The optics seem good. A white man in a Midwestern, purple state managed beat a ridiculously liberal female opponent for executive office whose proxy warriors outspent him three to one. That currently looks like the 2016 lineup. So what’s not to love about Wisconsin’s Scott Walker versus Hillary Clinton in 2016?
A lot. This born-and-raised Wisconsin farmgirl has watched Walker closely. He’s been a welcome change compared to his predecessor, Jim Doyle, but Oscar the Grouch would have improved upon Doyle. Hell, PeeWee Herman would have. So far, Walker’s biggest strength is the ability to stand still amid an onslaught. That’s a good start, but it’s not anywhere close to good enough for the next president of a United States awash in debt, regulated and taxed to sclerosis, over-administrated and under-entrepreneured, beset by Progressives who have carried out much of their “transformation” project, and in the midst of an ongoing family breakdown.
Scott Walker can play defense. But the nation needs much more than that. It needs a serious policy offensive, after a serious persuasion offensive. And it’s not clear Walker is up to that task.
A Nice Guy Is Good for Prom, Not for President
A “nice guy” who took naps every day might have been fine for the 1920s. But America in the new millennium needs another substantive revolutionary, another Washington, Jefferson, or Adams. Not another Calvin Coolidge.
There’s some indication Walker will finally get down to brass tacks after having spent his entire first term running to retain his seat: My former classmate Betsy Woodruff reports at Slate that tax cuts and school choice expansions may be next on his agenda. But Walker has been doing a lot of promising and not a lot of carrying through on prominent issues besides standing still while unions self-destruct—including a pitiful 500-student increase to Milwaukee’s voucher program, the nation’s oldest, because Walker couldn’t get his own party members to back a real expansion despite full control of Wisconsin’s legislative and executive branches. Whoop de doo. In Indiana, Mitch Daniels’ voucher program is approaching 30,000 students two years after opening. He knew how to work with his legislature—and they ain’t any less ornery and squish than Wisconsin Republicans.
Walker’s tax cuts, a GOP oldie but goodie, are likewise welcome but also currently more of a middling measure. See the discussion of that below. In short, we’ll know Walker’s serious when he starts actually cutting agencies and programs. Starve the beast works fine if you like neverending debt bombs, as everyone learned post-Reagan.
Hillary Clinton Is No Mary Burke
Let’s just say it: Walker’s opponent, Mary Burke, was a weak candidate. She had very little political experience, and her business experience turned out to demonstrate her incompetence and enjoyment of nepotism more than anything. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is nothing if not a political phoenix. She’s crafty, and she’s been around all the ponds ten times longer than Scott Walker and just about anyone else. She’s a cougar, and cougars survive.
That doesn’t mean Clinton has no weaknesses. She has plenty. But taking her (or any Democratic nominee) on will be an entirely different and far more difficult fight than Walker against Burke, and Walker against unions who trashed the state capitol in full view of God and everybody. If and when Walker pulls ahead of the GOP pack—and his head is far enough out at this moment to be quite noticeable—his tactics, personality, family, everything will be scrutinized by an army of highly intelligent, adaptive robots. Democrats may have overplayed their hand this time. The likelihood of that happening again soon is slim, especially under a very controlled Hillary Clinton’s watch.
Similar arguments apply if Elizabeth Warren is the nominee. National politics is an astronomically different ballgame than going after someone whose major qualification is her position on a local school board. And the optics will be key. Even in Wisconsin, friends who campaigned for Walker met voters who went for Burke “because she is a woman.” It’s stupid, but we can’t institute a poll test now.
Unions Had to Make Their Last Stand Somewhere
Let’s also look at what got Walker onto unions’ hit list. He signed a bill restricting collective bargaining to salaries only for all government employees except State Patrol officers and ending the state’s involvement with collecting dues for unions. It’s basically a hedged right-to-work law. Nearly all red states already have right-to-work laws; but Walker’s team apparently felt that was a bridge too far. In fact, Indiana passed a genuine right-to-work law right around the same time, but unions had been neutered in that state already so liberals seemed mostly content to give it up for dead while focusing their fury at a lesser measure in purple Wisconsin.
Basically, Walker made a restrained move in a time and place that was good for unions to pick a fight for one of what will certainly be many last stands. Union membership is almost entirely a government-employee phenomenon in the United States, because private businesses are too busy paying the world’s highest corporate tax rate to have any left over for padding workers’ salaries. Oh, and government can’t go out of business. Now, the largest field containing government employees is education. There’s about half a million more public-school teachers in this country than there are federal employees. So the largest category of unionized employees in this country are teachers. And teachers unions are themselves expecting to lose hundreds of thousands of members, and with those members, millions of dollars in revenue. Losing money means losing political power. Money are power are the two reasons unions exist. So they must viciously fight their slide into extinction.
