Nate Cohn has some thoughts on Scott Walker that are pretty similar to mine. Cohn argues that Walker has a chance to be a unifying candidate. That’s true, but I also think Walker has a chance to be the Tea Party-friendly alterative to Chris Christie if Ted Cruz collapses and Rand Paul fails to get much support outside of the ten percent of the Republican nominating electorate that was open to voting for his father.
Daniel Larison argues that Walker has no obvious constituency and is setting up to be the Tim Pawlenty of 2016. I don’t think that really gets to Pawlenty’s problems. Pawlenty’s potential appeal was that he was more authentic than Romney on policy, and a more realistic alternative than the other right-of-Romney candidates. Pawlenty wasted this appeal by resorting to rhetorical and policy gimmicks that made him look like both a phony and a fool. Jon Huntsman ran against his own party on the idea that the GOP base was a bunch of angry and ignorant yokels. Pawlenty’s strategy was pandering to party’s base on the idea that they were a bunch of angry and ignorant yokels. If Pawlenty had managed to stay in the race, shown some respect for his party’s voters, and developed an articulate critique of Romneycare (he could have just listened to Rick Santorum for some clues), then the spotlight that fell on Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich, and Santorum would probably have fallen on Pawlenty too.
The good news on Walker is that he doesn’t seem to be building his strategy around the Pawlenty plan of condescending solidarity gestures. That’s Bobby Jindal’s strategy (and he should stop right now). My guess is that Walker will treat his audience with respect (at least on economic issues). Walker is more likely to face the kinds of problems that hurt Rick Perry. No, I don’t meant that Walker will fail to study national issues or that Walker will forget which government departments he wants to abolish. The danger is that the opinion dynamics of national politics are so different from those of state politics that Walker will walk on landmines just by saying the same stuff that had never gotten him into trouble before.
Rick Perry’s experience in Texas Republican politics had left him completely unprepared to deal with being attacked on his immigration position from the right. Walker saying he is in favor of letting anyone into the country who is willing to work hasn’t hurt him with Wisconsin Republicans. Wisconsin governors aren’t in charge of immigration, and Walker had been solid on the state-level issues that were relevant to his job. But that kind of statement looks different coming from a prospective president. This isn’t just about immigration. It is only one example of the kinds of problems that could come up and the worst part is that, unless Walker does a very thorough job of self-scouting, he won’t know he has a problem until his opponents are already bashing him.
Also, if he is going to run for president, Walker needs to get more comfortable talking about social issues and recognizing that going into a defensive crouch has been the problem. The Romney and McCain campaign’s problem wasn’t that they talked too much about abortion. It was that they let the opposition set the terms of the debate.