohio, Mike Pence in Indiana, or even Rick Perry of Texas bring to a presidential campaign, such persons have no idea of the intense scrutiny that goes with running for the White House. Just as Perry, who flopped as badly as anyone in history in his 2012 presidential run, showed us that being governor didn’t mean he was ready for the challenge, so, too, might even as battle-scarred a politician as Walker fail to be ready for prime time. As for Christie, the different expectations for potential presidents make it hard to imagine anyone who likes to tell rude questioners to “sit down and shut up” navigating through the retail politics of Iowa and New Hampshire. The same applies to senators who may not be prepared for the rigors of the presidential election gauntlet.

A resume as a government executive is important. The GOP needs no novices who want to parachute into politics (sorry, Dr. Ben Carson). The ability to distinguish oneself from Washington dysfunction or the impression that they are part and parcel of the same corrupt federal establishment is also a key selling point especially if you are planning on running against a woman like Hillary Clinton.

But a successful Republican nominee needs more than that. They’ll need a principled vision of America’s future, both at home and abroad and the guts to stand up to the chattering classes who clamor for more government. A governor might fit that bill but so might a senator. That’s why we need tough campaigns to sort out the presidential wheat from the political chaff. Perhaps the person the Republicans need is a governor. But we won’t know that until all these would-be presidents put themselves to the test against equally talented candidates from other backgrounds. Being a governor or even an ex-governor (like Jeb Bush) will help. But it is no guarantee of electoral victory, let alone a competent presidency.

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Why Scott Walker Doesn’t Need a Landslide

The central contradiction of Scott Walker’s prospective 2016 presidential candidacy is that the case against it is also the case for it. And that theme has been a major component of the coverage of Walker’s close reelection battle against Mary Burke. Walker heads into today’s election clinging to a 2-point lead in the RealClearPolitics average. The two candidates were even in an early October Marquette poll. Since then, Walker has led four of the last five polls, but in only one was that lead more than 2 points. And the narrative has begun to form that with this close a race, it doesn’t matter nearly as much as it seems whether he wins.

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The central contradiction of Scott Walker’s prospective 2016 presidential candidacy is that the case against it is also the case for it. And that theme has been a major component of the coverage of Walker’s close reelection battle against Mary Burke. Walker heads into today’s election clinging to a 2-point lead in the RealClearPolitics average. The two candidates were even in an early October Marquette poll. Since then, Walker has led four of the last five polls, but in only one was that lead more than 2 points. And the narrative has begun to form that with this close a race, it doesn’t matter nearly as much as it seems whether he wins.

That is, the failure to win a convincing referendum on his tenure as governor is a major red flag for his presidential hopes. The best article making this case from the right (who Walker would have to win over in a primary) comes from Ramesh Ponnuru, writing at Bloomberg View. There are bound to be real obstacles to a Walker bid, and some of them are indeed wrapped up in how Walker has handled–and in some cases, perhaps mishandled–his reelection campaign. That’s one reason the accusations that Chris Christie, as head of the Republican Governors Association, supposedly left Walker high and dry rang hollow. If Walker’s opponent was underestimated, it wasn’t by Christie; it was by Walker.

Here’s the crux of Ponnuru’s argument:

For one thing, Walker’s struggle raises the question of whether a politician can make a credible run for the presidency after barely winning over his own state’s voters. The last two presidents each won their states convincingly before they ran. George W. Bush won 68 percent of the vote to be re-elected governor of Texas in 1998, and Barack Obama won 70 percent of the vote in Illinois to become a senator in 2004.

Walker, assuming he wins, won’t have numbers anywhere close to those. And if he decides to seek the 2016 nomination, he’ll have to make the best of it. The argument he could make to Republicans nationwide is that he took risks to get conservative reforms enacted in a liberal state, and he succeeded. The closeness of his recall campaign and his re-election are a testament, he could say, to his boldness.

