Can Scott Walker Be 2016’s Un-Romney?

Simon Blum Freelance Journalist
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“Someone literally sent me a threat that said they were going to gut my wife like a deer.”

Intricate, personal accounts of threats lobbed at him and his family during the recall battle are now a cornerstone of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s stump speech.

On Thursday evening, Governor Walker reiterated this theme at a small, invitation-only reception in the Lakewood, NJ home of former pharmaceutical executive Dr. Richard H. Roberts, a mega GOP donor and supporter of Governor Walker.

The predominantly Orthodox Jewish audience is far removed from the hunting culture. However, the “gut my wife like a deer” line elicited the same audible gasps as it did during the likely presidential candidate’s speech at the Freedom Summit in Iowa this past Saturday.

Scott Walker, victim?

The themes expressed in a likely presidential candidate’s stump speech aren’t there by accident. The abuse Mr. Walker endured at the hands of the left does more than just placate conservatives who relish a real fighter for their favored causes. It goes to the heart of the governor’s political success to date, which defies all conventional odds.

Little could frustrate the left more than the fact that a less-than-charismatic white male conservative governor gets to strongly curtail union power in a blue state and wins elections comfortably – three times in four years. They lobbed everything they’ve got – money, volunteers, protestors, big-name politicians – at Walker, but nothing made a dent.

Riding a wave of positive reviews of his de facto debut in the presidential race, the governor was clearly on a high in Lakewood. Appearing in a black velvet yarmulke – “It covers my bald spot well” – Mr. Walker was all smiles, handshakes and backslaps. He acknowledged with a wink and thumbs-up when individual audience members snapped pictures with their smartphones. He did all this while consistently pointing to the left’s persecution of him. “This last go around, I was the number one target in America,” he stated.

Glancing at Scott Walker’s improbable rise to a top tier presidential candidate, you see that his political sustenance is, in large part, is liberal overkill. Were it not for the historic 2012 recall race the left subjected him to, Scott Walker would be just one amongst a selection of competent but uninspiring white male Republican governors in blue and purple states. Not much different than, say, Rick Snyder of Michigan, or the man many wrongly attempt pegging Walker to: former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.

None of them will be president in 2017. Yet, now Walker is well positioned as a potential rare hero common hero for both establishment GOPers and firebrands like Rush Limbaugh.

An enemy’s enemy is a friend. An enemy’s top enemy is a best friend.

“I think that’s insulting.”

The left’s overkill has not only endeared Mr. Walker to all factions of the right, but also to the Wisconsin independents and, in Walker’s words, “discerning Democrats” who helped him win his three tough races.

Liberals don’t bat an eyelash when making the most outlandish accusations against Republicans, such as accusing Mitt Romney of causing a woman to die from cancer or predicting that Colorado Senator Cory Gardner would ban condoms.

Like clockwork, they tried this shtick on Scott Walker. In September, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Walker has given women “the back of his hand” and is “grabbing us by the hair.” Yet it backfired big time. Both the campaign of Walker’s opponent Mary Burke and, later, Wasserman Schultz herself, distanced themselves from the remark.

Unlike with most politicians, especially conservative Republicans, you just cannot throw the bunker busting bombs at Scott Walker. It doesn’t work.

At the Lakewood reception, I asked Governor Walker about the lessons he learned while running against a female Democrat in 2014, and how that would translate to the inevitable gender-card-playing should he face Hillary Clinton next November. “I think that’s insulting,” he responded. “I talk to female voters all the time. The women I talk to are not unlike most men; they care about the economy; they care about their neighbor who has been out of work for six months; they care about schools.”

Walker bets on regular guy image

The governor’s retort to Democrats’ “War on Women” is not original, but he is one of its most effective messengers.

While his major 2016 GOP rivals may have more colorful personalities, and/or more intriguing biographies, Mr. Walker is betting that his regular-guy image will win the day. He takes pains to mention his working class childhood, bargain hunting at Kohl’s, and his wife’s part-time jobs. When discussing the need for a strong and consistent foreign policy, he uses as an example the pact he had with wife all the years that they would never contradict each other when one punished one of their sons.

Governor Walker’s persona and demeanor are indeed not dynamic, but he therefore also comes across as too normal and nice to be caricatured as a bogeyman. The glove doesn’t fit. “I don’t take the bait … in the end it didn’t become the kind of wedge issue you’d expect,” he explained to me regarding Democrats’ efforts to paint him as anti-woman.

The upcoming year-plus primary season will be fascinating to watch, but it is distinctly possible that Scott Walker has the perfect balance necessary for a Republican to win the White House these days: strong enough to land a knockout punch, but too agreeable for moderate voters to want to see him punched back.

Just hours before Mitt Romney announced that he would not be making another presidential run, Scott Walker was eager to contrast himself with the previous GOP nominee, who he said lost because he couldn’t connect with everyday American working class voter. “Even when I’m on Fox News and talk radio,” he said, “I talk like I’m talking to a guy sitting on his couch — he works in a factory in my state; his wife works as a nurse in the local hospital; they have two kids going to public school; they’re working hard to make ends meet – in a language that makes sense to them.”

I asked the governor how the GOP can run on the economy in 2016 if leading indicators continue their current positive trajectory. He replied that the party would need to focus on the Americans, particularly those in rural areas, whose economic conditions lag the rest of the nation’s.

While at a closed fundraiser in the home of a super wealthy donor, Scott Walker sounded the polar opposite of what Mitt Romney did in a similar setting two and a half years ago when he made his infamous “47 percent” comments.

Time will tell whether his national ambitions will end up differently too.

Simon Blum is a freelance writer and journalist specializing in political analysis and communication. You can follow Simon on Twitter @sbpundit.