Scott Walker’s Dilemma

 

Governor Scott Walker is exactly the kind of leader conservatives want in the Oval Office. He fights for what he believes, and he believes basically all the things conservatives hold most dear. He has held to key principles, consistently and demonstrably, for years. He has not enriched himself by his office. Every major policy proposal he has made is credible and conservative. He knows the Left like no one in the field. He is a skilled executive with experience in accomplishing the kind of things we want done in Washington.

To which Republican voters have said “meh.” It’s little wonder. Walker has faced an unforgiving electoral calendar that gave no time between campaign, budget, and campaign, and the shadow of a demagogue who Trumped his outsider appeal and makes loud promises with little seriousness. But underlying all that, Walker has struggled with a predictable dilemma that may not have an easy answer: he does not talk as most Republicans expect this kind of conservative leader to talk. His manner and practiced rhetorical style belies his underlying tough core.

This is in part due to Wisconsin’s political culture, which is very different from much of the primary electorate. “Midwestern Nice” is for real. Beyond that, Wisconsin a bluish-purple state with a comparatively informed electorate and an astonishingly active conservative media. Walker’s supporters knew what he did and knew what he faced. He is not used to proving his conservatism to conservatives. He’s had their basic trust while explaining to the center that conservatism is not dangerous, but that liberalism is.

For an example, watch a little of the final recall debate from the 2012 election:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gw_Sen5sjHQ

Walker doesn’t run from his policies or convictions, but calmly and pragmatically reframes them for his state, avoiding ideological language. He ducks questions freely, avoids sidetracks, and focuses on key issues. There’s almost no anger or fire, even at the critical moment (31:30) when he absolutely nails Barrett on his lack of any alternative plan. Walker uses abundant facts and figures, refutes Barrett’s, responds smoothly to sharp little digs, offers calm defenses of policy details. This is a completely different world (and a more serious one) than the one-liner debate stage next to Donald Trump.

That is how you fight and win in Wisconsin. It just might work very well in Washington, too. If a Walker or a Pawlenty had conervatives’ trust and stood against a Clinton, we’d accept this style. But that very style makes it difficult to win that trust: the mild manner comes across as weakness or lack of conviction, and the rhetorical caution as shiftiness. These impressions are not accurate, but are understandable, so long as the conservative media doesn’t look too hard. Walker cannot count on a Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh to play nationally the role of Charlie Sykes or Mark Belling, sifting through facts and informing the electorate. Indeed, conservative media at the moment is as much Walker’s friend as the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Is there an answer to that dilemma? Walker has to figure out how to earn conservatives’ trust, by his own words and not his record alone, through the chaos of this crowded Trump-dominated primary. He cannot do that by veering unconvincingly between his usual caution (a defense learned on the front lines in Milwaukee, if conservatives realized it) and an aggressive bold tone that he cannot seem to make feel natural. He is no actor.

That said, he can correct a few errors. Put immigration to rest with a written plan, so that every sentence is less easily over-parsed and re-interpreted. Answer “gotcha” questions or not as appropriate, but don’t offer inconsistent rationales for doing so. Walker criticizes Trump for personal attacks; having done that, perhaps he might as well make policy distinctions. Maybe it’s time to run against Trump as if he were a Democrat. Trump started it borrowing talking points from the Burke campaign, and Walker runs better against Democrats than Republicans, anyway.

But most importantly, Walker must simply offer, with conviction, who he truly is. Remember Paul Ryan saying “leaders change the polls?” That was true in a Wisconsin budget fight, and it is true in these trivial primary clashes with the nation hanging in the balance. For example, Republicans tell pollsters they don’t want a career politician, but that is about trust, not the resume. Walker shouldn’t try to argue that he’s not a career politician (he is one), but point out that he doesn’t need to apologize for waiting until this year to begin fighting. Nor yet for challenging a corrupt county government in 2002, for giving back nearly half the executive’s salary to build authority for pushing spending cuts (and generally failing to become wealthy on the taxpayer dime), or for eight years tangling with the Left in one of the toughest counties in America.

Indeed, he should present his career in politics as the best reason for his getting the nomination. Because of that career, the Left lost real power in a way that will matter for years to come: Wisconsin property taxpayers kept more of their own money; more children can reach the hope offered by school choice; and others are alive today because – after defunding Planned Parenthood and passing an ultrasound law – abortions are down 10% in Wisconsin. If Republicans really think that is less honorable than a New York billionaire’s career, no amount of spin will help.

