Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker may have taken a step toward catapulting himself into the presidential top tier with a well-received performance at the Iowa Freedom Summit over the weekend, generating raucous applause from the grassroots audience and rave reviews from the attending media. The summit -- billed by some as the unofficial kickoff to the 2016 election cycle -- featured a list of rumored Republican hopefuls, including Ted Cruz, Walker, Chris Christie, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, John Bolton, Rick Perry, Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum and Sarah Palin. A handful of heavy hitters such as Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul did not attend. Though many speakers were welcomed warmly, a consensus emerged that Walker had won the day. Major Iowa figures praised his speech, while national and Wisconsin politicos noted that Walker seems to have kicked his message and delivery into a new gear:
Scott Walker the early star of this gathering, no doubt about it. #IAFreedomSummit— Rick Klein (@rickklein) January 24, 2015
When rumors of 'Walker 2016' began to circulate in earnest a few weeks back, I mentioned that a source close to the governor's camp had pegged the chances of the governor jumping into the race stood at 70 percent or higher. The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes, a native Wisconsinite, now believes
the die has been cast:
The theme of Walker's remarks was that America needs "big and bold" leadership centered around conservative reforms. As you watch, pay special attention to the roster of conservative accomplishments (money quote: "how many governors can say that?") he ticks down, as well as his analogy about discount shopping at Kohl's (message: I'm not a scion of privilege, unlike some other people who shall remain nameless):
The Left's infamous histrionics and frightening threats against his family during the budget reform fight and subsequent recall election only emboldened him to complete the job he was elected to do, Walker said, drawing hearty applause from the crowd. I've been run through the gauntlet. I've been tested repeatedly, and I've gotten the job done in a blue state. Oh, and that blue state's economy has "wind in its sails" as Walker begins his national push. By stepping out in such an eye-opening and buzzworthy way, Walker is laying down an early marker that he's coming to play, and that he won't be intimidated by anyone else in the race. Establishing himself as a powerful contender comes with risks and rewards. In the former category, Walker is guaranteeing that he won't sneak up on anyone. He's now clearly demonstrated the threat he poses; any element of surprise is gone. One also supposes that there's always a risk of peaking early, but those concerns are wildly premature. In the latter camp, Walker has strategically confronted an early media knock against him -- that's he's too bland or boring -- head on, displaying some passion and dynamism that caught even longstanding supporters off guard (although he's shown flashes of it before). Also, in order to compete in the critical "money primary," the more conservative alternatives to Jeb and Mitt will need to make a splash and showcase their chops. Even though this weekend's talk was delivered in a grassroots setting, it's generated enough talk that the party's major donors will take notice.
As for the rest of the Freedom Summit crowd, Ed Morrissey says that in addition to Walker, a pair of Texans -- Rick Perry and Ted Cruz -- distinguished themselves among the featured guests. Chris Christie also seemed to have done himself some good, even earning high marks from a most unlikely source:
Christie couldn't have asked for a better reception. Late in day but tough crowd laughed at jokes, moved by personal stories. Standing O.— Peter Hamby (@PeterHambyCNN) January 24, 2015
Christie was really solid and impressive.— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) January 25, 2015
Cruz's speech is HERE. Christie's is HERE.