Walker: Hillary a ‘product of Washington,’ vulnerable to someone like him

Gov. Scott Walker, signing books. (Reid Pillifant)
Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print

On Monday night, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker explained to a crowd in New York City why he thinks Republicans should nominate a governor in 2016.

"I think if we're going to take on Hillary Clinton in the next election, we need somebody who's as far removed from Washington," Walker said, at the New York Meeting in Manhattan. "Because Hillary Clinton wasn't just secretary of state, wasn't just a U.S. senator, wasn't just the first lady. She's been a product of Washington for decades.

"And we need to have the most compelling message, and if we're going to beat somebody like Hillary Clinton, we've got to have somebody from outside of Washington, who's got a proven record of reform. And frankly, to me, that could be any one of the 30 Republican governors."

In an interview that aired on Sunday morning, Walker told ABC News that the ideal 2016 candidate wouldn't come from Congress, an opinion that effectively ruled out some of the most talked-about contenders for the next Republican nomination, including senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Walker's friend, Rep. Paul Ryan.

MORE ON CAPITAL

ADVERTISEMENT

Asked about that comment on Monday night, Walker said he wanted to "clarify" that he "didn't vote people off," before restating his preference for a governor, and framing it as a response to the presumed candidacy of Clinton. (Walker was actually responding to a question about New Jersey governor Chris Christie that didn't so much as mention Clinton.)

Walker's attempt at winnowing seemed to be a clear sign he'll consider seeking the Republican nomination himself, and he didn't discourage that idea on Monday night.

Mary Kissel, a Wall Street Journal editorial board member, began her question about who he most admired with the preface: "Since you're clearly running for president...," and so did the next questioner, from the crowd. Walker—who is currently promoting his new book, Unintimidated—ignored the suggestion, but didn't ever refute it.

And his ideal candidate just happens to hew quite closely to Walker's own political profile, right down to his prescription for running—not as a draconian budget-cutter, like some in Congress—but as a "reformer" running on an inclusive economic message.

"You want to lead in battleground states like Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Florida, Virginia, and elsewhere, you have to show you're a reformer, not just a Republican," Walker said.

He framed his contentious union fight in Wisconsin—a battle over collective bargaining—as a way to balance the budget without raising taxes or laying off government workers.

Walker's dramatic victory in that fight, and a subsequent recall election, made him an early darling of the Tea Party movement. But, unlike some of the Tea Party acolytes in Congress, Walker has maintained his good standing among the Republican establishment.

The crowd on Monday night gave him a (mostly) standing ovation when he took the podium, and he was similarly well received at the Harvard Club last year, when a group of local Republicans urged him to go national with his plainspoken economic prescriptions.

That leaves Walker essentially competing with Christie for the pro-business mantle within the party, and its lucrative donors. (To wit: Among those urging Walker to run last year was Ken Langone, the Home Depot founder, who also nudged Christie.)

Walker was careful on Monday not to criticize Christie, and didn't disagree with Christie's idea that his big win is a model for national Republicans.

"I think it's strong," he told Capital. "We'll learn a lot from the 2014 elections as well. But clearly to me that the was the difference, he got out early, had a strong impact, identified himself well and that allowed him to broaden his base. Versus Virginia, where the candidate there was behind from Day One financially."

He also said Christie was among the half-dozen governor he mentions in his new book.

"I mean, he did pension reform—not quite to the level I did—but he did it despite having both houses controlled by Democrats," said Walker, who called himself "blessed" for having a Republican legislature.

Walker wasn't as impressed with the campaign of Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate in 2012.

"I don't mean this to be sarcastic, but if Mitt Romney ran on an economic message, you could have fooled me, because I didn't hear it in Wisconsin," he said.

"Unfortunately, for whatever reason, his campaign allowed the focus to be just on saying we're not Barack Obama … and instead they defined him, not as a Republican, but the 'R' next to his name stood for rich guy, who only cared about rich guys," Walker added. "That's unfair, that's untrue, but that's what he was defined as."