The Iowa Freedom Summit marked the de facto start of the 2016 GOP presidential primaries. Some big names contenders were conspicuous by their absence, including Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, and Rand Paul. However, around ten prominent potential Republican presidential candidates attended the event. While the weekend will probably best be remembered for Sarah Palin’s incomprehensibly bizarre 35-minute rambling spiel, the most consequential speech of the weekend may have been Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s address to the crowd.
Scott Walker is a candidate the Democrats need to be concerned about. While hard-line conservatives may be drawn to right-wing firebrands like Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Sarah Palin, they are not viable candidates. Walker, on the other hand, has already proven his mettle, time and again, as a gubernatorial candidate in Wisconsin, a Midwest swing state. Walker’s policies are every bit as right wing as those proposed by the likes of Cruz and Palin. The problem for Democrats, however, is that unlike those carnival barkers, Walker cannot be easily dismissed. He doesn’t just talk about right-wing ideas, he enacts them. This makes him a dangerous candidate, rather than just an ideologically driven circus sideshow, like many of his competitors.
The Wisconsin Governor can point to his “successes” to impress Republican primary voters. He has been able to pass strict voter ID laws, defund Planned Parenthood, bust unions, and cut state taxes. These are the types of accomplishments that will gain him admiration from conservative voters. Unlike, many of the other candidates, Walker is capable of uniting the establishment wing and the tea party wing of the GOP. This fusion of the two competing GOP camps gives Walker the ability to forge a winning coalition during the Republican caucus and primary season.
Prior to the Iowa Freedom Summit, the one criticism of Walker as a candidate, was that he lacked the charisma to be an inspiring orator. That critique was quelled over the weekend. Scott Walker energized crowds with rhetorical flourishes like:
There’s a reason we take a day off to celebrate the 4th of July and not the 15th of April. Because in America we value our independence from the government, not our dependence on it!
Sure, what Walker said was hokey. But so were many of Ronald Reagan’s equally sentimental appeals to lowest common denominator patriotism during the 1980 and 1984 campaigns. Scott Walker emerged from the weekend as one of the winners at the Iowa Freedom Summit. While it is too early to project whether his success this weekend will translate into delegate support in 2016, it is not too early to pay attention to which candidates resonate with voters, and which ones fall flat on their faces. Walker resonates.
Walker has made a short career out of defeating Democrats, despite pushing polarizing policies that should alarm middle and working class voters. He is one candidate Democrats cannot afford to underestimate. He has crafted his message well enough to win three tough races in Wisconsin. He could be a threat to win nationally as well. Democrats should be working on opposition research, and finding ways to beat Scott Walker, should he become the GOP nominee. President Scott Walker would be a disaster for the country. Not just hypothetically, because it could actually happen if Democrats don’t take the threat seriously.