At the end of last week, I wrote that the media were suddenly fascinated with Scott Walker, despite the fact that the Republican electorate wasn't yet aware of it. Well hold on to your hats, because in a new Des Moines Register poll, Walker has rocketed to the front of the pack! He now leads all candidates with…15 percent.
O.K., so the fact that not quite one out of every six Republicans in Iowa say they're for Walker (for the moment) doesn't exactly make him an electoral juggernaut. Let's not forget that at various times, the 2012 GOP primary polls were led by Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and Herman Cain. But now that Walker is on the A-list, he's going to get more scrutiny and have to face the national press. Yesterday he was on ABC's This Week, and when talk turned to foreign policy, Walker didn't do particularly well. Let's read a bit:
RADDATZ: Let's talk about some specific, and you talk about leadership and you talk about big, bold, fresh ideas. What is your big, bold, fresh idea in Syria?
WALKER: Well, I think—I go back to the red line.
RADDATZ: Let's not go back. Let's go forward. What is your big, bold idea in Syria?
WALKER: I think aggressively, we need to take the fight to ISIS and any other radical Islamic terrorist in and around the world, because it's not a matter of when they attempt an attack on American soil, or not if I should say, it's when, and we need leadership that says clearly, not only amongst the United States but amongst our allies, that we're willing to take appropriate action. I think it should be surgical.
RADDATZ: You don't think 2,000 air strikes is taking it to ISIS in Syria and Iraq?
WALKER: I think we need to have an aggressive strategy anywhere around the world. I think it's a mistake to—
RADDATZ: But what does that mean? I don't know what aggressive strategy means. If we're bombing and we've done 2,000 air strikes, what does an aggressive strategy mean in foreign policy?
WALKER: I think anywhere and everywhere, we have to be—go beyond just aggressive air strikes. We have to look at other surgical methods. And ultimately, we have to be prepared to put boots on the ground if that's what it takes, because I think, you know—
RADDATZ: Boots on the ground in Syria? U.S. boots on the ground in Syria?
WALKER: I don't think that is an immediate plan, but I think anywhere in the world—
RADDATZ: But you would not rule that out.
WALKER: I wouldn't rule anything out. I think when you have the lives of Americans at stake and our freedom-loving allies anywhere in the world, we have to be prepared to do things that don't allow those measures, those attacks, those abuses to come to our shores.
Martha Raddatz does the best she can trying to get Walker to be more specific when he tosses off bromides like "take the fight to ISIS." But here's the thing: If you asked the same questions of Republicans who are supposedly more knowledgeable and experienced on foreign affairs, they'd give you the same empty, vague answers. Syria is a situation with no good options for the United States, but conservative dogma says that any international challenge can be solved if we show sufficient strength, toughness, and resolve. Is there someone to whom the fight can be taken? Then let's take the fight to 'em! There are no complexities, no dilemmas, no unintended consequences to fear. Strength is always the solution, even if they can't quite say what being strong means in any particular situation.
So yes, chances are that Scott Walker's ideas about foreign policy are ill-informed and overly simplistic (though who knows, maybe he'll prove me wrong). But that isn't because he's a governor, it's because he's a Republican politician.
One more quick note on Walker: As everyone's marveling over the fact that he won three elections in a state that hasn't voted for a Republican presidential candidate in 30 years—and nobody mentions it more often than Walker himself—let's not forget that he had a favorable electorate all three times. His election and re-election came in 2010 and 2014, off-years in which Republicans won huge victories nearly everywhere, and while turnout in his June 2012 recall was high for such an election, it wasn't like a presidential contest. So his ability to win swing states in a presidential election is not much more hypothetical than that of any other candidate.