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Scott Walker calls Reagan’s bust of air traffic controller strike ‘most significant foreign policy decision’

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) was wrapping up 45 minutes of talking to the Club for Growth here about economic growth and fiscal reform Saturday morning when a humbling question came hard and fast.

Frayda Levin, a board member of the Club for Growth who moderated a question-and-answer session with Walker, said that after the governor met with top donors in New York last week, "the feedback was you were not prepared to speak about foreign policy." What, Levin asked, was he doing to prepare to be president?

Walker responded by ticking through his recent itinerary of face time with foreign policy luminaries: a breakfast with Henry Kissinger, a huddle with George P. Shultz and tutorials at the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution.

But then Walker suggested that didn't much matter.

“I think foreign policy is something that’s not just about having a PhD or talking to PhD’s," he said. "It’s about leadership."

Walker contended that "the most significant foreign policy decision of my lifetime" was then-President Ronald Reagan's move to bust a 1981 strike of air traffic controllers, firing some 11,000 of them.

"It sent a message not only across America, it sent a message around the world," Walker said. America's allies and foes alike became convinced that Reagan was serious enough to take action and that "we weren't to be messed with," he said.

Walker's comments came two days after he took heat for saying at the Conservative Political Action Conference that his experience battling labor protesters in Wisconsin has prepared him to take on Islamic State terrorists.

Walker was one of six potential Republican presidential candidates, including former Florida governor Jeb Bush, to address Club for Growth's three-day winter meeting at the luxurious Breakers hotel in Palm Beach.

Walker sought to convince potential campaign donors here that if he were elected president, "I would listen to the chain of command. I would listen to the generals in the field, not just those in the joint chiefs. I would listen to the secretary of state, to the secretary of defense and to the national security adviser.”

Levin, who also sits on the board of Americans for Prosperity, the conservative group funded in part by the industrialist Koch brothers, said that she would support Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in the presidential race but that she was impressed with Walker's performance here.

Walker's speech, as well as his question-and-answer session, focused mostly on economic and fiscal policies. He said he supported eliminating the Export-Import Bank, a priority for the Club for Growth. Asked which federal agencies or functions he would "totally privatize," Walker suggested giving states the responsibility for Medicaid and transportation infrastructure projects.

In his remarks, Walker said Republicans should focus not only on austerity, but also on economic growth and fiscal reform.

“Who gets excited about austerity?" he said, adding, "I don't think there's enough talk about growth."