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. Koolie Inactive
    Koolie
    @Koolie

    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.

    Walker is much tougher than Bush, Christie, and Kasich. I would put him outside of the Establishment. I trust him to get things done in general, and on the debt, the budget, and education, in particular. He is a very significant, impressive candidate.

    His problem is that he failed to identify illegal immigration as a defining issue for 2016. The other defining issue is the Iran Deal. He has to come out swinging on foreign policy tonight.

    • #31
  2. Koolie Inactive
    Koolie
    @Koolie

    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.”

    I wouldn’t trust the Democrats on Politico. These guys have been after Walker but failed miserably every time. For these guys to criticize somebody about flip flopping while carrying the water for Obama is laughable.

    • #32
  3. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    donald todd:

    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?

    They do a Friday column and it came from a republican consultant trying to explain why Gov. Walker has fallen so far so fast in Iowa.

    • #33
  4. MBF Member
    MBF
    @MBF

    From the comments here it sounds like a segment of potential GOP primary voters don’t actually care about enacting conservative policy. They’d rather get the leg tingle that comes with seeing a candidate stick it to the “establishment” rhetorically.

    For those that do care, and are interested in conservative policy victories, I’ll re post my list again:

    “In Wisconsin we elected Republicans to power at all 3 levels (executive, senate, assembly). Since that time we’ve gotten an end to government union monopoly bargaining power, voter ID, concealed carry, castle law, widespread school choice expansion, right to work legislation, elimination of prevailing wage, ban on abortion after 20 weeks, frozen university tuition while simultaneously cutting university funding from the state, reforming tenure policy for professors, and probably a few others I can’t think of off the top of my head.

    And income and property taxes are lower than they were 4 years ago. And his tax reforms included a DECREASE to the state earned income credit.”

    • #34
  5. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    Koolie:

    BrentB67:

    I wouldn’t trust the Democrats on Politico. These guys have been after Walker but failed miserably every time. For these guys to criticize somebody about flip flopping while carrying the water for Obama is laughable.

    “He can’t seem to find his way on any given issue with a handheld GPS,” an Iowa Republican said of Walker. “He’s been on all three sides of every two-sided issue. For the last two months hasn’t made a single policy pronouncement that he or his staff hasn’t had to clarify or clear up within two hours. When you’re reduced to saying ‘yeah’ doesn’t mean ‘yes,’ you’re in trouble. ‘Unintimidated’ has given way to ‘uninformed’ and ‘unprepared.'”Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/09/summers-biggest-losers-walker-and-omalley-213318#ixzz3ludiLU5X

    • #35
  6. Brandon Phelps Member
    Brandon Phelps
    @

    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.

    Why, because Trump does whatever the heck he wants to do? GOSH!

    • #36
  7. MBF Member
    MBF
    @MBF

    And I noticed some comments still pushing the narrative that he said he’s in favor of a border wall with Canada. Really? You really think that’s what he said?

    A lot of people in the Midwest say “yeah” in response to questions as a default before offering a detailed response. It’s just the way lots of us talk.

    Q: “I just made this moonshine in my garage for the first time. Do you want to try some?”

    A: “Yeah, I’ll probably just stick with this Miller Lite.”

    • #37
  8. donald todd Inactive
    donald todd
    @donaldtodd

    BrentB67:

    donald todd:

    BrentB67:

    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?

    They do a Friday column and it came from a republican consultant trying to explain why Gov. Walker has fallen so far so fast in Iowa.

    A “Republican” consultant.  That explains everything.

    • #38
  9. Koolie Inactive
    Koolie
    @Koolie

    BrentB67:

    Koolie:

    BrentB67:

    I wouldn’t trust the Democrats on Politico. These guys have been after Walker but failed miserably every time. For these guys to criticize somebody about flip flopping while carrying the water for Obama is laughable.

    OK, I see where you are coming from. I would contrast what this unnamed Republican said to #34, MBF’s list of accomplishments in Wisconsin under Walker’s leadership. Personally, I like to rely more on facts about solid accomplishments than criticisms of flip flopping. Flip flopping happens to all politicians, it is more important to know who the accused flip-flopper is, whether you trust him. I trust Walker based on his accomplishments, not what some unnamed Republican tells Politico, who then deems to highlight it.

    Give you an example: Obama flip-flopped right? Gay marriage, amnesty etc etc. But the leftists knew what he was all about, that he would deliver. So they ignore all the flip flopping.

    I never believed what Obama also said ever so steadfastly. I knew he would flip flop as did his leftist supporters. I prefer to judge the man, and thus tend to weight accusations of flip-flopping minimally, in general..

    • #39
  10. derek Inactive
    derek
    @user_82953

    The best thing that Walker could do is fire his consultants. They have utterly misread the mood of the electorate and are doing everything that Romney did to lose by 6 points.

    Give a straight answer. Throw the polls away, they are wrong. Answer people’s questions about what you would do about the issues of the day. They are tough tough issues, require hard answers that either way will hurt some people.

