WASHINGTON (AP) — Many Republican activists, citing Congress’ deep unpopularity, say they want a governor to be their next presidential nominee. The buzz centers on New Jersey’s Chris Christie for now, but Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is using a national book tour to try to climb into the 2016 conversation.
A small but potentially potent group of GOP insiders say he’s a can-do governor with Christie’s good qualities, and few of Christie’s downsides.
Everything depends on Walker winning re-election next year. If he does, he can join Christie in casting himself as a two-term Republican governor who thrived in a Democratic-leaning state.
Then, Walker’s supporters say, his more conservative stances on several issues would help him in GOP primaries. And Walker’s calm Midwestern demeanor, they say, will play better in Iowa, South Carolina and other places than would Christie’s penchant for bombast and confrontation.
Plenty of potential hurdles stand in Walker’s way, as they do for other Republican governors, such as John Kasich of Ohio. They are not well-known outside their states. And they are untested on national stages, which have chewed up once-promising governors, including Texas’ Rick Perry.
Still, some well-known Republicans say Walker deserves a bit of the attention that showered Christie after his easy re-election this month.
“Walker is the type of leader who is the future of our party,” said Fred Malek, a Republican fundraiser and activist since the Nixon administration. He said Walker can appeal to an array of Republicans and unite the party, which has lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential races.
Walker has used TV, radio and other forums this week to promote his new book, “Unintimidated,” while also subtly pushing his presidential potential. At a conservative gathering Thursday in Washington, a friendly interviewer helped him make his best possible contrast with Christie.
Marc Thiessen, Walker’s co-author, said Christie “is moderate in policy and immoderate in temperament. You are very moderate in temperament but immoderate in policy.”
Walker didn’t quarrel with the premise. “Chris and I are good friends,” he said, and both of them stay true to their principles.
“The demeanor you have does have an impact,” Walker said. In New Jersey, he said, “the way that Chris has reacted to things actually fits.”
“I just have a Midwestern filter, that’s the difference,” Walker said. “I’m willing to speak out, but I’m not going to call you an idiot. I’m just going to say ‘That’s a ridiculous question,’ and move on.”
Walker brought up Hillary Rodham Clinton without being asked, calling her the likely Democratic nominee for president. She is “a product, by and large, of Washington, not just of late, but for decades,” he said. The way to defeat her, he said, is with a Republican team that’s “completely focused on being outsiders, taking Washington on, successful reformers in states.”
Walker uses similar language to downgrade the political prospects of members of Congress. That would include such potential GOP presidential candidates as Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida and Rep. Paul Ryan, a fellow Wisconsinite.
“I think both the presidential and the vice presidential nominee should either be a former or current governor,” Walker told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “People who have done successful things in their states.”
Walker’s biggest achievement as governor was curbing the powers of government-sector unions, which triggered a ferocious backlash. Walker survived a bitterly fought recall election, making him a hero to conservatives who oppose unions.
Walker says he wasn’t intimidated by death threats against his family, thus the name of his book.
Walker takes a more conservative stand on some issues than do fellow Republican governors such as Christie and Kasich. Unlike them, Walker refused to expand Medicaid in his state with new federal funds under President Barack Obama’s new health care law. Democrats accused him of putting political ambition above the best interests of low-income Wisconsin residents.
“Accepting Medicaid expansion through Obamacare would be an anathema to Walker’s tea party base and his corporate backers,” said the liberal Daily Kos website.
Walker joined many other governors in criticizing congressional Republicans who prompted a 16-day government shutdown last month in a failed bid to block the Affordable Care Act. Chief among them was Cruz, who establishment Republicans fear will appeal to hard-line conservatives in Republican primaries but not to general election voters in November 2016.
Campaign strategists say Walker is trying to carve a middle path between Christie’s moderation and Cruz’s staunchly right positions.
Walker “is best positioned to unite the conservative and establishment wings,” said Texas-based consultant Matt Mackowiak. “Winning victories over public unions and beating back a recall attempt,” he said, can help Walker build a national image for conservative voters.
At least one liberal group is taking note of Walker. Progressives United is criticizing his record and seeking donations “to stop his political career dead in its tracks.”
Even Walker’s biggest fans note that the 2016 election is far off, and any number of unforeseen events can boost or doom potential candidacies.
Christie planted himself in the middle of Republican speculation by winning two terms in a state that hasn’t backed a Republican presidential nominee since 1988. Walker, several other governors and a few members of Congress will see if they can join him.
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