Walker 2016? Seriously?

Andrew Sullivan —  Nov 6 2014 @ 12:57pm

Gov. Walker And Democratic Challenger Mary Burke Debate In Milwaukee

In John Dickerson’s interpretation, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s victory last night – his third in four years – “isn’t just a win for Walker, it’s a win for a theory of governing”:

After Walker became the first governor to defeat a recall attempt, he argued that he had found a way to appeal to Obama voters by governing as a conservative. He said that almost 10 percent of the electorate voted to re-elect President Obama and keep him in office, too. In the Wall Street Journal, he argued he was a model for the Republican Party—someone who could govern as a conservative and still win in a purple state. The midterm electorate is much different than in a presidential year, but Walker won some new ammunition for his argument. Walker won 11 percent of the “liberal” vote and, while he lost those who self-identified as “moderates” by six points, that’s a small margin for someone who has been considered as enemy number one for liberals. Walker will now return to the top of the presidential speculation, arguing that he knows how to win and govern as a true conservative in a purple state. Oh, and 34 percent of union households voted for Walker.

On the presidential front, I can only say he seems to me utterly unprepossessing. He has the same problem some other GOP hopefuls have: he just doesn’t seem presidential. He looks like a product of a college debating club, his appeal is very tied to the governor’s role and to the fight with organized labor – which are not federal issues. Foreign policy? No idea. You need something more – either the charisma of an Obama candidacy or broader national exposure or a distinct image. Maybe this will come, but it doesn’t pass the sniff test to me at this point in the cycle. Philip Klein differs:

Although Walker polls in the single digits in most surveys, the 2016 field has no clear front-runner and a number of attributes put him in a unique position. There is well-publicized split within the Republican Party between its conservative and pragmatic wings, and of all the potential candidates out there, Walker is the one who is most likely to unite the two.

In an interview with the Washington Examiner in March, Walker rejected the idea that there was a tradeoff between conservatism and pragmatism. “You don’t have to compromise one for the other, meaning you can stand up for your principles, you can push your core beliefs, and you can still govern effectively,” Walker said. The fact that he demonstrated this in Wisconsin is what makes him such a potentially strong candidate. His fight for limited government reforms in the face of a ferocious assault from national liberals endeared him to activists on the right. At the same time, his ability to successfully govern and get re-elected in a blue state is comforting to Establishment Republicans.

But Ana Marie Cox damps the enthusiasm over Walker’s victory:

Nothing about the exit-poll results besides Walker’s win itself suggests that Wisconsin voters are especially enamored of conservative ideals. They were evenly divided over how Walker handled the Affordable Care Act (or didn’t handle it, really); they were almost evenly divided in their view of government unions (slightly more with an unfavorable view); they were almost evenly divided over whether “government is doing too many things that should be left to individuals.” About half of voters had a negative view of the Democratic Party. About half had a negative view of the Republican Party. The only policy issue that rallied a significant majority of Wisconsin voters was the minimum wage—two-thirds favored raising it.

None of this sounds like proof that Walker has succeeded in making conservative arguments more appealing to more voters, or that he’s gained more voters because he’s made conservative arguments. (The same rich, white, married, male church-going coalition pushed him over the top this time as last.) Rather, Scott Walker may have succeeded because he’s been able to make all of his races about Scott Walker.

Update from a reader:

Here’s a factoid: If Walker were elected, he would be the first president since Harry Truman not to have graduated from college. It would be curious to look back at contenders over recent decades, and leaders of other foreign countries, to see if there is any other example of this. Certainly not the UK or France. Italy or Australia? Russia, China certainly possible.


UK? Surely not. Two of the last six UK Prime Ministers did not go to college: Jim Callaghan and John Major. That is two since 1976.


Funny that UK and Australia had Prime Ministers in the 1990s without tertiary educations – John Major and Paul Keating. The last Russian/ Soviet example was Chernenko.


(Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)