Jacket off, talking points memorized, and thousands of passionate fans was the environment of Scott Walker’s CPAC speech on Thursday. The ballroom was standing room only as the man who seemed to come out of nowhere took the stage and delivered a speech that erased any doubts of him running for president.
CPAC ended with Walker getting second place in the Straw Poll with 21.4%, right behind Rand Paul, who received 25.7%. He’s certainly a name to watch, but what if the old adage “if it seems to good to be true, it probably is,” applies here.[hr]
I should preface by saying that I like Scott Walker. He’s someone who clearly knows how to win (again and again), how to connect with audiences, and how to rock the whole “sleeves rolled up, let’s get to work” look that Mitt Romney tried so hard to emulate. But, as I think about him and his potential candidacy more and more, my feelings of admiration start to turn into worry.
Walker’s biggest dilemma is that he is loved by both Tea Party conservatives as well as establishment Republicans. And while that doesn’t seem like a dilemma at all, especially during a time that the Republican Party is so divided, this will cause him and his campaign to arrive at a crossroad that will be hard for him to survive.
Eventually, when all of the 2016 candidates have to get down the nitty-gritty of specific policy beliefs, Walker, and many other candidates in his same position, will be forced to make a very tough choice: Go all in on the Tea Party, or have a different kind of party with the establishment GOPers that have tremendous influence.
Establishment Republicans don’t have as much of a problem with a candidate who is favored by Tea Party conservatives as the Tea Party has with candidates who are liked by the establishment. Tea Party activists want a “pure” candidate who doesn’t fiddle around with “the devil.” And while Walker’s establishment roots are not so much in the national party as they are in his state’s party, there is still trouble ahead for him.
Secondly, Walker has limited experience with key issues. Foreign policy, for example, is something that he has aptly spoken about, but his credentials are not a part of his talking points. As Governor of Wisconsin, Walker didn’t have to deal with ISIS and the growing threat from the Middle East. He wasn’t briefed on the situation between Ukraine and Russia. And he hasn’t had exposure to the world leaders he would be negotiating with on a regular occasion.
“If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world,” Walker said when asked about ISIS during a Q&A Thursday. The left took this as him comparing unions to terrorists when he was instead trying to make the case that the United States needs stronger leadership in time of crisis. But in this situation, leadership has the tendency to act as a buzzword. All of the potential 2016 candidates have said they would be better leaders. What is important, however, is savvy leadership. That is what is required to combat a force like ISIS and other terrorists organizations around the world. And savviness comes from a more direct experience. An experience he does not have.
I fear that Walker could become, as the great philosopher Taylor Swift says, “a nightmare dressed as a daydream.”
Walker is presidential, even Reagan-esque, but the hype over his candidacy will more than likely fade, his money won’t keep up with bigger names like Jeb Bush, and his specific agenda items will push stubborn yet vital conservative factions away. As much as I would like to see a cheesehead run for president, I am concerned that the man who battled the unions and dodged three recalls will be shut down by a much bigger challenge. But maybe, just maybe, he’ll surprise us like he’s been doing for quite some time now. After all, he’s made it very clear that it would not be wise to bet against him.[hr]