Five Obstacles to Scott Walker’s Presidential Bid
Policy + Politics

Five Obstacles to Scott Walker’s Presidential Bid

Scott Walker, the combative Republican governor of Wisconsin who rose to prominence by stripping public-sector unions of collective bargaining power and then surviving a recall election, formally announced his campaign for president on Monday.

"I am running for president to fight and win for the American people," Walker, 47, said in a video. "Without sacrificing our principals, we won three elections in four years in a blue state. We did it by leading. Now, we need to do the same thing for America. It's not too late. We can make our country great again."

Related: Scott Walker, the ‘Do It My Way’ Gov, Enters 2016 Race   

Walker is the last of the top-tier candidates to join the crowded field of Republican candidates for their party’s 2016 presidential nomination, and he is scheduled to make a major speech later today in Wisconsin before hitting the campaign trail again. The former state legislator and county executive enters the race as the favorite to win Iowa’s first-in-the nation caucus next year; he currently finishes second only to former Florida governor Jeb Bush in national polls.

Political experts and Iowa politicians describe Walker as a good fit for the Iowa caucuses because of his credentials as a social and fiscal conservative and because of Wisconsin’ proximity to Iowa. Walker catapulted to prominence last January after he gave a rousing, raw meat speech to grass-roots conservatives in Iowa, in which he recounted his successful battles against Wisconsin’s public employee unions.

Despite his obvious appeal among conservatives and his strong showing in the early polls, Walker has a number of problems that could prevent him from winning the nomination, including a lack of charisma.

Trumped. The fast changing complexion of the GOP campaign is another hurdle. In the past two weeks, real estate mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump has shaken up the Republican race and soared to the top tier in the polls. Trump is dominating media coverage with his combustible remarks about illegal immigrants from Mexico and his strong opposition to immigration reform.

Related: Scott Walker Nails His Stump Speech--and It’s Working   

At least in the early going, Walker may find it difficult to attract some of the attention away from the bellicose Trump.

But there are other problems as well. Here are four other potential obstacles to Walker’s road to the GOP nomination:

Concern about his intellectual heft.  Practically no-one disputes that Walker has the political instincts, self-confidence and biography to win the presidential nomination. Yet a number of high-profile missteps and ill-advised pronouncements have raised doubts for some as to whether he has the intellectual heft and breadth of experience to be the next president and commander in chief.

As The New York Times reported today, admirers frequently describe him as “approachable” and “authentic,” but rarely do they describe him as “smart” or “sophisticated.” For instance, Walker’s repeated comments that the most important foreign policy decision of his lifetime was former President Ronald Reagan’s firing of striking air traffic controllers in 1981 and his boasting that his hard line against Wisconsin public employees showed that he could stand up to ISIS demonstrated to some his limited world view and naïveté.

Overcoming claims that he is a Flip-Flopper.  Walker portrays himself as a politician with deep conservative convictions, but his stands on some of the toughest issues of the 2016 campaign have been a work in progress. One of his most notable reversals has been on the hot button issue of immigration reform, especially now that Trump has made illegal-immigrant bashing his main campaign theme. 

In February, 2013, Walker said that he supported a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants but said that people who are waiting in line should have “first preference,” according to Politico. Last February, after his political stock began to climb in Iowa, Walker told ABC’s Martha Raddatz that while “I think for sure, we need to secure the border . . . I’m not for amnesty.”  

Related: Scott Walker Makes Top Tier of White House Wannabes  

Explaining away budget problems back home.  Like other governors and former governors chasing the presidential brass ring, Walker likes to boast about his record as a tough chief executive — especially his 2011 showdown with state employees over their collective bargaining powers and his handy victory in a 2012 recall election. But Walker struggled to hold his party together in finally passing a budget last week. He upset many state conservatives by supporting a plan to spend $250 million in public funds to build a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks and to take $1.3 billion in loans to pay for highway projects.   

Getting Up to Speed on Foreign Policy – Walker is just now finishing up some crash courses with prominent experts on foreign policy and defense, and they couldn’t have come soon enough. His early forays into global affairs frequently were embarrassing and raised concerns among some party leaders and campaign investors. In early February, for example, Walker visited a foreign policy think tank in London, where he would not discuss the war on ISIS, evolution or other highly charged topics.  

Related: The Foreign Policy Minefield for Scott Walker and GOP Contenders   

Then in late February, Walker made his celebrated gaffe comparing his handling of a protest rally by Wisconsin state employees in 2011 to how he might handle ISIS threats if he were president. 

He subsequently raised more eyebrows during an exclusive candidates’ conference in Palm Beach, Florida, sponsored by the conservative Club for Growth, when Walker — a Marquette University dropout — declared that “Candidly, I think foreign policy is something that’s not just about having a Ph.D. or talking to Ph.Ds. It’s about leadership.” 

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