Here Comes the Walker Boom

When it comes to talk about the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, those elements of the commentariat that aren’t already devoted to renewed swooning over Jeb Bush and Chris Christie–or maybe frightening small children with tales of Ted Cruz–can be expected inevitably to focus on Scott Walker as the potential candidate with something for everybody.

He’s won three times–two elections, one recall–in a state carried twice by Obama. He’s taken on and beaten the labor movement, an especially important qualifier for people like Karl Rove obsessed with undermining the Democratic Party’s donor base. He loves the Kochs, the Kochs love him. He’s a conservative evangelical without being all that noisy about it. He’s from a state adjoining Iowa. He even has a plausible working theory of political change, suitable for Republicans worried about electability and follow-through, based on two premises: (a) swing voters respond better to resolute conservatism than to mushy moderation, and (b) what the country most needs is one-party government (his party, of course).

Walker has not, moreover, made any real enemies in the GOP.

Now the man is not notable for exhibiting the quality known as charisma; that ultimately doomed a 2012 candidate who like Walker looked good on paper, Tim Pawlenty. And a lot of smart people, including Charles Pierce and Joan Walsh, are convinced the aroma of corruption around his administration and political organization comes from a dumpster-full of bad practices that will eventually catch on fire.

But it’s hard to think of any of the domestic government priorities of today’s conservative movement–from election suppression to rolling back abortion rights to undermining entitlements to erosion of collective bargaining rights to an entire economic strategy based on making life easy for “job-creators”–on which Walker hasn’t distinguished himself, against enormous resistance. In many respects (as I argued in a TNR essay about Walker in 2011), Scott Walker is exactly what you get if you take southern Republicanism in all its sordid glory and apply it in a frosty and unfamiliar environment. So the man is going to have an instinctive appeal to conservative activists everywhere, and has an electability argument few can make.

In any event, I expect he’ll get a bit of a media boom in the next few months, and then we’ll see if it enlivens dumpster-divers to get the goods on him, or if instead he becomes what the 2016 GOP field currently lacks: a front-runner.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.