Conservatives generally and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s camp specifically got a good laugh when the president, with a straight face, advised the hawkish governor to “bone up” on foreign policy. No really, he said it. It was part of his condescending dismissal of criticism of his Iran non-deal/deal as invalid, uniformed or strictly partisan. But as some criticisms come from a bipartisan array of Iran experts, many lawmakers and allies, his arrogant retort only reinforces that in lieu of informed debate President Obama offers only insults. That lack of respect for opponents and their arguments has been the default attitude throughout his presidency. The snarky response is much more revealing of the president’s habitual contempt for real debate than of Walker’s foreign policy sophistication. (The Post editorial board previously expressed hope “Mr. Obama will make as much effort to engage in good faith with skeptical allies and domestic critics as he has with the Iranian regime.”)
Walker was more than happy to be singled out and retorted in a written statement, “President Obama’s failed leadership has put him at odds with many across the country, including members of his own party, and key allies around the world. Americans would be better served by a president who spent more time working with governors and members of Congress rather than attacking them.” He continued, “Whether it is cutting a bad deal with Iran, calling ISIS the JV squad, or touting Yemen as a success story, Obama’s lack of leadership has hurt America’s safety and standing in the world.”
The president’s slap at Walker follows a jab last month over Walker’s signing of Wisconsin’s state right-to-work law. (“I’m deeply disappointed that a new anti-worker law in Wisconsin will weaken, rather than strengthen workers in the new economy. Wisconsin is a state built by labor, with a proud pro-worker past. So even as its governor claims victory over working Americans, I’d encourage him to try and score a victory for working Americans – by taking meaningful action to raise their wages and offer them the security of paid leave.”) Then, too, Walker was quick to reply, “It’s disappointing that President Obama has come out against a policy that gives workers freedom of choice in the workplace. The fact is, right to work states grow jobs and wages twice as fast as forced-union states do. By contrast, the President supports a wage policy that the Congressional Budget Office said will likely kill 500,000 American jobs. Gov. Walker remains focused on providing freedom and economic opportunity to workers.”
The exchanges are helpful to Walker in several respects. First, they emphasize his position as a top-tier candidate and remind Republicans he is aggressive enough to absorb shots against his policies and respond in kind. Republicans are in a feisty mood and, regardless of the topic, they want a standard bearer ready and able to take on the liberal attack machine that is sure to be rolled out to assist Hillary Clinton. Walker’s image as a fighter and a winner, honed in his fights with Big Labor, is for many Republicans a central aspect of his appeal. And, Walker’s criticism of foreign policy is on the money and coincides with voters’ disapproval of the president’s handling of Iran and foreign policy. A central focus of the 2016 presidential race will be a referendum on the Obama foreign policy, so Walker benefits by beginning that argument now and reaffirming his toughness.
In the future, Walker might want to cement the link between the president and Clinton, who was the co-author of the Obama “smart diplomacy,” by remarking, say, “President Obama’s and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s failed leadership has put them at odds with many across the country, including members of their own party, and key allies around the world. Americans would be better served by a president who spent more time working with governors and members of Congress rather than attacking them. . . . Obama’s and Clinton’s lack of leadership has hurt America’s safety and standing in the world.” Clinton is, all things considered, getting off easily at this point as the policies launched during her tenure and which she continues to cheer explode in the administration’s face one by one. Linking Clinton to that disastrous record and making clear the GOP nominee would take the country in a different direction will be a key requirement for the party’s presidential pick. The 2016 hopefuls should start now.