Thus, the union circus entered Wisconsin in 2010. They’re fighting for survival. Even if they fight, they may lose, but if they don’t, they surely will. The fury in Madison had little to do with Scott Walker, and much to do with a union existential crisis that predated him.
Scott Walker Already Flirts With Sacrificing Principles for Votes
Walker has been aiming for the presidency ever since winning his recall, so especially given his slightly weird (but entirely American) religious feelings about being a sort of political anointed one, I think he definitely throws his hat into the ring after his win. Men ballsy enough to think they should be governor and surrounded by backslapping donors who are overreacting because they’re tired of years of conservatives being trodden underfoot in the humble Midwest definitely have a big enough head to think they can win the presidency. No George Washingtons in the crop of presidential hopefuls anymore, that’s for sure, despite our country’s great need for such men.
Since turning his eyes toward Washington, Walker has gone soft on many core issues. Here’s one: Marriage. As the Daily Caller reported a few weeks ago:
Around March of 2013, Walker started suggesting that opposition to gay marriage was “generational,” and that it was wiser for Republicans to focus on economic issues. And just this week, after the Supreme Court decided not to weigh in on on the decision striking down Wisconsin’s gay marriage ban, his administration announced they would recognize same sex marriages, going back to June.
The man now famous for standing also stands down when it seems politically expedient to do so. Okay, well, marriage has few supporters, even in the GOP, so let’s pretend that’s not important. How about abortion? Yes, Walker got soft on abortion back when it looked like Burke had him pinned to the wall, talking up his support for a bill that “leaves the final decision to a woman and her doctor.” I wonder if he’d define “pro-life” as “no advocate for the baby need be in the room.” Explicitly, no.
Now, I understand that polls are currently against preserving marriage (and it’s sad that polls will determine a politician’s convictions, but that’s the game). But something like three-quarters of Americans look askance at abortion. There’s no need to use pro-death catchphrases.
Running for President Demands a Substantive Record
Let’s, see, what else has this guy done worth talking up? Well, he balanced a mess of a state budget his predecessor handed him (see “PeeWee Herman,” above). Decent, although state debt is still quite high. Walker also ran touting his record on reducing Wisconsin taxes. And, as the daughter of a farmer who’s paid for hundreds of kids to get a substandard education, I thank him for caring that Wisconsin’s tax burden is insane. A colleague who lives in Chicago and has a Wisconsin summer home keeps his residence in Chicago because the Illinois taxes are lower. I know the owner of a large business who built an expansion on the Illinois side of the state line for the same reason. Even including data from Walker’s tenure, though, Wisconsin today still has the highest tax burden in the Midwest by a long shot, after Minnesota and Illinois.
And let’s not even mention Walker’s somewhat silly promise of 250,000 more jobs in Wisconsin after his first term (the actual net gain was about half as much). Rounding error. Hm, wait, no, rounding 44 percent to the nearest hundredth would have to be down, to zero…
Neither shall we spend much time on Walker’s horrific mismanagement of Common Core after studiously attempting to avoid his constituents’ barrage of pleas for their hero save them from this monstrosity. He’s willing to make public statements demanding an end to Common Core in Wisconsin (or, at least the name!). But he’s so far not spent a sliver of political capital on the issue, instead relegating it, like the school vouchers he claims to be so fond of, to the state superintendent, who may be fairly characterized as the most ardent foe of vouchers and the most ardent lover of Common Core. After all, Superintendent Tony Evers signed Common Core into de facto Wisconsin law five months before that deformed lovechild of bureaucrats was even brought forth. Walker even agrees with Evers on how voucher schools should be regulated: exactly like public schools, apparently with no thought that using vouchers to assimilate private schools into the government Borg negates the reason for vouchers in the first place. Memo to Wisconsin: Your voucher program is the most regulated in the nation. Maybe deregulate while you expand.
In fact, that’s a pretty good motto for many sectors, and primarily business. I know several Wisconsin businessmen well. The amount of compliance they have to go through each week, let alone year, is utterly insane. It chokes their ability to hire and expand. A proactive conservative platform must include deregulation, in every sector. Clear the sapsuckers out.
Rah, rah “skulls of my enemies” man-whooping may be fun after the first election Republicans have performed decently in God knows how long, but nobody intelligent makes serious decisions until the morning, when sober. We have seen few proactive accomplishments upon which Walker can build a national platform. Union-bashing really doesn’t matter much to most Americans. And I realize unions have forced Walker to spend his entire term on defense. So maybe he’s got an offensive playbook in some back corner of his brain. Well, now would be the time to bring it out.