There was another big GOP presidential cattle call this weekend, at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City. The ostensible star, because he won a straw poll among about a thousand or so of the attendees, was Dr. Ben Carson (achieving a tactical victory over the other candidate who made a visible effort to win the thing, Ted Cruz, handicapped by being stuck in Washington along with Rand Paul for NSA reform/Patriot Act votes).

But by most accounts the candidate who got the most from the event for the least effort was Scott Walker, who finished second in the straw poll without lifting a finger. More to the point, Walker was buzzworthy, per the Washington Examiner‘s Timothy Carney:

1) His strong second-place finish in the straw poll was impressive because he was the only candidate to post double digits without an organized straw poll effort.

2) Pacing the stage, jacketless, in a blue shirt, sleeves rolled up, Walker’s speaking style was easy and comfortable. Some attendees found him too low-key. Most saw his style as confident and assuring


3) What recommends Walker most to Republican voters is his successful battles with powerful labor unions, the media, and the Wisconsin Democratic Party. Walker made these battles — including his recall election victory — the focus of his talk.

4) Walker was able to tick off a long list of legislative accomplishments, touching on all the major conservative policy priorities: cutting spending, cutting taxes, bringing the bureaucracy to heel, defunding Planned Parenthood, expanding gun rights, passing right to work, requiring photo ID for voters and so on.

5) Walker cast his political and policy wins as populist victories over powerful insiders. He described his fight against the government unions as “taking power out of the hands the big-government special interests” and putting it in the hands of ordinary people.

Yeah, well, ordinary people like his friends the Koch Brothers. But here’s how Carney describes Walker’s clincher contrasting his record with that of his GOP rivals:

Walker closed with a pointed critique of his rivals. He said many Washington politicians are good at picking fights, but they don’t win — a clear reference to Cruz’s failed Obamacare shutdown, and Marco Rubio and Paul’s lack of a record. Alternatively, many Republicans, Walker said, are good at winning races, but they never fight for important, tough things — presumably referring to Christie and Bush.

In other words, Walker is continuing to offer an electability pitch based on overwhelming his liberal opponents–at both the ballot box and in the legislature–rather than reasoning with them or cutting deals. Cruz can rage; Paul can make outlandish outreach promises; and Bush and Rubio can offer to sweet-talk Democrats or seduce swing voters. Walker’s pitch, to many conservative activists, is just right.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.