Walker may or may not be able to bridge the cultural divide or to break past the noise, but he cannot make himself over to be otherwise than he is. All he can do is offer proven leadership and a conservative vision and, rather than reaching for a style that does not fit, recapture the firm authoritative tone of 2011. If he does that, he will ring true again – and at least Republicans will have a choice.

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  1. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    Boy I hope so. I think he’s the best choice of the field to win in 2016 for many reasons. He better sack up tomorrow and blast don and Jeb

    • #1
  2. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    DocJay:Boy I hope so.I think he’s the best choice of the field to win in 2016 for many reasons. He better sack up tomorrow and blast don and Jeb

    Me too… but that’s kind of the issue I’m raising. Walker doesn’t quite “blast” his opponents. Can the debate style he used above possibly break through on the kind of stage we’ll see tomorrow night?

    And does it really speak well of our process that a debate over a state budget crisis, however significant, comes across as more serious and thoughtful than a debate to choose the President of the United States?

    • #2
  3. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    He’s always struck me the same way the movie Napoleon Dynamite did — lot’s of hype I just didn’t get.

    • #3
  4. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    The King Prawn:He’s always struck me the same way the movie Napoleon Dynamite did — lot’s of hype I just didn’t get.

    What kind of a president do you want?

    He’s just the best executive leader I’ve lived under to remember, that’s all (and I’ve managed to hit some rather different places). He’s a full-spectrum conservative, and effective. It’s been a broad conservative agenda advanced step by step as opportunity arose or could be created, in territory not at all friendly to conservatives.

    And I appreciate that eight years as county executive in deep-blue territory didn’t turn him into a squish. Washington has a way of changing people, but if you can keep your head and your principles in Milwaukee and Madison, you’re not easily softened.

    I “get” it because I lived there, though not during the most exciting part of it. It’s not just the one union fight, though it’s hard to overstate the significance of that or the political nerve it took — the barest of legislative margins and very bad polls. But I also think I understand why you don’t get it — and I’ve tried to lay it out.

    • #4
  5. Brian McMenomy Inactive
    Brian McMenomy
    @BrianMcMenomy

    He’s a man of great substance with an odd dichotomy.  He runs his own political operation, for the most part, yet he has a lot of voices in his ear.  Witness his meandering on immigration.

    He puts his finger on important issues very well (his current plan on public employee unions is a much more important idea than the media will give him credit for), but he hasn’t mastered getting the proper attention for his ideas on a national stage.  He’s got more guts than just about anybody in the field; I just hope he doesn’t go the way of Rick Perry.

    • #5
  6. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Brian McMenomy: He runs his own political operation, for the most part, yet he has a lot of voices in his ear.  Witness his meandering on immigration.

    I think the three elections punctuated by budget fights has something to do with that. When was he going to think through a detailed position on immigration down to the question of how the 14th Amendment affects birthright citizenship?

    I’ll add that I think he’s been unfairly hit on that one a few times. He didn’t contradict himself in NH earlier this year, and he didn’t really take three positions on birthright citizenship though he has to take the blame — he misspoke. He has an odd habit of using affirmative words as verbal filler, and sometimes traps himself into saying things he didn’t intend. The Wisconsin media, even mainstream reporters, recognize this and actually report what they know he meant — the national media is not so kind.

    The running his own political operation is a problem not a plus… Scott Walker could be a very good presidential campaign manager for someone else, or he could be a very good presidential candidate, but it’s not clear he can be both.

    • #6
  7. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    In a better world he’d be establishing his bonafides while outperforming Jeb and out conservativatizing Marco. I know that’s not a word but it should be. This is worthy of a main feed article. I’m sick of Donald and Jeb, neither can win.

    • #7
  8. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Who needs substance when there are other guys with style!

    • #8
  9. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    The King Prawn:He’s always struck me the same way the movie Napoleon Dynamite did — lot’s of hype I just didn’t get.

    Other than zingers, what do you want from a President?

    Walker has provided reforms in every area of politics (social, fiscal, electoral). He’s energized the party to an unprecedented degree; no state is as active as Wisconsin, and he’s been good at supporting downticket races. He’s made sound executive decisions.

    DocJay: In a better world he’d be establishing his bonafides while outperforming Jeb and out conservativatizing Marco. I know that’s not a word but it should be. This is worthy of a main feed article. I’m sick of Donald and Jeb, neither can win.

    I don’t know if we live in that better world. I fear it is entirely plausible that either Jeb or Bush could win.

    On the other hand, it is also very possible that Trump and Carson will collapse, and if they do, Walker is a lot of Iowan’s second choice. No one else has as high favorables but Carson. In any multi-polar race like this, you’ll have a lot of what goes on being beyond your control, and time is certainly not on Walker’s side, but it’s very possible that there’ll be a change over the next few months. I’m not sure what could happen to make Trump implode, but Carson seems much less likely to survive scrutiny, and his implosion would be very helpful.

