Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was not initially the most talked about Republican candidate for president in 2016. Yet he has unique qualities that make him a very different element in the presidential equation and his popularity has increased significantly over the course of the last few months.
He’s still looking at a crowded and competitive election field at this point, but some key signs in Iowa, not to mention angry protests in Wisconsin, make him a worthwhile politician to break down categorically and consider. Just what kind of president would Walker be? What are his advantages going into this election fire fight, and where are his weaknesses? Where do the polls put him at, and how does he weigh in on important issues like labor and abortion?
Walker’s record: Labor
The most recent news on Gov. Walker has not been about the presidential election coming up, and it hasn’t been about his new fundraising effort, “Scott Walker: Moving Wisconsin Forward” — though that’s become tied up in labor issues. It’s been about his relationship with labor unions in his state, and a renewal of old tensions that have never really gone away. In the past, Walker has made efforts to curtail labor group’s collective bargaining rights in the public sector. At the end of February, Republicans in the Wisconsin State Senate have been working to prevent mandatory worker payments of anything that would basically amount to union dues.
While Walker hasn’t emphasized his involvement in the effort, and he didn’t make it a priority when he ran for office a second time, he has made it clear he’ll sign the bill. “Gov. Walker co-sponsored right-to-work legislation as a lawmaker and supports the policy. If this bill makes it to his desk, Gov. Walker will sign it into law,” said Laurel Patrick, spokesperson to Walker, in an email to The Cap Times.
Proceedings in the Senate saw protests in the thousands, with a number of interjections from onlookers during debate in the State Senate. “I’m not optimistic that we can stop it,” said John Finkler, a union member, to The New York Times. “But I think people won’t forget.” Similar anti-labor efforts in 2011 resulted in a recall election in 2012, but since then the Wisconsin labor movement has seen considerable reductions. This is a big plus with “Right-to-work” supporters and conservatives, but for labor movement voters, Walker’s labor record falls into the negative category.
Walker’s record: Minimum Wage
Like many conservatives, Walker is against a federally mandated minimum wage increase, insisting it will hurt local and state economies, slow job growth, and result in job losses for America’s youth.
“What we need to focus on is helping people find the skills they need to fill those much better paying jobs, those family-supporting career-type jobs … Artificially raising the minimum wage whether it’s at the state or the federal level is not going to do that,” said Walker in an interview with CNN. He also noted that while the federal government provides a number of worker training programs — something that has been a focus of President Barack Obama — they are not easy enough for prospective workers to navigate and take advantage of.
Walker’s record: Obamacare
Walkers’s record on Obamacare places him on good terms with fellow Republicans. Like most in the GOP, has been publicly very critical of the president’s signature health law. He chose not to set up the marketplace in Wisconsin in 2013, and like so many, believes that “the best thing we could do to help people who are unemployed or underemployed is fix Obamacare, replace it with a patient-centered plan that puts people in charge,” according to his interview with CNN.
When he decided not to open an exchange partnership with the federal government, instead forcing the federal system to come in on its own, his explanation at the time led some to argue he had given evidence against a lawsuit. The lawsuit currently at the Supreme Court over Obamacare hinges on the idea that there is a distinct difference in state and federal tax exchanges, how they’re implemented, and the effects they have. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he argued that after two years of considering the law, “there’s no real substantive difference between a federal exchange, or a state exchange, or the in between, the hybrid, the partnership.” Of course, in context, this was merely his argument for refusing to cooperate with the Obama Administration to implement a system he disagreed with, but opponents have used it as cannon fodder against the Supreme Court-bound lawsuit.
Walker’s record: Education
Walker’s record on education is somewhat mixed, but does not seem to point to it as a priority, as the video below would suggest. Wisconsin’s education system has seen some signficant changes during Walker’s time in office. Graduation and ACT scores improved, though this is a national trend as well, so whether Walker deserves credit may be another question. Gov. Walker is supportive of school policy based on advice provided from local schools. He has been critical of the Common Core, unlike another Republican candidates (Jeb Bush).
He has also made some pretty significant funding changes and cuts both in the public education area and for higher education. He proposed a cut of $300 million at the university level recently, and in the past reduced public education budgets by $2.6 billion. PolitiFact rated the claim that he has cut more school funding than any other governor as “mostly true.”
Walker’s record: Abortion
“I’m proudly pro-life, but for me the reason I was elected in 2010 … is because we focused obsessively on helping fix the economy and the private sector and helping put in place a balanced budget,” said Walker in a Face The Nation interview. That appears to be where he’ll stay on the matter, for now. This seems to be a fairly popular position with less right-wing members of the GOP; by clearly stating their position on a social issue, they help to cement themselves with conservative voters and fellow politicians, but by focusing their efforts elsewhere, they do not pose a threat to more liberal independents who would otherwise be reticent to vote for an anti-abortion candidate.
Walker in the polls
When considering Walker’s polling numbers, it’s important to look at both how he does on average within his own party (quite well considering the distance of 2016) and how he does in a key state like Iowa. And given his steadily increasing labor enemies, it’s good to counter that information with numbers from his recall election. Yes, he angered constituents within his state, but he also solidified conservative voters, and clearly he won his recall by a significant gap, as shown below.
There are no head-to-head polls available for Walker as of yet, so we don’t know how he compares when pitted against someone like the Democrat’s favored candidate, Hillary Clinton. In all likelihood, not well — but that’s true of many of the Republican candidates at present; Hillary has a solid lead on most for the time being. However, that could change given time and a fully focused campaign.
Against those in his own party, Walker wavers below the lead to different degrees depending on the polls you consider. But he does have the advantage of being quite conservative, while still meeting standards to appeal to larger groups of Americans than just the far right in his party. FiveThirtyEight lists both Walker and Marco Rubio as two candidates who might meet “William F. Buckley’s standard as the most viable conservative candidate,” also referencing Iowa’s results, which were so significantly in Walker’s favor. He has aroused some concerns because of a history of fraud accusations, and somewhat untoward interactions with the press.
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