There’s another way Walker is different from Bush and Obama. Bush said he would be a “uniter, not a divider,” and Obama said he’d “change the tone” in Washington for the better. A candidate as demonstrably polarizing as Walker — his anti-union reforms sparked huge protests and an occupation of the Wisconsin State Capitol — won’t be able to run that kind of campaign.

I think Ponnuru is right on the particulars but wrong on the implications.

It’s true that both Obama and Bush had won resounding statewide victories before running for president. And historically, candidates who lose their home state in a presidential election usually lose the election too. But Walker’s ability to win over Wisconsin’s voters means he’d put the state in play in a presidential election. Unlike Bush and John McCain, whose home states were red, and Mitt Romney, who never had a chance to win Massachusetts, that gives Republicans a chance to expand the map. Walker’s close election means it is precisely the kind of state Republicans have to learn how to win if they want to end their slide in presidential elections.

It’s easy to convince Texas to keep public unions in check, and it’s impressive but arguably irrelevant to convince New Jersey voters to back such a platform, as did Chris Christie. New Jersey is not going red any time soon, so Christie’s success offers an example of how to win over public opinion on union issues, but doesn’t change the Electoral College calculus.

Speaking of Christie, Ponnuru’s second point is also worth delving into in order to make a crucial distinction. Ponnuru writes that Walker can’t make the claim to be some kind of postpartisan uniter. His agenda is divisive. But there’s a difference between a personally divisive candidate and a divisive agenda–and there are also differences between types of divisive agendas.

Christie is an example of someone with a divisive personality. Walker is not. Walker is personable and relatable, not combative. He’s a happy warrior. His agenda is divisive, but that’s for a good reason: it’s an actual governing agenda, and the defenders of the self-enriching status quo will always fight real reform.

Walker’s opponents made the issue divisive because they completely lost their minds. Democratic state senators actually fled the state, like criminals and cowards, rather than participate in the democratic process that would have led to an outcome they didn’t like. His opponents could barely speak a full sentence that didn’t have the word “Hitler” sprinkled generously throughout. I’ve seen the unions threaten the lives of people I know who they discovered supported Walker.

But the fact remains: anti-public union policies are gaining steam and support in blue and purple states, despite the divisiveness caused by union leaders and their most ardent supporters experiencing a psychotic break over sensible reforms. Entrenched interests cannot be given a heckler’s veto.

And the lesson here is that while the Wisconsin electorate is polarized, so is the national electorate. Liberal interest groups and the media (but I repeat myself) will paint any Republican agenda as the end of the world. The vapid Obama campaign managed to make Big Bird a divisive issue, to say nothing of the “war on women” or race-baiting. Any Republican running on anything resembling a conservative agenda will get this apocalyptic treatment from the left. The candidate might as well make it worth the trouble and actually stand for something.

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Scott Walker’s Fate and 2016

When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker emerged triumphant from a recall election in 2012, he immediately moved to the front ranks of those Republicans considering a 2016 presidential run. But before he could think about the White House, he needed to win reelection in 2014. Many would-be presidential candidates have used such state races as vehicles to further the argument that they are political dynamos deserving of national attention. But as Politico notes today, Walker’s struggles in his fight to hold onto his job may impact his hopes for the White House even if he manages to beat Democrat Mary Burke.

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When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker emerged triumphant from a recall election in 2012, he immediately moved to the front ranks of those Republicans considering a 2016 presidential run. But before he could think about the White House, he needed to win reelection in 2014. Many would-be presidential candidates have used such state races as vehicles to further the argument that they are political dynamos deserving of national attention. But as Politico notes today, Walker’s struggles in his fight to hold onto his job may impact his hopes for the White House even if he manages to beat Democrat Mary Burke.

Walker has had a bull’s eye on his back ever since he decided to take his 2010 campaign promises seriously and to take action to save his state from rapacious public employee unions. Walker stood up to the union thugs and obstructionist Democrats who sought to prevent the legislature from enacting legislation that would end the vicious cycle by which state employees sank Wisconsin further into debt. He then ably fended off the recall effort and assumed the status of conservative folk hero as the foremost among a class of GOP governors intent on reforming a corrupt system.

