Wisconsin’s One-Trick Pony

Scott Walker delivered a solid performance at tonight’s CNN Republican debate. With a polished and prepared delivery, he discussed his commonsense opposition to new left-wing federal nose-shoving, like increasing the minimum wage from New York to Bozeman, the Iran deal, and taxes.

Pundits, including myself, have argued that Walker should return to being the Walker we’ve always known in Wisconsin. In tonight’s debate, he mostly succeeded in doing that. He spoke about commonsense conservative reforms just like he always has.

He does, however, risk being thought of as Wisconsin’s One-Trick Pony. Too much of his message is about his 2011 reforms, about the hoards of union flacks who showed up at the capitol, trashed the place, and crawled through windows to gain entrance in order to protest what proved to be a lost cause.

Walker even recently rolled out a plan to limit the powers of privileges of federal employee unions in a similar way as the restricted government unions in Wisconsin, which came across as blatant pandering to a certain cross-section concerned paramountly about a certain problem. But the structural fiscal problems in the federal government have much less to do with unions than they have to do with other things. These problems will be much more difficult and complex to tackle.

To be fair, Walker has rolled out a replacement for Obamacare, a tax agenda, and a relatively substantive foreign policy agenda. He also is rolling out a rather solid day-one plan. That’s more than you can say about most of the other candidates.

I’ve consistently urged Walker to rise above the kind of rhetoric required to win a gubernatorial campaign and speak on the aspirational, anecdotal, affecting, affable level that successful presidential campaigns operate on.

But he must transform his 2011 successes into an asterisk, an example illustrating the plausibility of an as-yet-unwritten five-words-or-less vision for another American century. If not, he may be thought of as Wisconsin’s One-Trick Pony, who only ever talks about the union thing he did back in the day.

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.