At long last, the governor of Wisconsin will toss his cap into the 2016 ring:
BREAKING: Aides: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker set to announce presidential campaign on July 13.— The Associated Press (@AP) July 2, 2015
The Hill explains why his announcement is so significant:
Walker is the highest-profile potential Republican candidate who has yet to officially announce a bid. He’s currently in second place in the polls, behind former Gov. Jeb Bush (Fla.), according to a RealClearPolitics average of recent poll numbers.
Scott Walker is the real deal; he's won three statewide elections in four years. Interestingly, too, his most recent victory all but guaranteed that he would run for president in 2016. Hailing from a blue state, however, poses problems. Chief among them, of course, is convincing the base that he's sufficiently conservative.
Recently, he did this by categorically denouncing the High Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges — which, as The New York Times soberly points out, is wildly out of step with past statements he’s made about the case:
His response to the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage most emphatically demonstrated his sharp shift to the right: Mr. Walker called the court’s ruling “a grave mistake” and reiterated his call for a constitutional amendment that would allow states to ban same-sex marriage. It sent a clear message to social conservatives, and one that was noticeably not echoed by two of his leading rivals, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush — who warned last year that Republicans would need to campaign as if they were willing to lose the nomination if they hoped to win the general election. …
At a gathering of Republican donors in New York in the spring, Mr. Walker indicated that his response to an eventual Supreme Court ruling, if it deemed same-sex marriage constitutional, would be in keeping with the spirit of his earlier remark about the question being a settled one in Wisconsin, people who attended the meeting said.
In other words, Walker is sounding more and more like Ted Cruz, and less and less like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. Perhaps that's true. In fairness, though, Walker has not flip-flopped on the issue. He’s a Christian and therefore regularly defends the biblical definition of marriage. Clearly, however, he doesn’t give the same stump speech everywhere he goes (via the Times):
On the party’s right, Mr. Walker’s statement in favor of a constitutional amendment on marriage was greeted favorably on Friday but was called into question when, at a conservative conference in Colorado on Saturday, Mr. Walker made no mention in his speech of marriage or the court’s historic ruling the previous day.
My response: So what? That’s politics. Walker, a social conservative with an impressive legislative record, is campaigning as he sees fit to win the nomination. He is therefore going to stress his conservative beliefs in Iowa, and not do so in swing states like Colorado. He should be cautious, however, and never change his positions on issues simply because of his audience. Doing so, of course, would be politically disastrous.
Meanwhile, another question that has dogged Walker in recent months is if he’s ready for primetime. Earlier this year, for instance, he refused to answer a question about evolution (much to the disbelief of progressives) and later came under attack for questioning the president's religious convictions. He also, somewhat inarticulately, compared his detractors to ISIS, although reading his comments in context it’s clear what he meant. Still, the media will not give him the benefit of the doubt, and while all candidates misspeak from time to time (some more than others), it seems Walker is a prime target for derision.
Officially launching his candidacy, however, offers both opportunity and redemption. Thus, I fully expect him to introduce himself to voters, discuss his record of reform, reference his electoral victories (all three of them), and appeal to social conservatives. Walker, by the way, is deeply committed to winning the Hawkeye State. So don't be surprised if he tailors his message to Iowans specifically or conservatives generally. He needs their votes to stay competitive.