My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here it is:
Gov. Scott Walker made it official yesterday. In front of throngs of supporters in the heart of his conservative base of Waukesha County, Walker announced that he will be a candidate for the President of the United States. He is already an early frontrunner for the Republican nomination in a very crowded primary field.
Once again, Wisconsin can be proud that for the second presidential election in a row, one of her native sons will be featured prominently on the national stage. In the last election, Rep. Paul Ryan was plucked into the limelight by Mitt Romney to be the vice presidential candidate after Romney won the nomination. This time, Wisconsin will be subjected to the national spotlight for the duration of the election cycle.
Walker has rightly earned a reputation as a flag bearer for the conservative wing of the Republican Party. His tenure as a legislator, Milwaukee County executive and Wisconsin’s governor have all been marked by a steadfast conservatism that is popular in a national Republican primary election.
In particular as governor, Walker’s record is truly impressive. Although Wisconsin has been trending slightly more conservative in the past few years, it is still a relatively liberal to moderate state in which the majority of the voters chose liberals Barack Obama and Tammy Baldwin at the same time they were voting for Walker.
Yet in that sea of purple voters, Walker managed to sign landmark conservative legislation like right to work, castle doctrine, concealed carry, the expansion of school choice, a university tuition freeze and, of course, his signature government union reform law, Act 10. Throughout his short tenure as governor, the Republicans have gained seats in the legislature under his leadership and turned more conservative as a caucus.
With a proven record of conservative success in a somewhat liberal state, Walker is a favorite of national talking heads to win the nomination. But the path will not be easy. With all of Walker’s successes, there are some major drags on his campaign. While the state has steadily added jobs and the economy has been improving, he badly failed to keep his campaign promise to add 250,000 jobs in the state, and his flagship state jobs agency is riddled with failure and mistakes.
Walker’s campaign has also had some early missteps, like his misguided dalliance with open records laws and mealy-mouthed statements regarding immigration policy. Also, while many people do not view a college degree as a prerequisite for high office and justly believe that a person should be judged on his or her accomplishments, many other people see a college degree as a necessary stamp in a passport to the nation’s highest office — and Walker left Marquette University before graduation.
Regardless of whether Walker wins the nomination, two things are certain. First, Walker will be a major determining factor in who the nominee is. If it is not him, his support will be crucial for whoever the nominee is to secure the conservative faction of the Republican Party and the Midwest states that are Walker’s base.
Second, as my fellow columnist Mark Belling pointed out, win or lose, Walker is almost certainly going to resign before the end of his term. If he wins the presidency, then, obviously, he will resign as governor. If he does not win, he will exit the presidential race as a bona fide national conservative political figure. He may be called upon to serve in a Republican administration as a vice president or cabinet secretary, or he may choose to use his national stature to advance the conservative agenda while earning an income he could never earn as a politician. And Walker is a young man. If he does not win the presidency this time, he will still be in the vigor of life to run again in 2020 or 2024.
If Walker does resign as governor by the end of next year (can you hear Wisconsin’s liberals rejoicing?), Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch will take the state’s helm. Kleefisch is smart, conservative, resolute, articulate and consistently underestimated by her opponents. It would be a marvelous thing for Wisconsin for a Gov. Kleefisch to take the state further down the path upon which Gov. Walker started.
Owen Robinson is a West Bend resident. Reach him firstname.lastname@example.org.