Wisconsin governor Scott Walker entered the Republican presidential race Monday in a forward-looking announcement speech that touched upon conservative principles that have guided his work in the state.
Walker stood in front of a flag-themed wood backdrop with a simple message – “Scott Walker, For America” – and delivered a speech with a simple message: “If our reforms can work in a blue state like Wisconsin, they can work anywhere in America.” He spoke for nearly forty minutes without a teleprompter or notes and delivered a speech that tracked nearly word-for-word the manuscript that his campaign had emailed out two hours before he took the stage.
In many respects, the announcement was vintage Walker – straightforward, matter-of-fact and full of lines that emphasize his Midwestern values. But unlike many of the speeches he’s given as a likely candidate, this one focused much less on his record in Wisconsin and spent considerably more time making a prescriptive case for an era of American recovery.
Near the top of his remarks, Walker offered an efficient summary of his record in Wisconsin.
“Since I've been governor, we took on the unions and won,” he said. “We reduced taxes by $2 billion and lowered taxes on individuals, employers and property. In fact, property taxes are lower today than they were in 2010. How many governors can say that?”
He continued: “Since I've been governor, we passed lawsuit reform and regulatory reform. We defunded Planned Parenthood and enacted pro-life legislation. We passed Castle Doctrine and concealed carry. And we now require a photo ID to vote in the state of Wisconsin.”
The last line brought sustained applause from those sweating along with Walker at the Waukesha County Expo Center, the site of Walker’s victory party in June 2012, when he fought back an attempted recall launched because of his budget reforms.
But he moved quickly from his record to his vision for the country. “Americans want to vote for something and for someone. So let me tell you what I’m for: I’m for reform, growth, safety.”
The last of those – “true safety,” he’d say later – is a stand-in for national security. “I’m for protecting our children and grandchildren from radical Islamic terrorism and other threats in the world. That’s true safety.” It was the one clunky phrase in an otherwise excellent address. The New York Times reported before the speech that Walker “believes people relate to that word, whereas ‘national security is an elitist phrase.’” Perhaps, but for a governor with little experience on matters of war and peace, “safety” sounds like something from a stump speech in a local sheriff’s election rather than a declaration of strength from a would-be commander in chief.
Several of the best-received lines of Walker’s speech came during his discussion of national security issues. “Earlier this year, the president proclaimed that climate change is the greatest threat to future generations. Well Mr. President, I respectfully disagree,” Walker said, looking directly into the camera shooting the event. “The greatest threat to future generations is radical Islamic terrorism and we need to do something about it.”
And moments later: “We need to acknowledge that Israel is our ally and start treating Israel like an ally. There should be absolutely no daylight between our two countries. That's why I went to Israel earlier this year and met with both the Prime Minister and the opposition leader to express my wholehearted support for the unshakeable bonds between our two countries.”
Walker heads to Nevada on Tuesday, before traveling to South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Iowa later this week. Aides say that his short-term priority is convincing the many Republicans who see him as an acceptable candidate to make them their candidate. Walker leads polls in Iowa and is running second in South Carolina and New Hampshire. But the Walker campaign believes the governor is the top second choice for many of those who are not currently backing him and they are looking for converts.