The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

As Scott Walker readies for 2016, Jeb Bush should be worried

It seems former Florida governor Jeb Bush has gotten a jump on his rivals for the 2016 Republican nomination. The younger Bush “is quickly building a sophisticated political operation,” reports The Post, announcing two PACs and fundraising dates and hiring operatives. As Matea Gold and Robert Costa wrote earlier this week, Bush’s decisive movement has forced other would-be hopefuls to wake up and smell the primary coffee, but many of them are still stuck in the planning stages. (Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, for example, are both still meeting with advisers.)

One primary rival, though, who has moved faster than some others is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. CNN first reported yesterday that Walker hired his would-be campaign manager (former Republican National Committee political director Rick Wiley) a month ago and that Walker plans to use the RNC winter meetings “to meet with committee members, including delegations from the early primary and caucus states.” Walker also announced that he will speak at the end of January at the Iowa Freedom Summit, hosted by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and the group Citizens United, joining a list that includes almost every potential GOP candidate besides Bush and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). And perhaps most notably, Walker is avoiding political fights at home after four years of bruising battles with Wisconsin labor unions, which saves him valuable time to pal around with donors and delegates.

Surprisingly, though, many “state of the GOP” pieces make little or no mention of Walker. But Bush would be wise not to take Walker so lightly. Right now, Walker is the candidate who can most realistically unite the base and the establishment wings of the party. One only needs to glance at conservative media to see that the Republican base has little time for Jeb Bush. (See Noah Rothman at Hot Air, for example.) Walker, by contrast, is a hero to the grassroots after winning multiple battles with Wisconsin Democrats and unions. And he also has shown the ability to bring in the money from big donors — facing a recall election in 2012, Walker outraised his Democratic opponent eight to one, with contributions from 13 billionaires outside of the state, including conservative influentials like Sheldon Adelson, Rich DeVos and Joe Ricketts. And his Wisconsin base should give him plenty of chances to woo Iowa Republicans over the next year. If Jeb Bush and his team are starting up their opposition research unit, Walker is the first one they should target.