What’s Scott Walker up to?

September 24, 2012

In the course of the last 96 hours, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has twice gone public with his concerns about the campaign former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is running, insisting that GOP presidential nominee has to, among other things, show more passion and be more bold on the campaign trail.


“I was enthused when Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan because I thought that was a signal that this guy was getting serious, he was getting bold,” Walker said on Friday. “I just haven’t seen that kind of passion I know that Paul has transferred over to our nominee.”

Then in an appearance on "Fox News Sunday", Walker said he wanted "to see fire in the belly" of Romney, adding: “I think you’ve got to get off the heels and get out and charge forward." 

This isn't the first time Walker has publicly questioned the approach of the Romney campaign. Back in June at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast in Washington, Walker asserted that "[Romney's] got to have a simple message of not only why we need to replace the current occupant in the White House, but also why he would be better.”

For a campaign that has struggled to stay on its preferred message over the last few weeks, Walker's latest bit of armchair quarterbacking isn't likely to elicit much positive reaction from Romney world. But, that he is willing to offer his criticism so publicly -- and so close to an election -- is worth further explanation.

"It’s something that a number of us have been scratching our heads about for a few months," said one GOP consultant who has closely tracked Walker's career. "I don’t know what the end game is here."

The simplest answer is that politicians act political. STUNNER. But, there are also a few other slightly more nuanced explanations for why Walker has emerged -- or installed himself -- as the elected official most willing to critique his own team.

Here are four:

1. He believes it: Walker's first few years in office suggest he is committed to principle at (almost) the expense of his job. One way of viewing his willingness to call out Romney's campaign for alleged missteps is that Walker is a true believer in the conservative cause and is simply compelled to make suggestions in hopes of helping the GOP ticket win.

2. He's protecting Paul Ryan: It's no secret that Walker and Ryan are close. (Who could forget the shot of Walker crying as Ryan spoke at the Republican National Convention last month?) In Walker's comments on Friday he all but said that Ryan was being misused by the Romney campaign and that they had to let Paul be Paul. Walker could be doing a bit of political wing man duty for Ryan here -- ensuring that if Romney goes down to defeat, Ryan's 2016 prospects aren't tarnished by the loss.

3. He's protecting himself (for 2016): Walker became a major conservative hero this summer when he beat back organized labor's attempt to recall him.  And, while he has largely avoided talking openly about running for president, he's not exactly gone Sherman-eque about the possibility either. “I’d like now and into the future to play a bigger role not only in Wisconsin and the Midwest, but nationally,” Walker told Politico in June. “I’d like to have an impact.” Putting himself front and center as a leading critic of the way Romney is running his campaign positions Walker to be the face of the "I told you so" crowd in four years time if Romney loses. 

4. He's protecting himself (for 2014): Walker faces what will be an incredibly high profile re-election race -- particularly if he continues to intimate he might run for president --  in two years time. To win, he'll need to convince the same independent/unaffiliated voters who went for him in 2010 and the 2011 recall to do so again. What better way to do that than cast yourself as the guy who told Mitt Romney he needed to run a more issue oriented, positive campaign?

What's the real reason for Walker's prominence as as a Romney critic? Probably a little bit of all four of the factors mentioned above. But whatever the reason, Walker's outspokenness has emerged as a fascinating subplot in the broader 2012 presidential race.

Obama launches '47 percent' ad: A new ad from the Obama campaign hits Romney for both his comments about the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay taxes and his own personal taxes.

The ad features the grainy hidden-camera footage of Romney speaking at a fundraiser and quotes him saying, "My job is not to worry about those people."

The narrator then chimes in: "Doesn't the president have to worry about everyone?" (Romney's campaign, for what it's worth, has noted that Romney was referring to campaign strategy and not how he would govern.)

The ad also points out that Romney paid a 14.1 percent effective tax rate in 2011 and hasn't released prior returns.

"Maybe instead of attacking others on taxes, Romney should come clean on his," the narrator says.

House Republicans launch ads in 26 districts: The National Republican Congressional Committee is up with more than $6 million worth of ads in 26 districts -- the latest indication of where the battle for the House will be focused.

The new ads, first reported by Roll Call on Sunday, include nine districts Democrats currently control, 13 that are controlled by Republicans and four that were either newly created or merged by redistricting.

The ads cover a wide range of topics, from tying the Democrats in those districts to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Obama to their votes for Obamacare.

Fixbits:

In opposing interviews on CBS's "60 Minutes," Romney says his campaign doesn't need a turnaround and Obama hits back at Romney's foreign policy criticism by saying, "If Governor Romney is suggesting that we should start another war, he should say so."

A new poll conducted for Ohio newspapers shows Obama leading in that state 51 percent to 46 percent.

Romney is up with a new ad titled "Stand Up to China."

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus says last week was "probably not the best week" for Romney.

Robert Gibbs lowers the debate expectations for Obama.

Paul Ryan hits Obama on the state of the U.S. space program. Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich says the Romney-Ryan plan isn't good enough either.

Bill Clinton says he doesn't know whether his wife will run for president in 2016.

A new Mason-Dixon poll in Montana shows Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) leading Sen. Jon Tester (D). 

A new ad from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) features his wife, who has been cutting her husband's hair for 20 years and says "he's cheap."

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas) says he is open to addressing campaign finance reform after the election.

The campaign office of Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) was apparently vandalized this weekend, and computer hard drives were erased. 

Did Rick Perry's back problems doom his campaign? A new book seeks answers.

Must-reads:

"For Vice President, a Heartbeat Away From the Public Isn’t Close Enough" -- Trip Gabriel, New York Times

"An Evangelical Is Back From Exile, Lifting Romney" -- Jo Becker, New York Times

"Can Romney replicate Bush’s 2004 path to victory? It looks dicey." -- Chris Cillizza, Washington Post

"Super PAC Influence Falls Short Of Aims" -- Neil King Jr., Wall Street Journal

"In Ohio county, electorate is hardened and fractured" -- Joel Achenbach, Washington Post

"Romney team is both defiant and realistic" -- Dan Balz and Philip Rucker, Washington Post
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Sean Sullivan · September 23, 2012