I suppose, based on the exultant prediction Aaron is making about Scott Walker’s run at the Presidency, that it’s up to me to be the Debbie Downer.
So, it’s not that I don’t like Scott Walker. I do. I like him even more because the very mention of his name makes liberal toes curl. He’s defeated the worst of the progressive worst not once, but three times in four years, and he plans on making his vision for Wisconsin, which won over voters despite dramatic sit-ins, protests and threats to bring hippie drum circles to every school district in the state, his vision for America. His brand new campaign video says it all.
But as serious conservative contenders for the highest office abound, Scott Walker isn’t necessarily among them.
I say “isn’t necessarily” because it’s actually difficult to pin down which version of Scott Walker we’ll end up with on the campaign trail. In his campaigns, Walker is a political chameleon, and as Iowa Republicans are finding out, he’s willing to say and do anything to win their vote – even if it means he’ll be marked as a flip-flopper down the road, and even if it’s not really necessary to win the hearts and minds of caucus-goers.
Walker is already tipping his hand. In the six months since he gave a dazzling speech in Des Moines that rocketed him to the front of Iowa polls, Walker has shifted his tone—if not his position—on a number of issues to align himself with Iowa Republicans. Once a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, Walker now says he opposes “amnesty” for illegal immigrants. Once an opponent of federal ethanol mandates, Walker told an Iowa agricultural forum in March that he supports them. Once criticized by social-conservative leaders for airing that moderate-sounding abortion ad and declaring the same-sex marriage fight “over” in Wisconsin, Walker now frames his presidential launch by signing a 20-week abortion ban and arguing for a constitutional amendment to let states define marriage.
Some of this explains why Craig Robinson, the former political director of the Iowa Republican Party, wrote on his popular blog TheIowaRepublican.com that “Walker is making Romney look like a model of consistency.”
“I don’t think he needed to make any of these calculated moves to appeal to Iowans,” Robinson said, asked about that blog post. “They like him because of how he’s perceived—that he got elected in a tough state, that he’s reform-minded, that he followed through with reforms, outraged liberals and unions in his state, and stood his ground.”
That’s not a very good strategy for running a national campaign, even if it has managed to win tough races in Wisconsin. In the race for President, consistency will matter. It’s something other contenders have in spades, whether its Jeb Bush being consistently wrong about everything or Donald Trump being, consistently, a raving lunatic, they’ve both defined their brand and are running on it – and it’s something Scott Walker is sadly lacking.
This concern isn’t out of nowhere, or based on a liberal outlet’s reporting of Scott Walker’s latest round of entreaties to key early voters. As the race wound down in Wisconsin the first time around, Walker showed a hand on a key social issue that most conservatives had come to trust him on. Faced with needing modreates, Scott Walker cut an abortion ad that decried governmental involvement in the abortion process, assuring Wisconsin voters that, although he appeared ardently pro-life, he was actually rather aloof on the subject, preferring to leave the decision of whether to terminate a pregnancy up to a “woman and her doctor.” The ad was entirely Scott Walker’s idea.
Another Republican recalled a fund-raiser for the Republican Governors Association last summer in which Mr. Walker, locked in an expensive re-election fight, described the Democratic attacks against him and boasted of already having come up with his response to one on abortion. Indeed, he went on to write and design the commercial himself, in which he faced the camera and, in solemn tones, said he had signed legislation leaving “the final decision to a woman and her doctor.”
Iowa Republicans, notorious for being deeply socially conservative, clearly won’t respond to that Scott Walker’s position on abortion. So, luckily for him, his Republican legislature is helping the Iowa caucus Scott Walker head off any criticism on the matter by handing him a 20-week abortion ban to sign. Never mind that ad, Des Moines! Scott Walker is most definitely pro-life, from conception to natural death!
Thankfully, Iowa caucus Scott Walker only has to exist through the Iowa State Fair, and then, he can switch over to his next iteration – one, which, apparently, will be more widely appealing.
“But they also know if he doesn’t deliver on expectations in Iowa – which meaning winning, period – the campaign may not last long enough for those other concerns to be relevant. That’s why, according to Walker allies, he’s going to pursue exactly the opposite strategy Romney used in 2012. Whereas Romney started in the middle and moved rightward throughout primary season, Walker is starting on the right and will shift toward the middle.
“’You start in Iowa and lock up conservatives, because if you don’t do that, none of the rest matters,” said one longtime Walker adviser, who requested anonymity to discuss campaign strategy. ‘It’s much easier to move from being a conservative to being a middle-of-the-road moderate later on.’”
Think I’m being overly critical? Sure, maybe the issue of abortion is actually a contentious one that someone can hold multiple positions on. But what about something more straightforward, like the massive ethanol subsidies key to the hearts and minds of Iowa voters? Turns out, he feels several different ways about them.
When talking to Iowa’s “Corn Cronies,” (Tim Carney’s words, not mine) he was very much for a permanent extension for the Renewable Fuel Standard.
But I do believe—and we’ve talked about this before—it’s an access issue and so it’s something I’m willing to go forward on continuing the Renewable Fuel Standard and pressing the EPA to make sure there’s certainty in terms of the blend levels set […] Now, long-term—we’ve talked about this before as well—my goal would be to get to a point where we directly address those market access issues and I think that’s a part of the challenge. So that eventually you didn’t need to have a standard just like you no longer need in the industry to have the subsidies that were there before to help insure we had a strong system. I think eventually you can get to that. But you can’t get to that unless you deal with market access. We’ve talked about this example before, but you look around the world—Brazil to me is an interesting example we’ve talked about—where they’ve got those blenders, those station pumps where they, the people, the consumer can make the choice as to what they want to do in terms of what blend they want, what sort of fuel choice they want. That’s ultimately the best way, to let the market decide, but right now we don’t have a free and open marketplace. So that’s why I’m willing to take that position.
It is clear to me that a big government mandate is not the way to support the farmers of this state […] Central planning will not help our family farmers, protect our environment or provide jobs. The free-enterprise system must drive innovation to relieve our dependence on foreign oil, not mandates from the state or federal government.
And then, there’s several versions of Scott Walker on Immigration. In 2002, he signed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that granted a sort-of amnesty to undocumented immigrants in Milwaukee County. In 2006, he voiciferously backed a joint measure in the Senate, produced by John McCain and Ted Kennedy, that most conservatives considered a blanket amnesty for illegial immigrants rather than any sort of comprehensive immigration reform. In 2013, Walker talked about a “path to citizenship,” prioritizing legal immigrants over illegal ones for citizenship, but giving those who hopped the border to find work in the US a bite at the apple, provided they hurdle a set of penalties and waiting periods as they apply. Then, he says he’s changed his mind. Then he tells everyone that he hasn’t really changed his mind that much. And then, he told Stephen Moore that he definitely didn’t change his mind (although, to be fair, on that last one, he might have actually changed his mind about changing his mind).
So, exactly which Scott Walker can Iowa expect? The one that has conservative principles, or the one who’s willing to alter those principles significantly to win their vote, only to change them when he needs a more complete spectrum of support?
I’m not being glib when I say I’m legitimately concerned.