    The mistake he is making is trying to be ‘presidential’ or whatever the word is today. If he doesn’t know, say so. If he has a strong position, say it. The pablum smoosh of nothing is annoying and demeaning, so stop doing it.

    I said here and elsewhere that the first candidate that throws his consultant out of a second floor window would take the lead in the polls. ‘He said that Trump would implode. He has been saying that same thing for weeks. I couldn’t take it anymore. I threw him out of the window’.

    Metaphorically of course.

    • #40
  11. jetstream Inactive
    jetstream
    @jetstream

    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.

    You’re missing the entire dynamics of why Trump is currently leading.

    • #41
  12. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    The dreaded double-post.

    • #42
  13. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    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.”

    These vacillations explode his “brand.” Walker was supposed to be the guy who actually won against the establishment. Instead, he just sounds like a guy who stumbled into the right fight against the right enemies. That reeks of the trap we fell into with Dubya: a so-so guy whom the Left…so we defended him too long.

    Walker was my number one choice–and I still hold out hope for a turnaround–so his failure to execute and connect gall me.

    • #43
  14. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    MBF, that is a great list, but those are state issues and I am very happy for WI. I think it gives him conservative credibility to do similarly with national issues, but he has stumbled badly on the national stage. Walker and Jeb are both upright leaders that are not adapting well to the national stage in general and immigration specifically.

    • #44
  15. Ralphie Inactive
    Ralphie
    @Ralphie

    MBF:You need to write for Walker. I appreciate the post.

    I live in Michigan and have donated to both Walker’s recall and re-election. He is still my first choice.

    If you have followed politics very closely for the last 5 years, and you are a conservative, you would not allow yourself to be angry at Walker for what the Washington Republicans have done.  A lot of sunshine conservatives do not seem to understand the heavy lifting it takes to get aligned to be able to get things done.  Democrats waited for decades to get a sweeping health care bill. Truman was a fan of single payer, but it is doubtful many know that today.

    In an almost inverse way, the angry fed up Trump supporters seem to assume life is perfectable like the most ardent liberal.

    • #45
  16. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    I posted this back in April:

    The One Thing Our Next President Must Achieve

    “But the most important thing our next President must accomplish is to break the funding base of the Democratic party. Walker has accomplished this in Wisconsin: to my knowledge neither Cruz nor Paul has even discussed it.

    “The Progressives accomplished a few brilliant things—frankly—when they took over the country 100 years ago….

    “…But most importantly, they endowed workers’ unions with a tax power, and the unions used that tax power to support the Democratic party virtually unilaterally.”

    From Walker, on the 13th:

    Scott Walker proposes national right-to-work law and no bargaining for federal workers

    This would include scrapping Davis-Bacon.

    This would eviscerate the Democratic party.

    He’s the only candidate who seems to have a passing understanding of what ails this country, and what is required to fix it.

    I couldn’t find any links to this in the Conservative press…

    • #46
  17. Koolie Inactive
    Koolie
    @Koolie

    Tuck:I posted this back in April:

    The One Thing Our Next President Must Achieve

    “But the most important thing our next President must accomplish is to break the funding base of the Democratic party. Walker has accomplished this in Wisconsin: to my knowledge neither Cruz nor Paul has even discussed it.

    “The Progressives

    “…endowed workers’ unions with a tax power, and the unions used that tax power to support the Democratic party virtually unilaterally.”

    From Walker, on the 13th:

    Scott Walker proposes national right-to-work law and no bargaining for federal workers

    This would include scrapping Davis-Bacon.

    This would eviscerate the Democratic party.

    He’s the only candidate who seems to have a passing understanding of what ails this country, and what is required to fix it.

    I couldn’t find any links to this in the Conservative press…

    I think you are right. Walker has to push the things he believes in (what he did in Wisconsin) loudly and clearly at the national level.

    And he has to get his illegal immigration/migrant/Western culture issue straight (Steyn at Steynonline has a caustic comment on Walker’s non-comment on the refugee crisis in Europe). It could be that he doesn’t share the sense of crisis on illegals. In that case, he has to make his case and live and die by his position; if he is not aware of the crisis, my sense is he’ll be sidelined.

    • #47
  18. livingthehighlife Inactive
    livingthehighlife
    @livingthehighlife

    jetstream:

    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.

    You’re missing the entire dynamics of why Trump is currently leading.

    Wrong.  I understand it perfectly.

    But burning down the house because there’s a rat in the attic isn’t a rational response either.

    • #48
  19. jetstream Inactive
    jetstream
    @jetstream

    livingthehighlife:

    jetstream:

    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.

    You’re missing the entire dynamics of why Trump is currently leading.

    Wrong. I understand it perfectly.

    But burning down the house because there’s a rat in the attic isn’t a rational response either.

    By your second paragraph, you still are missing the dynamics of why Trump is leading.

    • #49
  20. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    jetstream:

    By your second paragraph, you still are missing the dynamics of why Trump is leading.

    Can you explain it concisely then?  Because other than pure cussedness, I’m mystified by his appeal.

