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Small Ball in Wisconsin

After the high drama of a recall, Scott Walker runs a low-key reelection campaign.

Sep 8, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 48 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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But Walker has a positive story to tell on Medicaid. By pushing about 57,000 Wisconsinites above the poverty level onto the Obamacare exchanges, the state was able to cover more than 97,000 people below the poverty level who had been denied Medicaid coverage because of a cap. “The Kaiser Family Foundation, which is certainly not conservative, fairly reputable on health care, said that Wisconsin’s the only state in the country that didn’t take the Medicaid expansion that has no insurance gap,” Walker said. “For the first time ever, we’re covering everyone living in poverty.”

While a counteroffensive on Obamacare from the Walker campaign remains uncertain, the governor insists that an effort to revive the debate over property taxes and Act 10 is on the way. “The only real reason that most people’s property taxes have gone down is our Act 10 reforms,” Walker said. “The only way those Act 10 reforms are repealed outright or chipped away is if Burke is elected.”

The tax issue would certainly provide a needed illustration of what’s at stake in this race for Wisconsin voters. Burke claims she’s a fiscal conservative whose “goal is to lower property taxes” and that she’s “particularly concerned about the very high property taxes across the state.” But following her Chamber of Commerce speech, Burke suggested that Wisconsin’s property tax caps are “strangling our communities” and signaled she would work to raise the caps if elected.

“Property taxes in Wisconsin are high. And what we need to do is look for how we’re going to, again, grow our economy. That’s the best way to bring taxes down. But also strangling our communities isn’t actually going to make sure that we’re competitive,” Burke said. She did not indicate how much she would raise Wisconsin’s tax cap on municipalities and counties, saying only that she would “work with our communities to understand what is a reasonable level.”

During Walker’s first term, property taxes went down for the first time in over a decade, and Walker has pledged that if reelected, “property taxes on a typical home will be lower in 2018 than they are this year (which means they will be lower than they were in 2010).”

If Walker wins his third gubernatorial election in Wisconsin this November, he will be well positioned to be a serious contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. He’s admired by both the Republican base and the donor class for his fight against public employee unions and hasn’t angered any particular faction of the GOP yet. His position on immigration is still vague and his foreign policy not fully formed.

Walker seems understandably reluctant to wade into divisive federal issues in the midst of a state election. He didn’t take a stance on congressional reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, for example, which many conservatives see as a prime example of crony capitalism. Walker said he has “concerns” about President Obama’s potential executive amnesty of 5 million illegal immigrants, but didn’t have much else to say about the issue.

When I asked him what should be done about the Islamic State, he didn’t provide any specific answers. “I think it points to the larger question that many of us are concerned about, that we don’t have an adequate place of leadership in the world,” Walker said. He then began talking about Ronald Reagan’s firing of air traffic controllers as an example
of leadership and the “beginning of the end of the Cold War, because our allies saw this guy was serious and they could count on him. And our adversaries saw this guy was serious and they’re not going to mess with him.”

Walker remains undecided on more recent historical events. Was it a mistake for the United States to pull out all troops from Iraq? “I know not to make observations without having the full access to the generals,” Walker said. “I don’t know that I could make a qualified judgment without having a larger base of knowledge.”

Walker will, of course, have plenty of time to discuss how he’d lead the country if he seeks the presidency. He’s already clearly given some thought to common critiques of a potential Walker candidacy.

Walker has said many times before that Republicans need to nominate a governor for president in 2016. But as the world falls apart, won’t voters want someone with experience in foreign policy? “I think the two senators who handled foreign policy in this administration, the president and the former secretary of state, both did an abysmal job of handling foreign affairs during this administration,” Walker replied, adding, “that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton came out of the Senate suggests to me that it didn’t provide any value.”

“It’s really about leadership. Any of these things boil right down to leadership,” he declared.

So is the Wisconsin governor poised to become a compelling leader on the national stage? One common knock against him is that he lacks charisma. Earlier this summer, Walker told donors in New Jersey that the 2016 presidential race has to be about issues and ideas, not personality. “If it’s a personality race, you got a third Clinton term,” Walker told the crowd, according to National Review’s Eliana Johnson.

But isn’t it true, I asked Walker at the end of our interview, that the more charismatic presidential candidate almost always wins? Walker didn’t dispute the hypothesis, but argued that charisma is about much more than one’s oratorical skills. “In any election, be it for mayor, governor, anything else out there, I think there’s a certain appeal that people have for candidates who are authentic, people who have a passion for ideas and who believe in things,” he said. “We say what we mean, we mean what we say. I think that’s certainly appealing. I hope in this election that’s true. And I hope it’s true in other elections.”

John McCormack is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.

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