A day after dining with advocates of supply-side economics and conservative editorial writers, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker had breakfast Thursday in Manhattan with some of the GOP’s biggest donors.
The gathering was Walker’s latest attempt to court financiers in New York, which has long been friendly political terrain for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a potential 2016 rival. Both governors are considering bids for the Republican presidential nomination.
Businessman Roger Hertog, chairman emeritus of the conservative Manhattan Institute, hosted the occasion, which was held at Hertog’s office at 745 Fifth Avenue.
Thursday’s breakfast was not a fundraiser. Instead, it was a chance for Walker to pitch himself to Hertog’s wealthy circle of friends, according to several people with knowledge of the event. More than two dozen Republican donors attended.
Hertog, who also once served on the board of the American Enterprise Institute and co-founded the New York Sun newspaper, was a key backer of Walker in 2012, when he survived a state recall election.
The event followed Walker's talk Wednesday night to a packed private room at the “21 Club" about his battles with public-employee unions and his political future. The crowd was a mix of conservative journalists and political figures.
Paul Gigot, the editorial-page editor of the Wall Street Journal was there, as were Fox Business personalities Maria Bartiromo and John Stossel. So was former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who told the crowd he does not think President Obama "loves America."
According to several attendees, when Walker talked about the need for sweeping tax cuts, Kudlow flashed a thumbs-up sign. And when he was asked about his latest round of proposed budget cuts to Wisconsin universities, Walker defended his agenda and said wants to slow the rise of tuition costs and require professors to teach more courses.
But most attendees said the most memorable moment came when Walker compared himself to President Ronald Reagan.
As several people recalled, Walker argued his efforts to curb collective-bargaining rights for public employees in Wisconsin was a grand gesture that reflected his leadership style and sent a message, not only to Democrats but abroad.
Walker said Reagan acted in a similar fashion when he clashed with federal air-traffic controllers during their strike in the early 1980s. By fighting those union members, Walker said, Reagan was signaling his strength to the Soviet Union.
Walker then turned to foreign affairs. He said the U.S. military needs to be bolstered to combat the Islamic State terror group and said he is inclined to support the possible use of coalition air and ground troops to curb its spread in the region.
On 2016, Walker presented himself as a candidate who could offer voters an alternative conservative vision, rather than a critique of President Obama’s tenure. He said Mitt Romney, the GOP’s 2012 nominee, failed to make an effective case, and knocked Romney for losing an election Walker thought was winnable.
Giuliani heaped praise on Walker and also questioned whether Obama loves the United States. According to attendees, Walker did not contest Giuliani’s comments, which included remarks on how the president’s upbringing makes him different from those at the table.
John Catsimatidis, the billionaire supermarket owner and former Republican mayoral candidate in New York, sponsored the Wednesday dinner. Economists Larry Kudlow, Arthur Laffer, and Stephen Moore moderated Wednesday's discussion.
Laffer is best known for authoring the “Laffer curve,” an argument for increasing federal revenue by lowering taxes. Moore, a former Wall Street Journal writer and founder of the Club for Growth, now works at the Heritage Foundation. Kudlow, a fixture on cable television, was one of Reagan’s advisers on fiscal and economic matters.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said Paul Gigot flashed a thumbs-up sign during Walker’s answer on taxes. Gigot, in an e-mail Thursday, denied he made a gesture. He also said he did not make any endorsement of Walker’s response to his question.