Walker Can Win

Scott Walker could be the only Republican with a chance to win in 2016.

In 2008 and 2012, John McCain and Mitt Romney lost in part because the Republican base was less than inspired. In both elections, a carousel of boutique Republicans took their turn in the spotlight. Some appealed to social conservatives, others appealed to the moderates, others appealed to nest-egg conservatives hoping to keep a greedy government out of their pocketbooks.

In both elections the “next guy in line” won; they were the least-unpalatable person to the most Republicans, and many stayed home on election day.

The same circus seems to be setting up for 2016. Chris Christie appeals to liberal and moderate Republicans. Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney appeal to the elites on the coasts. Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee will parse the diminishing social conservative leg of the stool. Ted Cruz will appeal to the far-right that prefers statements and stunts over policy. Rand Paul will try to cobble together a new, unlikely left-right coalition.

Jeb Bush is the flavor of the week, but Walker shouldn’t fret. There’s still a sour taste in Americans’ mouths over the last Bush presidency. Dubya was portrayed as a right-wing cowboy, but in reality he was a compromiser who pushed through liberal domestic policy programs; under his leadership the GOP spent money as fast as any Democrat. These are damning facts for Jeb, who is already wearing the scarlet M. Animated by the stark budgetary reality facing the nation, conservatives will not tolerate another big-spending Republican. Americans are also very meh about the idea of dynasties.

Where does that leave Scott Walker? He’s perhaps the only contender who doesn’t offend any wing of the Republican coalition and who can inspire great enthusiasm.

I wrote about Walker’s advantages in a presidential contest well over a year ago:

Similarly, he appeals to 2012 voters who identified as pro-Romney as well as “anybody-but-Romney.” In short, he has the potential to be a unifying force within the Republican Party where his competitors simply divide, a formula stinking of general-election-loss.

Walker not only appeals to the base, but he doesn’t rub moderates the wrong way. In fact, his steadfast strategy of appealing to the middle of the economic spectrum in both words and deeds has won him broad support in a state that has gone for Democrats in every presidential election since the Reagan landslide.

America is in search of a new sort of populism, a leader who fights for their interests in a time when it seems like everyone has sold out to billionaires. They’re scrambling for someone who can lift the feeling of malaise and fix the many things that are broken.

So they were in another time of economic misery and foreign peril. Ronald Reagan fought the entrenched, insular opinion leaders within the GOP who believed him to be too conservative to win a national election. The president who solidified the party’s coalition of economic and social conservatism and foreign policy hawks was the last Republican with resounding victories across the nation – and he did it by appealing to the average American, not by kowtowing to the coastal elites.

Average Americans resent that the confidence they put in Obama was betrayed; even Democrats acknowledge Obama is as much in the pocket of the powerful as any president has ever been.

Walker has an every-man look, style, and policy approach that will help him with middle of the road Americans – unlike Obama circa 2008, he has a record of lowering taxes for people and busting corrupt deals with public unions. As the nominee, Walker will draw rabid opposition from unions – again. As in Wisconsin, that will be an opportunity for Walker to draw a sharp contrast with The Left, especially if they bust out the nastiest of their tactics – which are so ugly they turn voters away in droves.

Walker also isn’t a slouch when it comes to raising the money it takes to win. Through three elections in just four years, the guv has made the rounds with some of the nation’s biggest donors. Kim Strassel writes:

He’s spent years introducing himself to most consequential GOP donors—including East Coast deep pockets—and his victories have shown he’s a winner. Add to that the connections he forged during these battles with grass-roots organizations, and his Rolodex is already a lot thicker than that of a John Kasich, a Rick Perry , or even a Rand Paul.

Strassel critiques Walker’s self-reliance, saying he has a reputation as “anti-team effort”…

He has a reputation as a one-man band, serving these past four years as his own chief speechwriter, chief policy aide, chief fundraiser, and chief political analyst…

That might be feasible in a gubernatorial race, but a presidential candidate Walker will inevitably need to expand the circle of trusted advisers (notably to include experts in foreign policy) and relinquish some control. What will remain is simply a hands-on leader, which is good.

Walker also takes some criticism for a bland style lacking in humor. Following eight years of The Great Disappointment, the country might be ready for less flash and more substance, and in an era where a gaffe can sink a candidate overnight, his messaging discipline will be an asset.

But blandness is a fair criticism in a country looking as much to be inspired as looking for policy solutions. Having a lot of experience with Walker, though, I’ve seen his wit and humor. He should let that show more often and incorporate it into his stump speech. Part of Reagan’s appeal was his sense of humor, his touching stories that explained complex policies through the lens of the human experience, and his self-deprecating style. That’s the style that puts people at ease, crucial at a time of great unease.

Gov. Walker says he’ll only consider running for president if he feels “called” to it, embracing the old meme that truly great men don’t seek power, but have power thrust upon them.

Well, governor, you’ve got a call – it’s the people. They’re asking you to run for president.

About the writer: Chris Rochester has worked in communications and finance for a state Senate and congressional campaign, consulted on numerous Assembly and local races, and has held leadership roles in his local Republican Party. He's communications director for the MacIver Institute. Commentary here is strictly his own.