Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker – the only governor who has to win elections on an annual basis – appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” this weekend to talk about his 2014 victory and the 2016 presidential race – a contest in which many consider him a top contender after his 2014 win. He was vague about his presidential ambitions, of course… but vague in a very interesting way about whether he’d run if Wisconsin Senator Paul Ryan got into the race. His answer to that question didn’t yield any ground on Walker’s contention that governors make the best choices for presidential candidates, although he graciously conceded that “Paul Ryan may be the only exception to that rule.”
Or maybe not. At this point in the pre-primary maneuvering season, everyone’s presidential Magic 8-Ball comes up Answer cloudy, ask again later, but of course the media never tires of shaking those 8-Balls, because that’s how the game is played. Everyone wants to be on the other side of the interview table on the day someone major says, “You know what? Yes, I AM running for President!”
Walker sounded a bit less cloudy than most aspirants at this stage of the contest. “I love Paul Ryan. I’ve said many times before I’d be the president of Paul Ryan fan club,” he gushed… before gently closing off his praise spigot with a big, squeaky BUT. “But I do think if we’re going to beat Hillary Clinton in this next election, we’ve got to have a message that says, ‘Hillary Clinton is all about Washington.’ I think in many ways, she was the big loser on Tuesday because she embodies everything that’s wrong with Washington.”
That’s exactly what Senator Rand Paul has been saying, so it looks like Republican presidential hopefuls are getting on the same page with regard to who The Biggest Loser of 2014 was. Walker went on to emphasize that a governor-turned-Presidential-candidate could offer “something fresh, organic, from the bottom up” instead of the “old, tired, top-down approach you see out of Washington, D.C.”
The rest of Walker’s “Meet the Press” interview found him capably fielding the sort of questions he’ll get if he walks onto the presidential stage holding his gubernatorial resume. He seems to have done a good job of anticipating attacks on his record and preparing sound defenses. (It helps a lot that his next-door neighbor is Illinois.) It seems a little odd for any bitter-end defender of Barack Obama to assault Walker’s record by claiming he promised he’d do even better; I’ll bet a few NBC viewers came close to spitting out their Sunday-morning coffee when interviewer Chuck Todd brought up Wisconsin wage growth and budget deficits, two issues Democrats spent the last six years telling us to ignore while we celebrated Obama creating a pile of part-time jobs by doubling the national debt.
Walker had a good response, noting that projections of Wisconsin’s $1.8 billion budget deficit are based on static analysis, which ignores the stimulus effect of tax cuts. “The reason revenues are down is because we cut withholding,” he explained. “Withholding at the state and the federal level level is where the government takes more of your money than you actually owe them and holds onto them without getting you interest. We cut that in April. So we anticipated that reduction of revenue because we gave the hardworking taxpayers more money back. And that $1.8 billion is based on a projection of no growth and no changes to the budget. That just doesn’t happen. In our case, if we have the average of the last five years of revenue growth, we actually have the next budget starting with more than a half a billion dollars in surplus.”
It’s interesting to hear Walker standing that ground right after his presumptive 2016 presidential adversary, Hillary Clinton, made a botched effort to revive cobwebbed Democrat rhetoric about “trickle-down economics” that ended with Clinton claiming private sector businesses don’t create jobs. The contrast between Clinton’s support for the spectacularly failed Obamanomic view of jobs as a fruit nourished in government gardens and handed out to worthy citizens as gifts, versus Walker’s support for stimulating the economy by letting people keep, invest, and spend their own money, is stark. I do believe Governor Walker might have strolled onto the NBC set with the intention of making that contrast as stark as possible.
Walker credited his re-election victory to taking bold action, of the sort no Democrat could contemplate, and thus winning the support of both energized Republicans and suitably impressed independents. “If we’re just a little bit less bad than the Democrats were before us, the voters would have every reason to throw us out,” he recalled telling his allies in the state legislature in 2010. It sounds like he wants to pass the same advice along to that nice Congressman Ryan and his colleagues in the new Republican Senate.
“I think in Wisconsin, we’re very much like the rest of America,” Walker mused. “Independent voters, which decide elections in swing states like ours want people to lead. They want people to have big, bold ideas, and then act on them.” That’s inspiring advice, but let’s remember that Mitt Romney did great business with independents in 2012, and look where it got him. Presidential electorates are different than midterm electorates. Having said that, one could also postulate that Romney didn’t do enough to energize his own base, while the Democrats went wild painting him as a heartless vampire capitalist who didn’t care about 47 percent of the country.
Scott Walker doesn’t seem inclined to make that kind of mistake, and he has a record of astonishing victories against a liberal Wisconsin political culture that hates him enough to put his face on posters next to deposed dictators, including Hitler. He even beat the same kind of Democrat abuse of power for political ends that gave us the IRS scandal, having prevailed in the face of a wild witch-hunt prosecution in Wisconsin that no one today can even begin to defend. He’s successful done battle with public unions, the most absurd – but rich, powerful, and tenacious – feature of American political life. He’s a happy warrior with real victories notched into his sword and shield; his adversaries go entertainingly bonkers when he takes the field. He didn’t break a sweat during the highest of high-profile elections in 2014, where a loss would have gone a long way toward erasing his previous victories and scuttled any presidential aspirations he might be entertaining. He’ll definitely weigh in as a heavyweight if he decides to climb into the 2016 ring. Hopefully that won’t require resigning as president of the Paul Ryan Fan Club, but I can think of several scenarios where that would not be necessary.
Correction: I incorrectly referred to “Senator Ryan” in a jocular line above, and while that’s the sort of typo most Congressmen don’t mind reading, it had to be corrected. Hopefully Mr. Ryan enjoyed his brief term in the Senate while it lasted.