2:59 pm Jul. 9, 2012
In an upstairs ballroom of the Harvard Club this afternoon, a number of New York's most generous conservative donors urged Wisconsin recall-election-survivor governor Scott Walker to allow America to see more of him.
"I happen to think your victory, that election, is as important an election as we've had in this country in a long time, including the one coming up," said Ken Langone, the founder of Home Depot and a longtime contributor to Republican causes, during a question-and-answer session after Walker's speech to about 100 guests of the Manhattan Institute. "That said, you've now gone to a much higher level of standing within the nation and the party, and I guess what I'm asking you is to think about taking advantage of that platform."
After winning a recall election with 53 percent of the vote last month, Walker is attempting to do just that.
He appeared on CNBC's "Squawk Box" this morning, opposite Howard Dean, and he was scheduled to travel to Philadelphia for another engagement shortly after his Harvard Club remarks today.
Gone were the protesters who greeted his visit to the city last summer, replaced by a cheering contingent of Republican benefactors, a crowd that included Langone, John Catsimatidis, Ravenel Curry III, and New York's Republican chairman, Ed Cox.
The crowd gave Walker a standing ovation when he began his remarks, and another when he finished, with generous laughter and applause in between, as the governor joked about being flipped off by protesters in Wisconsin and yelled at by people who recognized him on his last trip to New York.
The questions for the governor from the audience were not difficult ones.
"Let me be very blunt," said Langone in a long wind-up to his question. "From 2001 to 2007, we, the Republican Party, did a helluva good job of spending money in Washington, OK? And I think that the days are over when we can cast ourselves one way and do something else."
Langone, an outspoken booster of New Jersey governor Chris Christie, said he was "appealing to you, with this new platform you've got, and I don't know if you realize it, but the awesome respect you have from so many Americans across the United States," to hold other members of the party accountable.
Langone mentioned Representative Paul Ryan, a fellow Wisconsite who Walker had earlier said grew up down the road from him.
"I asked Congressman Ryan, who is now a deficit hawk, where was he those six years when we were spending money like drunk sailors in Washington," Langone said. "He voted for every spending bill that came down the road. I'm suspicious of people that have a newfound faith. We all have come-to-Jesus moments, but ..."
Langone said Walker had the standing to articulate the formula for electoral success across the country and hold other Republicans accountable, not just on spending, but on issues like tort reform too.
"I think it's very important that we address those people in our party who are taking money, left and right, from the same trial lawyers that we say are the problem, for example Lindsey Graham in South Carolina," Langone said. "Frankly I think you've got a great opportunity to be very forceful and very candid, and hold a lot of people in our party accountable and I think if we do that, we're going to be much stronger and have a much bigger base than we now have.
"So I'm just curious how you react to that newfound authority that I hope you know you have."
When Langone finished, the crowd applauded.
Walker said his post-victory goals included making the case for Wisconsin's reforms, campaigning for like-minded candidates across the country and trying to influence policy by encouraging other leaders to take on bold reforms.
Walker also mentioned campaigning for Mitt Romney, and advising him to campaign like a reformer.
"My advice to him on that particular point was, come back to Wisconsin often, but remember when you come, if you want to have a chance with those swing voters who will determine who wins Wisconsin and maybe America, campaign as though the 'R' next to your name is not just for 'Republican' like me, campaign as though the 'R' next to your name stands for 'reformer,' just like me," Walker said.
He also said he'd been going to other states for Romney.
"In addition to helping in Wisconsin, I've told Governor Romney I'd help anywhere else, so they're sending me a number of other places around the country that are scheduled for next," he said.
But Walker said his plans don't include any runs for higher office, and joked about his wife throwing a shoe through the window at the podium if he indicated he was running for something else.
After the event, I asked Langone who he'd like to see on the ticket with Romney.
He gestured toward Walker and said, "I think he'd be great as a vice president, but I don't think he's ready to do it."