Can Scott Walker become the comeback kid?
Despite sagging numbers, he continues the struggle
Scott Walker is exhausted but exhilarated. “I just spent days traveling around New Hampshire on my Harley, meeting some great folks, talking with them, more importantly, listening to them,” he tells me when we spoke recently. “People are really worried about the future. They want real leadership. They want someone who won’t just talk the talk of a fighter, but someone who will actually walk the walk for them, the taxpayer, the lawabiders, who have been so abused for so long.”
He pauses. “We have a very talented field this year. But we’re the only ones who have fought — and won. Every time.”
He has a point. In a year marked by an unrelenting demand for a candidate who will fight against the forces destroying the foundations of the nation — President Obama, the left, the media and the Republican establishment — unconventional candidates who promise to deliver that fight have risen to the top of the field.
But only the governor of Wisconsin has actually waged those battles and won, repeatedly.
In February 2011, he proposed a budget repair bill to begin to bring his state’s finances under control by tackling the very source of the fiscal nightmare — and a potentially lethal political third rail: government-sector unions, and the state’s unsustainable benefit and pension obligations. In order to close the candy store in which the corrupt unions and Democrats pigged out, Mr. Walker needed to eliminate most collective bargaining privileges for state workers — a gutsy move in a state known as the birthplace of both “progressivism” and union collective bargaining in state government.
When Mr. Walker moved to end the state’s role in dues collection, the government unions realized they were losing their enforcer. The unions predictably went beserk. For the Democrats and the government unions, their incestuous relationship needed to be protected at all costs, so they threw everything they had at Mr. Walker: They stormed the capitol, Democratic state senators fled the state rather than vote on the bill, they filed lawsuits and held recall elections, including one against a state Supreme Court judge and another against Mr. Walker himself.
He — and his reforms — survived every leftist assault. He went on to be re-elected by a healthy margin.
“Many people think that what we did was simply to go after the unions,” he tells me. “That’s only partly true. What that battle was really about was a shift of power that had to take place. It was about taking the power away from the government, the unions, the entrenched unions, and put it back in the hands of the taxpayer — where it belongs.”
Mr. Walker proved that when reform is carried out, it’s effective. Despite the hysterical leftist warnings of an imminent apocalypse, disaster has not befallen Wisconsin. To the contrary, Mr. Walker’s reforms began to bring order to the state’s finances. After he halted the state-run dues collection, the unions’ coffers began to dwindle, along with their power and monopoly. The state’s budget was brought into line, and job creation began occurring in earnest. By January 2012, Mr. Walker’s reforms had already saved Wisconsin’s taxpayers $476 million.
He intends to do for the nation what he did for Wisconsin if elected president.
“We turned it around in Wisconsin. We went bold and big immediately, and that’s what I’ll do on Day One as president,” he says.
In classic Walker understatement, he says, “We got some pushback. But what we’ve got to realize — and I do because I’ve lived through it — is that the left never stops, they don’t give up, so we can’t ever stop or give up. Many conservatives think if they’re nice, the left will back off. They don’t.
“The lesson is to never stop reforming. That’s what we did. We used our political capital to push forward, reinvesting that capital into tax, entitlement and educational reform.
“On Day One as president,” he continues, I will repeal Obamacare and begin to replace it with our plan based on patient freedom; repeal the disastrous Iran deal; and repeal Mr. Obama’s executive actions, starting with his unconstitutional action on illegal immigration. And that’s just for starters.” From where does his fearlessness come? “My parents,” he replies, without hesitation. “I was taught that actions speak louder than words. In Wisconsin, I was called “Dead Man Walker” for my reforms. But I believe that true leadership is about thinking about the next generation, not the next election.”
He’s going to need that courage to make up ground lost to more unorthodox candidates. On his dramatically slipping support, he says, “The dynamic this year is unlike anything we’ve seen. We’ll be up and down, but what matters is where we are at the finish.”
He has his work cut out for himself. Some dismiss him as a regional candidate struggling to gain national appeal, while others think that as a low-key, results-oriented candidate surrounded by big personality, attention-grabbing candidates (particularly on the debate stages), he can’t recapture his early momentum.
Mr. Walker brushes off such criticism. “This is a long contest,” he says optimistically. ”What matters is how you look ahead. And I don’t give up or back down.”
He is going to have to craft his own comeback story, but if his political history is any guide, his quiet persistence just might upend yet another political drama. Monica Crowley is online opinion editor at The Washington Times.