Scott Walker is sort of a bland guy.
For most politicians, that description would be a giant insult and the sort of thing that might make the political chattering class wonder if they have the "it" factor to be president. For Walker, it's a description he embraces with open arms and one that has propelled him to near the top of the 2016 Republican presidential field even before he officially announces his candidacy Monday night in Wisconsin.
That vanilla-ness has been front and center for Walker since he emerged as a potential national candidate during the 2010 governor's race. That campaign centered on the idea of how Walker packed his lunch in a brown bag every day and would bring that sort of common-sense-every-day-ness to the governor's office. Here's how the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explained the Wisconsin governor's appeal in that race: "Walker used a brown bag as his campaign theme, telling voters he saved his family money by regularly packing his own lunch of two ham and cheese sandwiches. On the stump, he preached the value of limited government, reining in spending and getting government out of the way of the private sector."
Once elected, Walker moved to ban collective bargaining rights for public-sector unions in the state. And Democrats aggressively sought to portray Walker as a wolf in sheep's clothing -- someone who might come across as your next door neighbor but whose ideas would force you out of your house.
It didn't really work. Walker won the June 2012 recall election occasioned by his move on unions by a wider margin than he had won the office in 2010. And despite Democrats' insistence that Walker was in deep trouble in 2014, he won that race by almost seven points.
Walker's regular guy-ness had a lot to do with each of those victories. Wisconsin voters never really believed that Walker was the guy Democrats said he was. The brown-bag image had sunk its roots in deep -- affirmed by how, well, unexciting Walker was when he spoke in public.
Given Walker's successes running as an everyman, it's not surprising he's kept polishing that image as he's hit the 2016 campaign trail. Here's a write-up by the Journal Sentinel's Patrick Marley detailing Walker's image-creation in early states:
In New Hampshire recently, he talked about using coupons and Kohl's Cash to get the lowest possible prices, and he bragged that he'd scored his sweater for $1 at the Wisconsin-based retailer. He told audiences how much he was looking forward to riding his Harley-Davidson Road King across the state.
Then, last Thursday, he made an impromptu stop at a Harley dealer in Greenville, S.C.
"It was the most suits they've ever seen in a Harley-Davidson in their lives," he told supporters, referring to his entourage. "But I got my shirts and now I'll come home and my wife will say, 'OK, you needed, what, a hundred and one Harley-Davidson shirts?'"
And, it's not just what Walker does on the trail that's aimed at presenting him as just a normal working Joe to voters. As we've noted in this space, Walker's Twitter feed is brilliantly bland. Nia-Malika Henderson wrote:
Yes, this is a snooze fest, and that's precisely the point. Whereas some see social media as a way to burnish their cool-ness bona fides among the youngsters, Walker is all "Leave it To Beaver" Midwestern earnestness. He is anti-cool, the exact opposite of Barack Obama, the BuzzFeed President.
Here's just one example:
The question at the center of Walker's soon-to-be official presidential campaign is whether Americans (or, more specifically, Republicans) want a president whose big selling point is that he's just like them. Yes, it worked in Wisconsin. But, being the governor of a Midwestern state -- where people prize quiet determination and hard work over glitz -- is very different than distinguishing yourself in a massively crowded Republican presidential field. See: Pawlenty, Tim. People tend to pick presidents who they believe get them at some deep level but are also people they admire as a full realization of what a citizen can be.
One thing working in Walker's favor in terms of selling the bland approach is that many Republicans have an almost visceral revulsion to the glamour that they see President Obama and his eight years in office representing. We tried the superstar, you can hear Walker saying, and look what we got out of it. How about this time around we pick a workhorse rather than a showhorse.
In short: Don't expect Walker to wow you -- on the debate stage or on the stump. The not-wowing is the point.