    • #9
  10. jetstream Inactive
    jetstream
    @jetstream

    He does not talk as most Republicans expect this kind of conservative leader to talk.

    As Rich Lowry noted in a recent NRO article, Walker is basically an establishment Republican. Rich noted the awkwardness of Walker changing position on illegal immigration from fully supporting Comprehensive Immigration Reform to Trump’s position.

    Walker would be part of the GOP establishment led problem that is haunting our country, which is also the energy source motivating the Trump phenomena.

    Walker makes the fourth Musketeer of the establishment boys Bush, Christie, and Kasich.

    Been there, done that.

    • #10
  11. E. Kent Golding Member
    E. Kent Golding
    @EKentGolding

    If  Scott Walker’s record in Wisconsin is Establishment,  I’ll take Establishment.

    America is choosing Casino Culture   over a consistant solid record achieved in adverse conditions.    A  stupid ignorant populace gets what they deserve,  but the rest of us suffer for it.    Not sure what America wants,  but Texas looks well governed,  and so does Wisconsin.   Words and Promises tend to be lies,   but a record of decisions  and results tells the tale.

    • #11
  12. jetstream Inactive
    jetstream
    @jetstream

    E. Kent Golding:If Scott Walker’s record in Wisconsin is Establishment, I’ll take Establishment.

    America is choosing Casino Culture over a consistant solid record achieved in adverse conditions. A stupid ignorant populace gets what they deserve, but the rest of us suffer for it. Not sure what America wants, but Texas looks well governed, and so does Wisconsin. Words and Promises tend to be lies, but a record of decisions and results tells the tale.

    Apparently you aren’t familiar with Walker’s rather wild vacillations. Since he announced his candidacy, Walker has been a political pendulum. Walker’s real deficiency is he doesn’t have a real core. If you don’t agree with me take it up with Rich Lowry at NRO.

    • #12
  13. jetstream Inactive
    jetstream
    @jetstream

    DocJay:In a better world he’d be establishing his bonafides while outperforming Jeb and out conservativatizing Marco.I know that’s not a word but it should be.This is worthy of a main feed article.I’m sick of Donald and Jeb, neither can win.

    Doc, I don’t if have done this, for a close up look at Scott Walker’s lack of core principles check out Rich Lowry’s article at NRO. The difference between mystique and reality is striking.

    • #13
  14. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    jetstream: Apparently you aren’t familiar with Walker’s rather wild vacillations. Since he announced his candidacy, Walker has been a political pendulum. Walker’s real deficiency is he doesn’t have a real core. If you don’t agree with me take it up with Rich Lowry at NRO.

    Except for he does, and I’ve seen it. Moreover I’ve watched every twist and turn of this campaign. He is a conservative running as a conservative, and communicating badly.

    The only issue he’s changed position on is immigration. Yes, in a different campaign he’s using slightly different rhetoric on marriage and a few other issues than he did last year against Mary Burke. That’s to be expected and he actually hasn’t changed on substance on those issues. His position on marriage is completely consistent with what he did in Wisconsin. The media wanted to talk about the issue non-stop last year, and he refused to play along.

    The immigration switch has been awkward, and he clearly did not enter prepared to discuss the issue. He’s never been quite the “amnesty shill” reported: he ended in-state tuition and (as I recall) opposed the Gang of 8. He’s always had a strong law-and-order emphasis. Walker will spin — and always come down to what he actually believes. When he puts an immigration plan in writing, I’ll take him at his word.

    • #14
  15. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    jetstream:

    DocJay:In a better world he’d be establishing his bonafides while outperforming Jeb and out conservativatizing Marco.I know that’s not a word but it should be.This is worthy of a main feed article.I’m sick of Donald and Jeb, neither can win.

    Doc, I don’t if have done this, for a close up look at Scott Walker’s lack of core principles check out Rich Lowry’s article at NRO. The difference between mystique and reality is striking.

    In case I didn’t make it clear above, I read that NRO article. I agree with an immense amount of it, though I’ve put my own view of some of the underlying issues above: some of it is truly style over substance. But not one bit of it affects my overall conviction that of everyone in this field he’d make the best president by far.

    But there’s no “mystique” about what has been happening in Wisconsin over the past four years. It’s reality. Real conservative policies that have made a real difference. And that’s what he’d do in Washington. The problem is how he gets there.