    • #50
  21. jetstream Inactive
    jetstream
    @jetstream

    By whose appeal?

    • #51
  22. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    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, at least a bit.

    I don’t think this is fully unique to Walker. I think Pawlenty and even Romney struggled with some of this. Local conservatives knew they were the best they’d get in their blue states and supported them accordingly. (Walker did not have to be as conservative as he is. That’s a big deal.)

    That political culture, though, matters. I realized that strikingly when I found myself trying to figure out Virginia, a similarly purple state with no comparable conservative movement. Conservative media, grassroots, leadership at every level — Wisconsin produces more serious conservative leaders. That’s good, but leadership of that movement doesn’t necessarily prepare one for a primary campaign in which online bloggers will dismiss all your record and serious proposals because your PAC hiring Brad Dayspring proves you’re just an establishment shill.

    I like the idea of Walker as president, but in my fantasy world I’d also promote most of the state legislature, the Supreme Court, and a smattering of grassroots organizations and conservative commentators.

    • #52
  23. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    MBF: A lot of people in the Midwest say “yeah” in response to questions as a default before offering a detailed response. It’s just the way lots of us talk.

    I didn’t even realize that until this year. If your ear is tuned to that, you mentally discount “yeah” and “absolutely.” It happened more than once. Saw Walker reported as having said something. Watched the video and thought “but he didn’t say that.” Read the transcript and he did — well, kind of. Except it was obviously not intended as reported.

    If you asked him if he’s a crook, he’d probably say “Absolutely. Of course not. Let’s get back to real issues.”

    Media: “Walker says he’s a crook.”

    The northern wall one was beyond that, though. He was answering a general question about security on the northern border in general when the interviewer interrupted him to add on the question about the wall.  Walker didn’t take the interruption into account, so his affirmative seemed to apply to that as well. It’s pretty obvious when you watch it.

    And of course northern security is a “legitimate issue” — as noted by the fact that after 9/11 we decided we now needed passport control. “Legitimate” doesn’t mean “equally important.”

    • #53
  24. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    jetstream:By whose appeal?

    Trump’s appeal.

    • #54
  25. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Fricosis Guy: These vacillations explode his “brand.” Walker was supposed to be the guy who actually won against the establishment. Instead, he just sounds like a guy who stumbled into the right fight against the right enemies.

    What he “sounds like” is not what he is. That’s the difficulty.

    BrentB67: MBF, that is a great list, but those are state issues and I am very happy for WI.

    They’re largely clear indicators of an effective conservative philosophy and strategy that is directly applicable. This is who you want to get Obamacare repeal through Congress.

    Tuck: This would eviscerate the Democratic party…. I couldn’t find any links to this in the Conservative press…

    NRO covered it, and Walker had a piece on Hot Air.  He won’t, of course, say that out loud.

    derek:They have utterly misread the mood of the electorate and are doing everything that Romney did to lose…

    I’m not sure. Recognize Americans want a Washington outsider? Check. Prepare to offer something other than the Bush-Rubio position on immigration? Check.

    He can’t redo his style, no matter how well he reads the electorate. A detailed immigration plan in June might have helped and he badly needs to get it in writing. But he went from campaign to budget fight to campaign with no breathing time.

    • #55
  26. Guruforhire Inactive
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Leigh: That’s good, but leadership of that movement doesn’t necessarily prepare one for a primary campaign in which online bloggers will dismiss all your record and serious proposals because your PAC hiring Brad Dayspring proves you’re just an establishment shill.

    It is very easy to commit suicide in Ankh-Morpork if you are not careful.

    • #56
  27. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Guruforhire: It is very easy to commit suicide in Ankh-Morpork if you are not careful.

    That may be a profound insight, but it’s Geek to me.  At least I assume it’s geekiness. Feel free to correct me.

    • #57
  28. Guruforhire Inactive
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Yes.  Very much so.

    • #58
  29. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    BrentB67:MBF, that is a great list, but those are state issues and I am very happy for WI. I think it gives him conservative credibility to do similarly with national issues, but he has stumbled badly on the national stage. Walker and Jeb are both upright leaders that are not adapting well to the national stage in general and immigration specifically.

    What national issue would you want him to be strong on other than immigration? He’s got by far the strongest labor policy out there, and the most comprehensive Obamacare replacement. Cutting spending isn’t just a state issue. Crafting Voter ID and abortion laws so that they get passed and withstand judicial scrutiny seems pretty transferable.

    Self defense and gun law reform aren’t major federal issues, but it does come up, in part through judicial picks.

    His record on higher education is applicable to national issues. Democrats want to have students pay less by having the government give more. Walker had students pay less by having the schools take less. That means that he can give a solid defense against the Hillary/ Sanders stuff about the GOP not caring about student debt.

    His strong record on entitlement reform would be helpful in selling federal entitlement reform that heavily rests on giving more flexibility to the states.

    • #59
  30. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    I’m leaning Walker. I’ll wait and see if he survives through Iowa.

    • #60
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