But three all-out liberal assaults on Walker in five years have taken their toll. Instead of waltzing to reelection as Chris Christie did in New Jersey, Walker has faced the fight of his political life against Burke, a wealthy businesswoman who has been able to pour her considerable personal resources into attacks on the governor in a state that remains fairly evenly divided between the two parties. Showing signs of strain at times, Walker has appeared to falter occasionally and it can be argued that his blunt style has gotten a little stale in his third go-round with the voters.

Up until this week, most polls have shown the race essentially tied or with Walker holding a razor-thin edge. However, the latest survey of Wisconsin voters form Marquette University shows him opening up a 7-point lead, the same margin by which he won the recall. It could be that Walker will benefit from the accumulation of Obama administration disasters even as the president comes to the state to back his opponent. Yet even if that poll proves to be right about the governor achieving an easy victory, 2014 wasn’t the sort of coronation for Walker that Christie achieved in New Jersey before “Bridgegate” changed his political image.

Knocking off Walker has been a top Democratic objective this year and would provide them with some consolation even if they lose the Senate. Doing so would not only effectively eliminate him for 2016 consideration but also send a cautionary message to any Republican in the country who would think to emulate Walker’s courageous stand against unions and traditional tax-and-spend policies.

It would also have some interesting consequences for the Republicans who remain standing in the presidential sweepstakes. Without Walker, other GOP governors like Christie and Indiana’s Mike Pence will get more attention. The Jeb Bush boomlet will also be helped, as Walker is one of the few Republicans who could challenge for both Tea Party support as well as the backing of establishment Republicans who share his fiscal conservatism.

But as much as it might help Christie, a Walker defeat would also create another and perhaps bigger problem for him. This is thanks in no small measure to Walker’s own complaints about insufficient support for his reelection from the Republican Governors Association run this year by Christie as well as other national GOP groups. Whether or not the charge is accurate—and Walker soon backed off on his claims—conservatives won’t forget it and you can count on them blaming the New Jersey governor for a loss. It will be one more count in an indictment charging him as a RINO that stems from his controversial embrace of President Obama days before the 2012 election.

There will be those who will argue with some justice that even a narrow Walker victory next week will undermine his 2016 argument. Critics will say that if he can’t decisively win at home how can he hope to carry the nation against Hillary Clinton. Unlike George W. Bush’s 1998 landslide or, as Christie backers will point out, the New Jersey governor’s enormous win last year in a far more Democratic state than Wisconsin, a close Walker win could be interpreted as weakness.

But even though both Democrats and rival Republicans would like to bury him, Walker’s future is still in his own hands. Though it can be argued that the 2014 campaign showed that he is mortal, if he manages to win decisively—and a 7-point win equaling the runoff margin would qualify—the speculation about his presidential ambitions will begin immediately. Surviving yet another Democratic deluge of campaign money and attack ads even if by only a few points will bolster his credentials for the White House. And it will also allow him to spend the next year preaching his gospel of reform and fiscal sanity from the bully pulpit that reelection will give him. If so, he will be a formidable candidate if he runs in 2016. But before that can happen he’s got to win next Tuesday.

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Do Early 2016 Polls Matter? For Democrats, Not Republicans

There’s a strange asymmetry to the 2016 presidential primary polls. For the Democrats, the polls actually matter, or at least tell us something important. Hillary Clinton’s dominance over her rivals has led to some recalling the “inevitability” narrative in 2008 that was, of course, shattered by Barack Obama. But the polls that showed Clinton ahead in those days weren’t as lopsided, and the path wasn’t quite so clear. It’s true that there’s no such thing as a sure thing, but Clinton’s chances of cruising to the nomination are much better this time around.

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There’s a strange asymmetry to the 2016 presidential primary polls. For the Democrats, the polls actually matter, or at least tell us something important. Hillary Clinton’s dominance over her rivals has led to some recalling the “inevitability” narrative in 2008 that was, of course, shattered by Barack Obama. But the polls that showed Clinton ahead in those days weren’t as lopsided, and the path wasn’t quite so clear. It’s true that there’s no such thing as a sure thing, but Clinton’s chances of cruising to the nomination are much better this time around.

