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In Context: Scott Walker's critiques of the Mitt Romney 2012 presidential campaign

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney embraces Gov. Scott Walker at a 2012 campaign event in West Allis. (AP Photo) Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney embraces Gov. Scott Walker at a 2012 campaign event in West Allis. (AP Photo)

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney embraces Gov. Scott Walker at a 2012 campaign event in West Allis. (AP Photo)

By Dave Umhoefer September 12, 2013

What the heck did Gov. Scott Walker ever do to hack off Mitt Romney’s people?

An Associated Press story in early September 2013 said key donors to Romney’s failed campaign might shun a Walker presidential bid in 2016 because the Wisconsin governor had criticized Romney’s 2012 campaign.

In 2012 Walker traveled in support of Romney, and, after emerging strong from a recall election, is now among a group of Republican officials jockeying in advance of the still-distant presidential contest.

But the AP piece raised a question of whether Walker can court big-time Romney donors and fundraisers in the months and years ahead.

Citing Romney backers -- unnamed we should note -- it said Romney’s network might be leaning away from Walker and also from conservative "firebrands" like U.S. Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas.

So let’s look back at Walker’s various remarks on Romney and put them In Context, our occasional feature examining in detail comments that have come under public scrutiny.

Victory lap in Washington

Barely a week after his recall triumph, and just days before joining Romney’s bus tour through Wisconsin, Walker spoke June 14, 2012 with national political reporters in Washington, D.C., at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

At the time, President Obama was slightly ahead of Romney in most national polls, but essentially tied with him in May polling in Wisconsin, where Obama eventually would prevail comfortably, 53 percent to 46.

Walker offered what media accounts called advice and a critique.

The Washington Post reported it this way:

Walker said that voters there will not be persuaded simply by Romney’s party affiliation. Wisconsin voters, he said, are looking for candidates who are "willing to stick their neck out a little bit."

Though Romney has put forward a long economic plan, Walker said, "it’s got to be narrowed down to a very simple set of messages. ... He’s got to have a simple message of, not only why we need to replace the current occupant of the White House, but why he would do better."

Walker also urged Romney to be clearer on the question of how he would get his proposals accomplished.

"It’s not just that he’s running on them, but he’s going to deliver.Yes, I have a plan, and yes, I’m committed to acting on it."

Morning Joe appearance

Walker wasn’t done, and the second time around his message was still polite but a bit sharper in front of a national cable TV audience on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" show during the campaign, on July 25, 2012.

Walker criticized Romney’s caution, and what he viewed as the campaign’s mistakes in tactics and presentation, but said it was nothing personal. His comments led to headlines like this: Newsmax: "Scott Walker Joins GOP Chorus: Romney Too Timid." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:  "Walker chides Romney campaign’s ‘caution.’" The Blaze: "Scott Walker offers straight-talk critique of Romney campaign."

A hoarse-voiced Walker chatted amiably with the show’s host, former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough, and political analyst Mark Halperin:

Scarborough: Does it frustrate you that Mitt Romney still hasn’t found his voice and is not sticking his neck out?"

Walker: "I certainly hope when they get to the convention that that will be kind of the new splash out there. I think he’s got the capacity too. I mean look at his background, in business, at the Olympics, as a governor. I mean I think about the Big Dig, a lot of times they talk about health care but the Big Dig that’s a good example where he came in, rolled up his sleeves and said, "I’m taking control." I’d like to see him do that."

Scarborough: "Yeah he’s not doing that right now on the campaign trail, is he?

Walker: "No, I don’t think he is. I think there's a lot of caution. I think the mistake that they've made is the feeling like it can just be a referendum on the president. It's certainly a part of it for any incumbent; it's got to be a referendum on, do you like or dislike -- not just the president, but his policies. And on the policies, the economy’s failing. But there's got to be something more. People don't just vote somebody out -- they want to vote somebody in. You still have to make the case, which I think he can do at the convention."

Halperin: "When you say stuff like that as you have in past, do you hear from the Romney campaign?

Walker (smiling): "I hear from some, either directly or indirectly.

Halperin: "What do they say?"

Walker: "Well the bottom line is they’ve got a plan like any good campaign, and what I point out to them is I’m not attacking him, I think he’s got the capacity to do it. I just think he should do it more. When he was with Paul Ryan and I in Janesville a few weeks ago on the bus tour, he was great...I’d get rid of the podium, give him the mic, get him right in the crowd and defy all the stereotypes built up about him in the media."

September Comments on Ryan

Weeks after Romney selected Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, Walker made more pointed remarks on conservative talk radio in Milwaukee. They were picked up around the country.

From the Washington Post of Sept. 21, 2012:

In an interview with Charlie Sykes, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) said vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan should have a more substantive role in Mitt Romney’s campaign.

"I was enthused when Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan because I thought that was a signal that this guy was getting serious, he was getting bold," Walker said. "I just haven’t seen that kind of passion I know that Paul has transferred over to our nominee." The governor suggested that "pushback from some of the folks in the national campaign" was restraining the Wisconsin congressman from making detailed policy arguments.

Walker also suggested that while Romney was in sync with Ryan on policy, he could learn something from his running mate about how to talk about it. "They need to have more of him rub off on Mitt, because I think Mitt thinks that way but he’s gotta be able to articulate that," he said.

Walker added on Fox News Sunday two days later that Romney was qualified and experienced and had the right economic message, but wasn’t showing enough enthusiasm or offering

"I think you gotta get off the heels and get out and charge forward," Walker said. "Americans want a fighter, and not someone who’s going to fight over politics but rather who shows that this guy, Mitt Romney, is going to fight for the American people."

Walker added: "I want to see more passion....I want to see fire in the belly. I’ve seen it when he’s been in Wisconsin...that’s the Mitt Romney I know."

Election Aftermath

Finally, we turn to July 25, 2013, when Walker delivered a few election post-mortem thoughts at a Colorado summit of GOP governors.

"I still contend in my state, if Mitt Romney had made the ‘R’ next to his name, like I did, stand for ‘reformer’ rather than ‘rich guy’ -- nobody cares about rich guys -- he would have carried Wisconsin and every one of those battleground states," Walker said, according to the Aspen Times.

Looking ahead, Walker could learn first-hand in late September where he stands with some prominent Romney donors.

He’s on the list to attend a Sept. 23 fundraiser in New York at the home of senior Romney donor Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets. And the next day he’s set to attend a Washington fundraiser for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad organized in part by Lisa Spies, the wife of pro-Romney super PAC founder Charlie Spies, AP reported.

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Our Sources

The Associated Press, "Potential 2016 hopefuls quietly court Romney money," Sept. 9, 2013

MSNBC’s Morning Joe Show, video of Scott Walker appearance, July 25, 2012

The Washington Post, "Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker taking a victory lap through Washington," June 14, 2012

The Washington Post, "Scott Walker: Unleash Paul Ryan," Sept. 21, 2012

WTMJ-AM, Charlies Sykes Show podcast including Scott Walker remarks on Romney, Sept. 21, 2012

Fox News Sunday, video of Scott Walker appearance, Sept. 23, 2012

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In Context: Scott Walker's critiques of the Mitt Romney 2012 presidential campaign