Published on TheHill.com on February 24, 2015
Governors can usually have it their own way. An activist governor, like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, can flood the news with bold proposals and usurp all the attention the media has to give. Nobody is going to ask him about same-sex marriage when tens of thousands of screaming union members are occupying the state Capitol, refusing to let legislators in to take their seats.A governor can control the agenda of state politics and not answer any question that is outside his wheelhouse.
But that’s not the case for a senator — and certainly not for a presidential candidate. They have to take all comers and answer 360 degrees of questions, whether or not the queries are on point with their message, tangential to it, or directly contrary to what they want to discuss.
Scott Walker is having a hard time making the transition.
Asked about Rudy Giuliani’s doubts about whether President Obama loves America, he simply said “I’m in New York. I’m used to people saying things that are aggressive out there.” Asked whether the president is a Christian, Walker said he didn’t know, that he had never discussed religion with him. Asked about his views on abortion, he edged right, moving from a reluctant pro-choice position to an ardent pro-life one.
None of these questions were what Walker wanted to talk about. He’d rather discuss the corrosive influence of teachers unions on our schools and the way public employee unions have driven up the cost of government. He’d rather tout his formidable record of cutting spending and taxes even as he freed resources that had been eaten up by benefits for the teachers union and its leadership and diverted the money to the classroom. Were he to become the GOP nominee for president, he could do a lot to take the education issue away from Democrats and make it a mainstay of the Republican agenda — something George W. Bush achieved in 2000, which helped to get him elected.
Walker’s record as governor has few equals. To study it is to find what Gov. Chris Christie might have been like in New Jersey if he had carried his rhetoric one step further and stayed on message. He runs on a solid record of big achievements.
But that doesn’t mean that he’s ready for a race against as seasoned an operator as Hillary Clinton. It doesn’t mean he is ready for prime time.
Normally, we extol the virtues of having a candidate with executive experience running for president, and look down on those with only a legislative background. Walker’s experience as county executive for Milwaukee and as governor of Wisconsin are, in normal circumstances, important credentials.
But a senator has a clear advantage when it comes to running for president: His job gives him a broad familiarity with a wider range of issues and a built-in capacity for handling the media. It’s that or be eaten alive.
We are justified in worrying about whether Walker has the relevant experience to handle the big leagues. Will the flub become his trademark?
Only a few days out of the starting gate — he has yet to announce — he is already attacking the media and showing a sense of grievance about their attacks. It’s a bit early for that, and we can only hope that Walker learns better how to handle them and himself so that his qualifications, so evident in Wisconsin, can shine through.
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