Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who became a conservative superstar after gutting his state’s public-sector unions and subsequently surviving a bruising recall effort in his first term, became the 15th high-profile entrant in a packed field of Republican presidential candidates on Monday.
In a video announcing his candidacy, Walker cast himself as an uncompromising and principled conservative as well as a bold reformer who has demonstrated the ability to push his agenda in a largely Democratic state.
“In Wisconsin we didn’t nibble around the edges. We enacted big, bold reforms and took the power out of the hands of the Big Government special interests and gave it to the hardworking taxpayers. We fought, and we won,” he said in the message. “Now I’m running for president to fight and win for the American people.“
Walker enters the field among the top tier of presidential contenders, polling well among Republican primary voters and consistently ahead of his competitors in Iowa, which holds the crucial first-in-the-nation nominating contest.
He has staked out some of the most conservative positions among his competitors on a wide variety of issues. He is one of the few GOP presidential candidates to not only take a hard line against illegal immigration but also to warn about the effects of legal immigration on “American workers and American wages.” After the Supreme Court decision earlier this month to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, he called for a constitutional amendment to reverse the ruling, while other GOP candidates said it was time to move on from the fight.
Walker can point to conservative accomplishments during his tenure as governor that are sure to please activists and base voters. In addition to stripping collective bargaining rights from public-sector unions in 2011 in his battle against labor — a reviled punching bag for many on the right — he has transformed Wisconsin into a right-to-work state, trimmed hundreds of millions of dollars from the state budget, passed a slew of corporate and income tax breaks and instituted mandatory drug testing for food stamp recipients. He is expected to soon sign into law a bill that bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
His accomplishments have earned him important and well-heeled admirers, including billionaire GOP donors Charles Koch and David Koch, who will likely support Walker in the GOP primaries, according to reports.
Still, he has occasionally stumbled while courting Republican voters for the last several months. In February he generated headlines after telling reporters that he didn’t know if President Barack Obama was a Christian or whether Obama loves his country.
Walker has sometimes appeared flat-footed, particularly in addressing matters of foreign affairs and national security. In February he compared taking on the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant to battling union protesters in Wisconsin. That month he said the most significant foreign policy decision of his lifetime was Ronald Reagan’s decision to bust a 1981 strike of air traffic controllers, for the signal of leadership it sent around the world.
As Walker’s stock has risen nationally, he has faced troubles at home.
His critics point out that Wisconsin’s economic growth has been anemic and lags the rest of the country’s in job growth and wages — something critics say undercuts his message about the effectiveness of his governance. Moreover, this year’s budget process in Wisconsin was particularly fraught, with Walker drawing the ire of Republican colleagues and fiscal conservatives for pushing $250 million in public financing for a new Milwaukee basketball arena while refusing to raise any taxes or fees and slashing other parts of the budget. His approval rating in the state stands at 41 percent, according to an April poll.
Nevertheless, his nascent campaign hopes the high profile he has fostered in his last six years as governor will prove an asset instead of a liability.
“If you could accomplish half of what he’s done in Wisconsin in Washington, D.C., you would go down as one of the greatest presidents ever,” Rick Wiley, Walker’s top political adviser, told The Associated Press.