Scott Walker does not care. And that may be his biggest asset.
With Walker, it’s not just the studied nonchalance of many politicians who appear on stage for major events in shirtsleeves with the cuffs rolled up, which Wisconsin’s Republican governor did yesterday when he spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference just outside Washington. It goes beyond that.
Walker, widely regarded as a strong potential contender for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, appeared at one of the marquee events on the conservative political calendar and launched into remarks that were, in large part, virtually identical to some he delivered when he appeared at an event sponsored by the American Action Forum in Washington last month.
The crowd loved every bit of it. The old showbiz adage “always leave them wanting more” never seemed more appropriate. Walker left to a standing ovation that cannot have made Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who took the stage next, feel like the main attraction.
In the world of conservative politics, Walker may be the living embodiment of the idea that actions speak louder than words. At CPAC, nobody much cares that a speech is being recycled if the guy delivering it has been able to win three elections in four years while running on what amounts to a union-busting platform in the birthplace of the American labor movement.
Walker’s reception on Thursday rivaled that of conservative darling Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and was actually better attended. Though they may have been repetitive in parts, Walker’s remarks were nothing if not fiery. The standing room only crowd in the hall thrilled to Walker’s speedy dismissal of a heckler who was upset about his ongoing campaign to reduce the power of public employee unions. They ate up his fervent denunciation of the Obama administration’s approach to everything from the Middle East to tax policy.
Walker’s refusal to play the game as he’s expected to is increasingly looking like his signature position. When he appeared in London earlier this month at an internationally respected foreign policy think tank, he repeatedly declined to answer questions about…foreign policy. Then, in his own words, he “punted” on the question of whether or not he believes the theory of evolution.
Days later, asked by The Washington Post to weigh in on whether or not President Obama is a Christian, he refused to answer, saying, in part, that he had never asked the president that particular question.
To any experienced politician, the easy way out on either of these questions was fairly clear. On evolution, there’s plenty of room for answers that recognize the validity of science while allowing that God is ultimately in control of the development of the universe. On the question of the president’s religious faith, the easy out was a simple “Yes” combined with some boilerplate about how awful he thinks Obama’s policies are.
Walker took neither avenue because, when it comes to how he is interpreted by the traditional media filters, he truly doesn’t seem to care. So far it’s worked well for him in the early primary state of Iowa, and it undoubtedly played well at CPAC on Thursday.
Like many others before him, Walker gave the media--and the opposition--the perfect soundbite when he answered a question about how he would handle the war against ISIS: "If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world," Walker said. The Huffington Post reported that in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal, Walker said, "Let me be perfectly clear, I'm just pointing out the closest thing I have to handling this difficult situation is the 100,000 protesters I had to deal with."
Wisconsin union leaders did not take kindly to their members being compared with ISIS terrorists. Phil Neuenfeldt, Wisconsin AFL-CIO President, called Walker's remarks "disgusting."
“To compare the hundreds of thousands of teachers, students, grandmothers, veterans, correctional officers, nurses and all the workers who came out to peacefully protest and stand together for their rights as Americans to ISIS terrorists is disgusting and unacceptable,” Neuenfeldt said in a statement. 'To compare hard-working men and women who work for a living to terrorists is a disgrace. Coming together to peacefully protest for freedom, to raise your voice for a better Wisconsin, this is not an act of terror."
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