With a little more than a week remaining before the mid-term elections, most conservatives are focusing upon a dozen Senate races, as Republicans are expected to gain control of the upper chamber.
But the contest that piques my interest the most is the gubernatorial race in Wisconsin, where Republican Governor Scott Walker is locked in a dogfight with Democratic challenger Mary Burke. Walker’s re-election is very much in doubt, despite the accomplishments of his first term: putting Wisconsin’s fiscal house back in order, reforming the state’s collective bargaining process, and giving local communities greater control over their affairs.
According to a Marquette Law School poll released on October 15, Walker and Burke are in a dead heat, with 47 of likely voters preferring each. The dial hasn’t moved much since. Exactly a week later, a Rasmussen poll had Burke up by one; the following day, a St. Norbert College/Wisconsin Public Radio poll had Walker up by one. A quintessential toss-up.
Should Walker prevail, he will have, in the space of four years, outlasted the occupation of the state legislature by union and other left-wing activists, survived a recall election—the first governor in U.S. history to do so—and earned a second term in his own right, all while governing as a conservative in one of the bluest states in the nation. Liberal organizations have dedicated more time and money to beating Walker than any other Republican, and yet Walker has taken everything these liberal groups have thrown his way and still come out on top.
If Walker wins on November 4, Republicans should nominate him by acclamation, right then and there, to be their 2016 presidential candidate. The GOP needs a fighter who can step into the ring and dish out as much as he can take, not another man with a glass jaw.
This bring me to the GOP’s last presidential standard bearer. If American voters could turn back the clock to 2012, Mitt Romney would beat Obama hands down. There is little doubt that Romney would have handled ISIS and Ebola with far more competence and diligence than has the president.
Such thinking has some Republicans apparently mulling the idea of drafting Romney one more time. Appearing at a recent fundraiser for Iowa Republican Senate hopeful Joni Ernst, some GOP donors chanted, “Run, Mitt, run!” A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll on Republicans’ favored 2016 presidential candidate gives Romney a lead of nearly two to one over former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
Even if a draft movement were to grow, it’s far from clear whether Romney has the stomach for another campaign. A few weeks after the last election, Here’s what his eldest son Tagg told The Boston Globe a few weeks after the last election:
He wanted to be president less than anyone I’ve ever met in my life…If he would have found someone else to take his place…he would have been ecstatic to step aside.
If Mitt Romney couldn’t muster the energy and enthusiasm to run against the hot mess that was the Obama presidency in 2012, then how can we expect him to do so in 2016?
Of course, there are other GOP hopefuls. Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul can make good speeches and know how to draw attention to themselves. But unfortunately they are both classic cases of sizzle, but no steak. Cruz showed himself an ineffective strategist by leading the GOP into an ineffectual government shutdown, while Paul has flip-flopped on a litany of issues, such as our strategy against ISIS, foreign aid to Israel, drones, immigration, and voter ID laws. After six years of Obama, conservatives should be wary of someone whose best asset is his speechmaking ability. Yes, Ronald Reagan was the Great Communicator, but he also had a solid list of achievements both in and out of government before reaching the White House. Neither Rand Paul nor Ted Cruz have shown any indication that they can actually govern.
Further, these two sometimes let their rhetoric get the best of them. Cruz compared accepting Obamacare to appeasing Nazi Germany. Paul brought up Hitler and said “in a democracy, you could someday elect someone who is very evil. That’s why we don’t give the power to the government.” Ditto for Dr. Ben Carson, who said we live “in a Gestapo age,” and that American is now “very much like Nazi Germany.” Republicans can do better than to nominate a candidate that deploys such incendiary talk. Let’s not stoop to the level of those who routinely compared the Bush administration to the Third Reich.
Of course, the Republican Party is not without its sources of sobriety. Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio have put forth serious proposals concerning domestic and foreign policy, respectively. But I’m not sure if they can take a punch. Ryan took the high road in his lone vice-presidential debate with Joe Biden, and he came out battered and bruised for his troubles. Rubio might not prepared to lace up his gloves if his friend and mentor Jeb Bush is preparing to enter the ring.
I, for one, don’t think the former Florida governor’s surname should be held against him. Jeb Bush ought to be judged on his own merits. But Bush hasn’t contested an election of any kind since 2002. Twelve years is an eternity in politics, and a decade sitting on corporate boards is inadequate preparation for the challenges of a presidential run.
We could turn to other sitting Republican governors. Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal is a policy wonk full of ideas. Rick Perry of Texas has more than a decade of accomplishments under his belt, and since he isn’t scheduled for any kind of major surgery, voters would see the real Rick Perry out on the campaign trail instead of the shadow they got in 2012. But Jindal and Perry govern solidly red states. Sure, Perry has had to deal with some shenanigans from an overzealous district attorney, but the charges against him are so egregious that he is bound to come out smelling roses. Another problem for Perry is that he sounds too much like George W. Bush. It would be unfair to judge Perry just because he comes from Texas and has a similar vocal inflection as Bush. The two have very different governing styles. But unfortunately politics is seldom fair.
OK, so what about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie? Like Walker, he brought forward a series of reforms to the public sector that have improved the Garden State’s balance sheet. However, Christie’s image took a big hit during the Bridgegate scandal, despite the fact he was cleared of any wrongdoing. Conservatives are still smarting over his embrace of president Obama during Hurricane Sandy in the weeks leading up to Romney’s loss. Putting that aside, it is worth remembering that Christie declined to run for president in 2012 because he said he wasn’t ready for the job. If Christie wasn’t ready for it two years ago why would he be ready two years from now?
Walker, on the other hand, is in top form. He governs a state that hasn’t voted Republican in a presidential election since Ronald Reagan’s second victory 30 years ago. Half the population of Wisconsin is against everything Walker says and does, and, as such, the governor has been subject to numerous death threats. (One of those was a note sent to his wife, Tonette, that stated no Wisconsin Governor had ever been assassinated but that there is a first time for everything.)
Democrats are absolutely desperate to rid Wisconsin of Walker. Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele has released 16,000 emails related to an investigation of Walker by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm. This despite the fact that the investigation cleared Walker of any wrongdoing nearly a year ago. As George Will has noted, Chisholm’s “investigation” resulted in police raids and subpoenas against conservatives supporting Walker, which forced them to spend resources defending themselves rather than helping the governor.
In September, DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz amped up the Left’s “war on women” nonsense by saying:
Scott Walker has given women the back of his hand. I know that is stark. I know that is direct. But that is reality…what tea party extremists like Scott Walker are doing is they are grabbing us by the hair and pulling us back. It is not going to happen on our watch.
As the old saying goes, “If you throw enough mud at the wall some of it will stick.” Regardless of the absurdity of it all, Walker’s Democratic opponent, just might be able to pull it off.
A Walker defeat would give pause to other Republican governors contemplating genuine reforms, especially if they happen to govern jurisdictions with shades of purple or blue. It would also effectively end Walker’s political career.
But if Walker triumphs again, Republicans would be foolish not put him at the top of their 2016 list. The GOP would be hard pressed to find anyone better prepared and with a better temperament to handle the burdens of a national campaign. And if Walker can govern Wisconsin for the better, while enduring the never-ending slings and arrows shot his way, then imagine what he could do in the White House.