    • #15
  16. jetstream Inactive
    jetstream
    @jetstream

    Leigh:

    jetstream:

    The only issue he’s changed position on is immigration. Yes, in a different campaign he’s using slightly different rhetoric on marriage and a few other issues than he did last year against Mary Burke. That’s to be expected and he actually hasn’t changed on substance on those issues. His position on marriage is completely consistent with what he did in Wisconsin. The media wanted to talk about the issue non-stop last year, and he refused to play along.

    The immigration switch has been awkward, and he clearly did not enter prepared to discuss the issue. He’s never been quite the “amnesty shill” reported: he ended in-state tuition and (as I recall) opposed the Gang of 8. He’s always had a strong law-and-order emphasis. Walker will spin — and always come down to what he actually believes. When he puts an immigration plan in writing, I’ll take him at his word.

    After reading Lowry’s synopsis of Walker’s pendulum political principles, I don’t take Walker’s word on anything. So, in order to win votes in Iowa, Walker disingenuously poses as a Ted Cruz clone etc etc etc. Walker is a poser and represents the motive force for Trump’s current success.

    The difference between mystique and reality is enormous.

    How about a leader with core principles who leads from the front with his/her core principles. Walker doesn’t qualify.

    • #16
  17. Guruforhire Inactive
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Walker is starting to look like a really good one trick pony that doesn’t transfer between venues.

    Attacking Donald doesn’t help him.

    Having a solid entitlement reform plan that isn’t reforimicon sophistry and selling it hard, with a strong can do attitude would help him greatly.

    • #17
  18. V the K Member
    V the K
    @VtheK

    One of Walker’s problems is that illegal immigration really is a huge issue to a lot of Republican voters. Walker bought into the “secure the border, than legalize the ones already here” boilerplate that most of the rest of the GOP field repeats and no one believes (not after the Gang of 8 bill). Few voters trust the GOP to secure the border, and most suspect the GOP of wanting more illegal immigration. Trump stands out because he rejects the empty border control rhetoric of the rest of the herd.  “Deport them and build a wall,” is a lot closer to what voters want. Plus, Trump doesn’t have the GOP baggage of multiple betrayals on this exact issue.

    • #18
  19. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Leigh: Wisconsin a bluish-purple state with a comparatively informed electorate and an astonishingly active conservative media. Walker’s supporters knew what he did and knew what he faced. He is not used to proving his conservatism to conservatives. He’s had their basic trust while explaining to the center that conservatism is not dangerous, but that liberalism is.

    Interesting. I hadn’t considered that, but does seem to explain things, at least a bit.

    On the other hand, if Walker can’t figure out how to adapt to a presidential campaign, it lends credence to the idea that he won’t be able to adapt to being president, either.

    Walker’s record is hugely impressive; he just needs to demonstrate that he can adapt that to the office he’s running for, not the one he’s run for three times. I hope he can.

    • #19
  20. Marion Evans Inactive
    Marion Evans
    @MarionEvans

    I can’ t take him seriously when he says that building a wall at the border with Canada is a legitimate issue.

    http://time.com/4016282/scott-walker-immigration-canada/

    or that China’s leadership is to blame for our market turmoil.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2015/08/24/scott-walker-obama-should-show-some-backbone-by-canceling-chinese-state-visit/

    Clearly not ready for prime time. How many times has he been abroad? I see maybe  three trips to Germany, Spain, France, the UK, China and Japan.

    • #20
  21. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    An excellent and valuable post on a very good man and a canny local politician. Thus far, he has not been good at addressing national issues. He is my favorite of the current candidates, but he has to demonstrate his competence with respect to national issues to make it.

    • #21
  22. Sandy Member
    Sandy
    @Sandy

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Leigh: Wisconsin a bluish-purple state with a comparatively informed electorate and an astonishingly active conservative media. Walker’s supporters knew what he did and knew what he faced. He is not used to proving his conservatism to conservatives. He’s had their basic trust while explaining to the center that conservatism is not dangerous, but that liberalism is.

    Interesting. I hadn’t considered that, but does seem to explain things.

    Sort of.  I think his inability to communicate, however, cannot be blamed on an active conservative media.  He was my first choice, and this is a disappointing failure.

    I am glad to see Walker defended here on the basis of his record, but a President needs to be able to persuade via the spoken word, both domestically and internationally, and without (to say the least) a friendly media.  The debates are a way to find out who can do this, too.

