Governor Scott Walker has hired a campaign manager for his presidential bid, and his name is Rick Wiley.
Wiley has a ton of experience and worked, until last week, for Mercury LLC, which also advises Chris Christie, meaning his joining Walker is a bit of a coup. Romney’s “Play it Safe” adviser Stu Stevens also liked the choice:
— stuart stevens (@stuartpstevens) January 8, 2015
The Hill is reporting that Wiley isn’t wasting any time – he’s already aggressively reaching out to potential staffers. To what extent he taps Walker’s existing circle in Wisconsin, many of whom have been with him since the start, is unclear. But if we learned anything from The West Wing, the length of time hangers-on have hung on doesn’t mean much – as long as you have your own Leo McGarry.
Walker’s Leo has ties to Wisconsin. He was the state Republican Party’s executive director and ran the turnout operation in Wisconsin for Dubya’s re-elect in 2004. Wiley was also the RNC’s political director in the 2012 election cycle under chairman Reince Priebus, a Wisconsin native. He’s also consulted for Walker in the 2014 cycle and, in neighboring Illinois, successful GOP gov candidate Bruce Rauner via the RGA.
And judging by his beard, he’s an admirer of James Hetfield.
It’s a good sign that Walker’s set a compressed timeline for putting together a national team. In Wisconsin he’s been successful by essentially co-opting the state party, which served as the grassroots arm of his campaign.
There will be no such advantage for a Walker presidential campaign. He and his team – which now looks to be headed by Wiley – will need to build a massive and intricate grassroots machine separate from the party, just to get through the primary.
If Walker becomes the nominee, he’ll need a team capable of raising money for and running a billion dollar enterprise that spans the entire country.
While pundits suggest Walker’s official announcement will come when the state’s legislative session wraps up, he can’t wait that long to start building the machine, especially in the company of someone like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, who already have networks of donors and supporters.
In fact, Christie just moved his expected announcement up to the end of this month.
Walker’s also speaking the language that will win over the coveted evangelical vote in Iowa. On the Hugh Hewitt show he said “I think with what I’ve had to go through in the last four years…I feel that there’s a reason God put me in a spot to do the things that we’ve done…”
The son of a minister, this all comes naturally to Walker. That’s why he’ll be a strong contender in the Iowa caucuses – but still, he’ll have a far tougher challenge than he had in Wisconsin’s last gubernatorial election, where he only needed to contrast himself with the formless Democrat Mary Burke.
In the primary, he’ll have to draw contrasts with as many as 30 other Republicans, including Mike Huckabee, the evangelical rockstar who speaks the rail-splitter language of populism with a charming, self-deprecating, and almost Reaganesque sense of humor.
The state party convention – just this side of Iowa in La Crosse in May – is certain to be a rousing affair.
Presidential candidate Walker will also face some backlash here at home: some supporters won’t want to lose him as governor; others may think he’s unprepared with weak foreign policy chops, and should wait.
All that, and the legislative session that Walker has scheduled his presidential announcement around might get a lot more complicated thanks to ambitious Republicans back in-state like Scott Fitzgerald and Robin Vos.
Making this all work will look like putting the wings on an airplane as it’s taking off.
But at least now, with the hire of Wiley and the upcoming formation of a national team, the pilot’s in the cockpit. And here on the ground, in the grassroots of Wisconsin politics, we have our answer:
Governor Walker is running for president.