Thursday, June 19, 2014

The National Media Take Another Look at Scott Walker

By Lisa Kaiser
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This week we’ve been treated to three new national stories about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as well as some new insights about the Bradley Foundation’s funding of groups fighting the John Doe investigation

I can’t imagine the Walker team is all that thrilled with the attention.

First up is the fairly personal profile of Walker in the National Journal, He Shall Not Be Moved

It’s mostly a rehashing of his rise to power, but it also includes some personal tidbits—surprisingly, since the mild-mannered, affectless Walker doesn’t reveal much of himself in interviews or, according to this piece, even to those who surround him. (Perhaps that’s why his memoir, Unintimidated, was so dull.)

Here’s the money quote:

SCOTT WALKER IS NOT charismatic. He did not graduate from college. He is charming in small groups but unremarkable in front of large crowds. In short, he lacks many of the attributes normally found in presidential candidates. And yet he would arguably bring stronger credentials to a national primary fight than anyone else in today's GOP. He's a governor with extensive executive experience. He cut taxes. He opposes abortion. He turned a massive budget deficit into a surplus. He's an outdoorsman who touts the Second Amendment. He challenged, and defeated, organized labor. There are some key areas into which he hasn't yet waded—immigration, foreign policy—but if history is any indication, whatever positions he stakes out will be perfectly attuned to the mood of his party's right wing, presented in a way that doesn't alienate the establishment.

Next up is the National Review’s Scott Walker Gets Ready, which offers up details on the governor’s recent fundraising appearance at the New Jersey home of gazillionaire Rich Roberts, who’s donated $100,000 to Walker.

And this is the piece Walker’s handlers probably aren’t so happy about. Not only does the reporter criticize them:

As Walker was garnering applause from the lunch crowd, the aides he had in tow were getting less positive feedback. Though operating on friendly turf, they acted skittish, guarded, and unfriendly. An event organizer complained that the governor’s team was dismissive and difficult to deal with, and that she found it nearly impossible to get Walker on the phone with his host.

But the reporter notes Walker’s swipes at his “potential rivals” in 2016, including his good buddy Chris Christie, and his veiled attacks on Rand Paul and, allegedly, our good friend Ron Johnson:

Walker also threw some elbows at Washington Republicans, criticizing them for harping on issues like the debt and the deficit without offering a positive vision for the future. “We have to be optimistic,” he said. He pointed to a particular senator who “constantly talks about how horrible the debt is.” Walker said that, while he shares the sentiment, the issue has limited popular appeal. At times, he said that listening to the senator harping on it makes him “want to slit my wrists because I’m just like, ‘My God, this is so awful, I cannot believe this.’”

The JS’s Dan Bice checked in with Walker to see if he was in fact talking about Johnson. Walker of course denied it but the National Review stands by all of Walker’s quotes in the piece, although it hasn’t revealed who, exactly, Walker was discussing. Still, it’s never helpful to snipe at members of your party in a conservative publication if you’re trying to build a reputation as a good-guy team player who’s just interested in getting results.

On to Scott Walker’s Toxic Racial Politics, courtesy of Alec MacGillis at the New Republic. This is the piece that Walker’s team really hates, but I think it provides a helpful—if harsh—take on the state’s racial and political polarization, and how Walker harnessed it:

He is the closest person the party has to an early favorite, and not simply because of Chris Christie’s nosedive from grace or because Jeb Bush is still waffling about his intentions. Walker has implemented an impeccably conservative agenda in a state that has gone Democratic in seven straight presidential elections. Unlike Mitt Romney, or, for that matter, John McCain, he is beloved by the conservative base, but he has the mien of a mainstream candidate, not a favorite of the fringe. His boosters, who include numerous greenroom conservatives in Washington and major donors around the country, such as the Koch brothers, see him as the rare Republican who could muster broad national support without yielding a millimeter on doctrine.

This interpretation of Walker’s appeal could hardly be more flawed. He has succeeded in the sort of environment least conducive to producing a candidate capable of winning a national majority. Over the past few decades, Walker’s home turf of metropolitan Milwaukee has developed into the most bitterly divided political ground in the country—“the most polarized part of a polarized state in a polarized nation,” as a recent series by Craig Gilbert in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel put it. Thanks to a quirk of twentieth-century history, the region encompasses a heavily Democratic and African American urban center, and suburbs that are far more uniformly white and Republican than those in any other Northern city, with a moat of resentment running between the two zones. As a result, the area has given rise to some of the most worrisome trends in American political life in supercharged form: profound racial inequality, extreme political segregation, a parallel-universe news media.

I blogged about this briefly, mostly about how Walker’s bubble prevents him from truly representing the full width and breadth of Wisconsin. Since he benefits from one-party rule and a highly divided state, he only needs to negotiate with members of his party and appeal to those who voted for him. Therefore, he’s been able to avoid negotiating with Democrats or compromising his vision and has built a solidly conservative record in Wisconsin, the record he’s going to try to ride into the White House in two years. 

And last but definitely not least, is this new gem from the Center for Media and Democracy’s Brendan Fischer, who has waded into the gory details of the Bradley Foundation’s financial support for the entities fighting the John Doe investigation into Walker’s campaign and allied conservative groups.

Fischer found that the Bradley Foundation—helmed by Walker’s campaign chair, Michael Grebe—has poured $18 million into anti-Doe activists, from backing groups createed by the Wisconsin Club for Growth’s Eric O’Keefe (who’s suing in federal court to shut down the investigation) to funding sympathetic media outlets like the Franklin Center (which launched Wisconsin Reporter, who’s scooped the traditional media with their Doe pieces), to currying favor with prominent conservative journalists and pundits via their Bradley Prizes. George Will and Wall Street Journal columnists Kim Strassel and Terry Teachout have been honored with these $250,000 prizes, Fischer reported.

If Walker wants to raise his profile nationally, he’s going to have to learn how to handle the national and independent media. They’re playing a whole different ballgame—and they have the ability to take him down with his own words and actions. Not everyone is as gullible as Sykes and Belling.

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