Walker’s political career comes to forks in the road

CAPITOL NEWSLETTER
Matt Pommer • Wisconsin Newspaper Association

What’s next for Gov. Scott Walker?

Last week, the governor dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination for president after poll numbers plunged and fund raising appeared a problem. Walker painted the decision as one of leadership and suggested other candidates do the same.

Walker’s term as governor extends until early 2019, but he’ll have career decisions before the 2018 election. There is the very, very long shot to be the Republican vice-presidential candidate. His performance in the debates seems to have reduced that chance to near zero. But in the past there have been surprising choices for the second spot in national elections.

Would he accept a federal appointment in a new Republican administration? It probably would have to be at the cabinet level to satisfy him. But it’s difficult for any politician to say “no” to a newly elected president. On the other hand, living in Washington is expensive and the governor has modest personal financial resources.

But Walker’s career choices might come down to the 2018 general election. Should he seek re-election or seek to get elected to the U.S. Senate, Republicans will be looking for a candidate to oppose Democrat U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

The presidential dream doesn’t die easily among politicians. Would Walker’s hopes of living in the White House be better if he were in the Senate? The national Republican Party will be more concerned about controlling the U.S. Senate than who is governor in Wisconsin.

Walker may have the best of all possible worlds. There are conserveative organizations like the Bradley Foundation that would be willing to retain Walker even if everything in politics goes sour for him.

Walker spent much of 2015 in the quest for the White House. He didn’t officially enter the race until July but he had been traveling and speech-making across the country for most of this year. He’d denounce Democrats and cite how he broke public employee unionism in Wisconsin, standing up to union bosses.

National political writers, looking for a topic in the early months, made him a minor celebrity. The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal was an early champion of Walker, hailing his policies and assailing the controversial John Doe investigation in Wisconsin politics.

At one point, polls showed Walker to be the front-runner in Iowa. He made many stops in Iowa, talking occasionally about how easy he made it to fire teachers in Wisconsin. The 47-year-old Walker would contend that he wasn’t a career politician although he had been in elective office for the last 22 years. He sensed, or his own polls showed, Republicans were looking for someone outside the government. Enter Donald Trump, and the game changed.

Walker struggled in the debates and the follow-ups. In one week, the governor took three different positions on “birthright” citizenship. A major gaffe occurred when he stumbled on a reporter’s question about the idea of building an anti-immigration wall between Canada and United States.

Perhaps he was not quite ready for national prime-time politics.


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