Is It Time to Be Afraid of Scott Walker?

One of the silver linings Democrats were looking for on Tuesday was the possibility that some particularly nasty Republican governors might be shown the door. The most repellent had to be Maine's thuggish Paul LePage, who due in large part to an independent candidacy will enjoy four more years to embarrass and immiserate the people of that fine state. Far more consequential, however, was Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Having survived a close shave, Walker can now board a train of destiny leaving Madison and heading all of 300 miles southwest to Des Moines.

Of all the potential GOP 2016 candidates, Walker may be the most terrifying. Yes, it would be a calamity of apocalyptic proportions if Ted Cruz were to become president, but we all know that's never going to happen. Walker, however, is a much more credible candidate. Ed Kilgore has some insightful thoughts:

But it's hard to think of any of the domestic government priorities of today’s conservative movement—from election suppression to rolling back abortion rights to undermining entitlements to erosion of collective bargaining rights to an entire economic strategy based on making life easy for "job-creators"—on which Walker hasn't distinguished himself, against enormous resistance. In many respects (as I argued in a TNR essay about Walker in 2011), Scott Walker is exactly what you get if you take southern Republicanism in all its sordid glory and apply it in a frosty and unfamiliar environment. So the man is going to have an instinctive appeal to conservative activists everywhere, and has an electability argument few can make.

It's true—Walker could stand up in a Republican debate, look around at his competitors, and say, "All these guys say they hate labor unions, but who's done more to hasten the death of collective bargaining than I have?" then repeat the argument on any number of issues. So one could certainly see him catching fire in the primaries.

But as Ed says, Walker isn't exactly brimming with charisma. With prior GOP nominees, even the ones who lost, you could understand why they might have some plausible appeal to the general electorate. Mitt Romney was a handsome, can-do business leader with a record of working with the other party. John McCain was a mavericky maverick. George W. Bush was a good-natured fella who wanted to be "compassionate." But Walker? He's all hard edges and ideological search-and-destroy missions, leaving bitterness and anger in his wake even when he wins.

Of course, if you aren't in Wisconsin you've only seen so much of him. Maybe in the long slog of a primary campaign, he'd reveal depths of complexity and charm that aren't yet apparent. But let's hope not.

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