West Des Moines, Iowa — Amid growing speculation that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is testing GOP presidential waters in Iowa and elsewhere, progressive activists warned Thursday at a rally here that a Walker presidency would be “terrifying" and disastrous to middle-class families.
Walker hasn’t said he’s a candidate, but his appearance Thursday at a Republican fundraiser in Iowa’s largest county, as well as a handful of appearances in the Northeast and before powerful conservative groups, suggest that he’s at least considering a 2016 run for the Republican presidential nomination.
The “Scott Walker Truth Squad,” as activists from Progress Iowa and One Wisconsin Now call themselves, told reporters at a news conference that Walker has the credentials to win favor among Republican caucus kingmakers, such as The Family Leader, an organization headed by Bob Vander Plaats, and that the political support makes him a candidate to fear.
“I know the dynamics of primary states,” said Wisconsin progressive leader Scot Ross, who said he fears Walker could win “in a Tea Party primary for president.”
Ross was answering a question from David Leonard, a Waukee progressive activist who wondered if Walker, known mostly as the union-busting governor who survived a recall election after 15 months of vitriolic protests, was far enough to the right socially to win Iowa’s caucuses.
Planned Parenthood clinics began closing this year because Walker pushed legislation defunding them and the governor prohibited the state’s attorney general from defending the constitutionality of the domestic partner registry, which gave gay couples hospital visitation rights.
The “terrifying” answer, Progress Iowa leader Matt Sinovic said, is that Walker not only could win the caucuses, as social conservatives Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum did in 2008 and 2012, but he also appeals to fiscal conservatives.
To the union members and other activists for the working class, Walker is something of a political antichrist whose promises for jobs creation never materialized. The state ranks near the bottom of U.S. states in private-sector jobs creation, has the 45th worst wage growth rate and had the 50th worst rate in the nation for short-term jobs growth creation.
That’s an example of Walker’s “pants on fire” claims about helping the middle class, Ross said.
He also criticized Walker for what he called putting his presidential aspirations ahead of his state’s interests.
“Wisconsin is in dire economic straits and we need a governor in our state full-time doing his job instead of traveling the country sucking up to millionaires and billionaires so he can get his next job,” he said.
Walker was “Tea Party Before There Was a Tea Party”
Walker, 45, was ostensibly in Iowa to pay back a political favor to Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who held a fundraiser for Walker during his 2012 recall election. Walker won that race and became the first governor ever to survive a recall race, and by a larger margin in 2010 when he was elected to his first term.
In the national spotlight for 15 months because of the fray, Walker could be a candidate with the legs to run the distance. Cameron Sutton, an organizer of one of the political fundraisers Walker attended Thursday, told the Des Moines Register that if he were a betting man, he would put Walker “on a very short list of people that run.”
With his appeal to Tea Party activists, Walker could have an edge in the Iowa Caucuses, where the most conservative factions of Republicans have great sway. Mordecai Lee, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, told the Register that Walker is “a talk-radio Republican,” in that he’s both highly ideological and uninterested in moderation or compromise.
“Walker was Tea Party before there was a Tea Party,” Lee said.
At Thursday’s rally in West Des Moines, One Wisconsin Now’s Ross called Walker “a shining example of the polarization of the current political process.”
Walker also appeals to social conservatives on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, though he’s more likely to focus on getting government out of the way of businesses and making it easier for them to bring jobs to the state.
Walker can even claim to be an Iowan, since he lived in a tiny northeast Iowa town, Plainfield, as a boy.