Additionally, the polls tell us something else: Democratic voters are not interested in nominating Joe Biden. That’s significant this time if only because he’s the sitting vice president, and therefore has some claim to be next in line. It also means he has high name recognition, which is the key to leading such early polls. (Although it’s worth pointing out that if this Jimmy Kimmel man-on-the-street experiment is any indication, Biden has lower name recognition than you might otherwise think.)

Name recognition, in fact, is basically both the question and answer to deciphering such early polls. So while it’s the reason polls showing Clinton in the lead are worth paying attention to, it’s simultaneously the reason polls of the Republican side of the equation are meaningless. The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll makes this point pretty clearly:

Hillary Clinton continues to hold a commanding lead in the potential Democratic field for president in 2016, while the GOP frontrunner in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll is a familiar figure – but one not favored by eight in 10 potential Republican voters.

That would be Mitt Romney, supported for the GOP nomination by 21 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. That’s double the support of his closest potential rival, but it also leaves 79 percent who prefer one of 13 other possible candidates tested, or none of them.

But what happens when you remove Romney’s name from contention and ask his supporters the same question? This:

When Romney is excluded from the race, his supporters scatter, adding no clarity to the GOP free-for-all. In that scenario former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul have 12 or 13 percent support from leaned Republicans who are registered to vote. All others have support in the single digits.

As I wrote last month on Republicans and name recognition:

Take this summer poll from Gallup on the public’s familiarity with 2016 candidates. The only two Republicans to crack 60 percent were Chris Christie and Jeb Bush. … If he wins reelection in Wisconsin, Scott Walker would be considered among the GOP’s strongest candidates (on paper at least, which is all we have so far for the newbies). … Yet Gallup found Walker with the lowest familiarity of any of the GOP candidates, at just 34 percent.

Similarly, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal–the human résumé–was at just 38 percent. Huckabee was at 54 percent, higher than previous candidate Rick Santorum (but lower than Rick Perry) as well as all the non-previous candidates except Christie, Jeb Bush, and Rand Paul, who was at 55 percent. Huckabee also tied Christie for the highest favorability rating in that poll.

Now look at the new ABC/WaPo poll. There’s Huckabee, along with Jeb Bush and Rand Paul plus Romney at the top. Name recognition still roughly determines the outline of the race.

And that brings up another reason these polls aren’t much help: the actual makeup of the field when the primaries get under way. It’s doubtful Romney will run again. Huckabee is far from a sure thing to run again. Jeb Bush is probably more likely than not to pass as well, considering the fact that Christie still appears to be running and so does Bush’s fellow Floridian Marco Rubio.

Yet according to the ABC/WaPo poll, the top three vote getters on the GOP side are … Romney, Bush, and Huckabee. The pollsters took Romney out of the lineup to get a better sense of where Romney’s support was coming from (leaving Bush and Huckabee still in the top three), but they might have done better taking all three out of an additional question and seeing where the field would be without them. Rand Paul is the top voter-getter among those who either haven’t previously run for president or whose last name isn’t Bush.

After that, it gets more interesting–but not by much. Paul Ryan is a popular choice, but that’s name recognition as well since he ran on the 2012 national ticket. He also doesn’t seem all that enthusiastic about a run for president. If he doesn’t run, that means there’s a good chance three of the top four vote getters in the Romney-free version of the poll aren’t running, leaving Romney’s supporters without any of their favored candidates except Rand Paul.

Here’s another such poll, this one of Iowa voters from last week. The top two choices are Romney and Ben Carson, followed by Paul, Huckabee, and Ryan. Perhaps Romney really is running and Carson is a strong sleeper pick. But I doubt it on both counts. I also doubt Romney would win Iowa even if he ran, no matter what the Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll says.

This is an indication of how wide-open the race is on the GOP side. But not much else. And the polls should be treated that way.

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