Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is sounding more like a presidential candidate every day. On Sunday he said on ABC’s “This Week” that the GOP presidential nominee should be a governor: “I think it’s got to be an outsider. I think both the presidential and the vice presidential nominee should either be a former or current governor, people who have done successful things in their states, who have taken on big reforms, who are ready to move America forward.” That is the first time he pointedly suggested that his friend and fellow Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan wouldn’t be the ideal choice, although he hastened to add that “Paul Ryan, if he had a fan club, I’d be the president of that.”
Walker, like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, has a reelection campaign before the 2016 race gets underway, so he’ll need to win impressively there to boost his visibility and be able to make the electability test convincingly.
Beyond that, he’ll have to decide if he wants to go up against Ryan, should his longtime friend and ally decide to run. This seems even more improbable than a Jeb Bush vs. Sen. Marco Rubio face-off. If Walker decides to go forward, he’ll need to figure out if he can compete for fundraising dollars with such figures as Christie, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), all of whom have much higher visibility and established national fundraising networks. He’s unlikely to be able to match these contenders up front, so like many candidates (e.g. Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum) he will have to do well in Iowa (certainly possible since he is right next door and a household name) to propel him into New Hampshire and beyond. That means a lot of time in a neighboring state. Beyond that (quite a bit, I grant you), he needs to put in place a presidential campaign-level team and get up to speed on foreign policy.
But the question he and every other candidate will have to answer is : Why him? “Everyone’s second choice” was not a winning formula for former governor Tim Pawlenty. And chances are there will be more than one governor in the race, so executive achievement may be necessary but not sufficient to put Walker into the top tier. It’s hard to slice up the electorate so finely as to separate himself from other contenders. The more-conservative-than-Christie-but-less-than-Perry governor? I’ve yet to find many (any?) party activists who don’t like Walker, but goodwill will wear off quickly if he doesn’t have a robust campaign and message.
I do not mean to suggest there is not a rationale or path to the nomination for Walker. To the contrary, he may be among the most solid GOP contenders. But he will, as I suggest here, have to do a lot of legwork and hard thinking in the next year or so about a presidential race. It would be a tragedy for him and the party if, like Perry in 2012, he were to run with too little preparation and too novice a staff. Walker has had an impressive career as governor and can certainly be on a presidential ticket; he just needs to decide sooner rather than later if 2016 is his year and if the presidency is where he wants to start. (It is noteworthy that Ryan declined to run for the top of the ticket, got chosen as a vice presidential candidate and now is in the top tier of contenders.) If he does, Walker can be a formidable candidate.