Scott Walker should run for president.
Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t like the idea, premising my vision of a Walker Presidency on Scott-the-Candidate circa 2010. That was unfair.
The concern was never that he couldn’t handle the job, but whether he had the political capacity to actually win. As a slave to the Buckley rule, it’s important for me to back the most viable conservative candidate, not someone whose naive idealism makes for an interesting candidate, or whose single issue or character trait might resonate on a spiritual level.
What Walker has been able to prove is an ability to deliver results. His brand of politics represents a rare pragmatism without the schtick. The blabbering class wonders out loud whether he can rally a crowd, motivate the grassroots, inspire the nation to vote, and in the same breath declares the voting population tired of politics as usual and cookie cutter candidates.
Walker breaks that mold by not being bombastic or ostentatious or devoted solely to political expediency, traits other commentators say could be a problem. But shirking the advice of the consulting class in favor of authenticity has been a winning strategy; it was only after Mitt Romney went off script on the 2008 and 2012 stumps that he started an appealing narrative. (To which I add: Mitt gets dibs on a presidential run.)
Some pockets of the state’s grassroots aren’t thrilled with the governor’s campaign style, which took him to winnable counties but ignored the lost causes. But obviously that strategy has worked — three times in the last four years. In a national campaign after the primary, the grassroots mobilization operates under the party’s supervision, not necessarily at the discretion of the candidate. If the strides made in Wisconsin can be applied to a national infrastructure, that could mean long-term benefits for the party, and helps improve the chances of victory against the Democrat.
Perhaps most importantly, he’s been vetted. The worse anyone found in the John Doe investigations was that the campaign used a special internet router — the extent of the mysterious “secret network” that was probably used to encrypt covert transmissions between Madison and Koch HQ. Once Walker’s clean record exhausted bloodthirsty investigators, its purpose turned into having an investigation for the sake of it, to remind voters the governor was being investigated. But even that level of politicking failed. In the national spotlight, the yawn-inducing stories will be dug up again: that he didn’t finish college or that he committed some scandalous acts in a student government election, an assertion even PolitiFact says is bunk. To an extent that’s an advantage. Until his re-election, Walker was being considered as a second- or third-tier candidate. Now his name is getting top-billing with other likelies. If nothing else, the novelty of a rising star conservative from Wisconsin will pique the interest of people who might not otherwise be paying attention.
I had wanted to keep him here for the sake of the state, but to premise my bias against a Walker presidency on the fate of the state is to discredit Rebecca Kleefisch, who has grown into her role, and who is a tremendous speaker whose motivation and enthusiasm would translate into corralling the state’s legislature. If a Walker White House run has been a few years in the making, then so has the thought of his successor. An effective Lieutenant Governor is already waiting in the wings.
We’ve noted plenty often that the governor does what is right without regard to the politics: while passage of Act 10 upset many unionistas and Democrat acolytes, it did impel his own recall election, which took considerable resources to win.
But if that legislation was a short-term political liability, in will prove to be a long-term asset: the state’s economy has stabilized and Walker has the proven clout to sell a message to the state’s voters. That visionary thinking is important to communicating a conservative message. Meanwhile, the opposing progressive dogma of everything to everyone, paid for by people with healthy 401(K)s, can fit on a bumper-sticker.
The conservative route requires explanation, and sometimes requires sacrifices short-term gains now for benefits later. “You can’t have this now, but you can have that later” is toxic political speech, but it’s a reality in managing a functioning economy. The practicality that required public sector employees to contribute marginal amounts to their benefits plans and that busted absurd collective bargaining agreements can be translated to federal policy, especially with a Republican legislature under his leadership, following his vision.
Not just any candidate could manage that, either, or prioritize the right reforms. A president who asks “Does this make sense?” would accomplish much, especially with disregard to expensive political capital, a resource he might be able to afford to spend thanks to the giant fundraising infrastructure and name-recognition he earned fighting the 2012 recall. Those are tools of an elite candidate.
Scott Walker is in the right place at the right time. I’m ready for the next White House Beer Summit to be enjoyed over Miller Lite.