I read and mostly enjoyed Scott Walker’s new campaign biography. It is pretty good by the low standards of the genre. Walker is pretty clearly getting ready to run for president. Like Allahpundit said, Walker has the potential to appeal to both the Republican establishment and conservatives who identify with the Tea Party. Walker has balanced budget and shown that he can win over swing voters in a swing state. Walker’s run-ins with the Wisconsin government employee unions (and the furious response of the Democrats) has shown Tea Partiers that Walker is a fighter. And unlike other Tea Party fighters like Michele Bachmann and Ted Cruz, Walker has won his most high-profile fights. Walker has also avoided triangulating against his own party (unlike Chris Christie) and so doesn’t come across as a potential sellout.. Walker is a more polarizing and less charismatic figure than Christie, but of all the candidates, he is the one best positioned to draw voters from both the establishment and Tea Party voter pools.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t problems with a Walker candidacy. Walker faces the same problem that Henry Olsen diagnosed with Chris Christie. Walker and Christie both managed to maintain (or even improve) public services without raising taxes by reducing the compensation and changing the employment conditions of public employees. This meant that Walker and Christie were, in practice, able to act as champions of taxpayers and recipients of public services against the minority of public employees. At the national level, changing the terms of federal employment, reducing subsidies to the connected, and cutting waste are all worthwhile, but that will only get you so far. Our biggest budget problems have to do with old-age entitlements and the structure of health care financing for the working-aged. These are places where almost all of us pay something and almost all of us get something back. As Olsen said, national level problems are about how much people are going to tax and spend on themselves. Walker’s Wisconsin experience indicates that he can think through problems, embrace bold solutions and fight to enact his favored policies, but his federal agenda will have to be different than what we have seen so far.
Walker also has a few issue problems. Walker is for amnesty, but then again, so am I. Walker has made comments that can plausibly read as favoring open borders. That is a killer, (though I think it can be walked back) but I think it is indicative of a larger problem. Walker also suggested getting government out of sanctioning marriage. It was in the context of a debate on gay marriage, but Walker’s immigration and marriage comments have some problematic elements in common. The lowest skill workers in America have a high unemployment rate and a low labor force participation rate. Economist George Borjas found that increased low-skill immigration tended to slightly reduce the wages of the existing pool of low-skill workers. In the American social context, the decline of marriage rates coincides with a decline in two-parent households and reduced economic mobility among males raised in single-parent families.
Rather than seeking to increase the number of low-skill workers, conservatives should be supporting policies that reduce future low-skill immigration and transition to a Canadian-style system that favored skills and language proficiency for future immigrants. Americans like that kind of policy even if lobbyists for some labor-intensive businesses would prefer to have more leverage over our current population of low-skill workers. Rather than abandoning marriage policy, government should do what (little) it can to favor marriage in those sectors of society where it has collapsed. Scott Winship has suggested a married parent tax credit , to incentivize couples to get married before they have their first child. That is worth looking into and, more importantly, it is thinking along the right lines. Any conservative agenda is going to need policies that address the problems of people on the other side of the earnings median. Walker acknowledges that in his book. Winship has been advising another Wisconsin reformist named Paul Ryan. As Walker contemplates running for president, he would do well to listen to Winship, James Capretta and Yuval Levin about how to translate Wisconsin reformism to national politics.