    • #22
  23. DoubleFacePalm Member
    DoubleFacePalm
    @

    I really like Scott Walker.  I know he has flip flopped on some things.  But I’ve noticed that the liberal media never minds it when Democrats “grow” and take a position that is more liberal on a issue than it was in the past.  Obama’ coming out for gay marriage is an example.  And I know people made fun of Walker when he implied that we would have to build a wall or fence on the Canadian border. Well, per Ann Coulter’s prediction, I think it is only a matter a time before the liberals succeed in turning the US into a “Third World Hellhole”.  And when that happens, I predict that in about twenty years, there will be a wall built on the Canadian border – only, it will be the Canadians building the wall to keep out all of the American refugees.  The American refugees will be everyone who do not want to live in a crappy, hellish North American version of Venezuela/Haiti/Pakistan. So every person who has joked about a wall on the Canadian border will have to eat their words.

    • #23
  24. V the K Member
    V the K
    @VtheK

    DocJay:Boy I hope so.I think he’s the best choice of the field to win in 2016 for many reasons. He better sack up tomorrow and blast don and Jeb

    I think he could possibly have been the best president out of anyone in the field. I am not sure he would be the best candidate in our post-Republic, Idiocracy Era politics.

    • #24
  25. Illiniguy Member
    Illiniguy
    @Illiniguy

    Leigh: This is in part due to Wisconsin’s political culture, which is very different from much of the primary electorate. “Midwestern Nice” is for real. Beyond that, Wisconsin a bluish-purple state with a comparatively informed electorate and an astonishingly active conservative media. Walker’s supporters knew what he did and knew what he faced. He is not used to proving his conservatism to conservatives. He’s had their basic trust while explaining to the center that conservatism is not dangerous, but that liberalism is.

    With the exception of the “Midwestern Nice” generalization (cf: Illinois), this point is spot on. The thing that gets me is that for 7 years we’ve been griping about the empty suit with the dazzling rhetoric who currently occupies the White House, then we go out and elevate an even emptier suit whose singular characteristic is bombast. I hope Walker can weather this storm until the voting actually begins. Think what you will of Rick Perry, but his exit from the race was a warning shot that tells us it’s time to start getting serious, or 2016 is going to become nothing more than bread and circuses.

    • #25
  26. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    DocJay:In a better world he’d be establishing his bonafides while outperforming Jeb and out conservativatizing Marco.I know that’s not a word but it should be.This is worthy of a main feed article.I’m sick of Donald and Jeb, neither can win.

    Yeah, Trump has sucked all the oxygen out of the room.  And it’s to a large part the fault of the other candidates and the GOP leadership for conceding the field on immigration to be seized by Trump.  The public was starving for SOMEONE to say what needed to be said, damn them for leaving that to Trump.

    • #26
  27. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    I guess this seals it that I am not a conservative because he is not exactly the kind of person I want in the oval office.

    He is a good man and did great things in WI and rightly earned the support of his state, but he has struggled with a consistent message and I don’t think we need someone trying to figure where they stand on immigration after reading the op ed page.

    The harshest comment I’ve ever read on Politico regarding Gov. Walker:

    “He’s on all 3 sides of every 2 sided issue. When your staff has to call up the press and clarify every position 2 hours after a speech, you are in trouble.”

    • #27
  28. livingthehighlife Inactive
    livingthehighlife
    @livingthehighlife

    jetstream: Apparently you aren’t familiar with Walker’s rather wild vacillations.

    The candidate currently leading the polls has had even more extreme vacillations.  Apparently they are okay for the Donald, but not for other candidates.

    • #28
  29. donald todd Inactive
    donald todd
    @donaldtodd

    If there are two percent of the voters who are in Walker’s cohort, then I am part of that two percent.  But two percent won’t get it done.  We’ve watched a host of governors and former governors who have good to spectacular success in governing their states, and they are largely in the same boat as Walker.  Will he survive the winnowing process?  Are his cohort the same cohort as the Donalds?  Being a conservative of the full throat variety I have to think not, but then I hear that maybe some of the Donalds cohort are full throated conservatives.

    Maybe Walker needs to take on the Republican establishment for losing the good faith of the Republicans and their fellow travelers such as me.  That idea seems to be working just fine right now.

    • #29
  30. donald todd Inactive
    donald todd
    @donaldtodd

    BrentB67:I guess this seals it that I am not a conservative because he is not exactly the kind of person I want in the oval office.

    He is a good man and did great things in WI and rightly earned the support of his state, but he has struggled with a consistent message and I don’t think we need someone trying to figure where they stand on immigration after reading the op ed page.

    The harshest comment I’ve ever read on Politico regarding Gov. Walker:

    “He’s on all 3 sides of every 2 sided issue. When your staff has to call up the press and clarify every position 2 hours after a speech, you are in trouble.”

    You got that from Politico?  I wonder who planted it there?

    • #30
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