With 2016 looming, a look at what Scott Walker has been telling the nation
The contours of a Scott Walker presidential campaign have begun to take shape.
Officially, Walker has said he has not decided on a run and says he’s happy in his current job.
But he has given a series of national television interviews since winning a Wisconsin governor’s race for the third time in four years and is not just happily abiding the speculation. His comments — from targeting Hillary Clinton to describing the best candidate as a sitting governor — are fueling it.
He will draw more national attention at the Republican Governors Association annual meetings, set for Nov. 19 to 21, 2014 in Boca Raton, Fla., which will also feature other GOP governors who are presidential prospects.
We have fact-checked Walker more than any other Wisconsin politician (118 times, and counting).
But the national buzz around Walker -- who is said by some to be running for president, undeclared, already -- presents a good opportunity for us to examine what he's been telling the country.
Here are five points he has emphasized during interviews on five talk shows -- Fox News’ "Hannity" and "Fox & Friends," NBC’s "Meet the Press," CNBC’s "Squawk Box" and MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" -- since being re-elected Nov. 4, 2014.
In two of the interviews, when asked about his own plans for 2016, Walker made a point to bring up former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, considered the likely Democratic nominee.
"I think in many ways, she was the big loser on Tuesday," Walker said on "Meet the Press," referring to Republican gains in U.S. House and Senate elections held the same day he won re-election, "because she embodies everything that's wrong with Washington."
Walker’s rhetoric was similar on "Fox & Friends," where he called Clinton the "biggest" loser in the mid-terms.
"She embodies Washington, she embodies that old, tired, top-down approach from the government. I think in the states, with governors, we offer a much better alternative. And I think there’s a number of us who would be good prospects out there."
Walker went further -- from talking about Clinton to talking about himself -- on "Squawk Box." Here was the exchange when Walker was asked what type of Republican could beat Clinton:
Walker: Well, I think -- what I’ve shown in Wisconsin is I’m a common-sense conservative who gets things done.
Host, interjecting: Oh -- are you runnin’?
Walker: Oh, no, no; I said that’s what people see in Wisconsin.
He continued: Overall, that’s why I’ve said repeatedly I think a chief executive at the state level who can take on the mess in Washington is the best pick for Republicans two years from now."
On getting things done, Walker cites a number of his accomplishments as he wraps up his first term as governor, and looks ahead to a second four-year term starting in January 2015:
Solving a $3.6 billion state budget shortfall; saving taxpayers $3 billion through collective bargaining reforms that stripped public employee unions of much of their power; reducing property and other taxes by $2 billion; freezing college tuition; adding more than 100,000 private-sector jobs.
But some of the accomplishments come with downsides for a potential 2016 candidate.
As is well known in Wisconsin, the impressive-sounding 100,000-plus jobs gained during Walker's first four-year term shrink when compared to the 250,000 jobs he promised to create. And the governor has slipped up in some of his bragging, as we noted in an article reviewing his appearance on "Meet the Press."
For example, Walker said on that show Wisconsin would start its 2015-’17 budget cycle with "more than a half a billion dollars in surplus." But when he previously made a similar claim, we rated it False. The state actually faces a nearly $1.8 billion shortfall, based on the accepted approach long used by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
Beyond his accomplishments, Walker suggests that his 2010 election as governor, surviving a recall in 2012 and then winning re-election, show he has appeal even in Democratic-leaning states like Wisconsin.
But no Republican presidential nominee has won Wisconsin since Ronald Reagan in 1984. And even with Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as the GOP vice-presidential nominee in 2012, Barack Obama carried the Badger State by seven points.
(A side note: Ryan is a potential 2016 contender in his own right. And although Walker has repeatedly said he would serve as the president of Ryan’s fan club, in his most recent national interviews he did not indicate he would step aside should Ryan make a run.)
Walker attributes his victories, in part, to being a strong leader with bold ideas -- traits that perhaps would appeal at the national level.
"Obviously, we did stand up and lead, we did exactly what we said we were going to do," Walker said on "Hannity." "And four years later, even with all this money, all these attacks, not only did I win, but we added (Republican) seats in our state Senate, we added seats in our state Assembly."
He was more pointed on "Squawk Box" when asked who the GOP should run in 2016.
"I think going forward, what you need is a big, bold leader from outside of Washington who can finish the deal and show the American people that we can take on Washington, D.C., dismantle it, and send the power not only back to the states but ultimately to the people, and that’s what our Founders wanted," he said.
Dismantle Washington? Walker didn't elaborate. But he's shown a penchant for game-changing moves.
Walker's boldest action as governor was the 2011 collective bargaining reforms, which required most state and local public employees in Wisconsin to pay more for health and pension benefits, while also taking away nearly all of their union powers. The law spurred massive protests in Madison, the 2012 recall attempt and, as Walker has noted, millions of dollars in campaign spending against him by national public employee unions.
(It’s worth noting that when Walker said he ran in 2010 on the collective bargaining changes that became Act 10, we rated his claim False. He didn’t go public with even the bare-bones of that plan before being elected.)
Perhaps with an eye to the Republican primaries and caucuses, Walker has taken opportunities to burnish his conservative credentials.
In two of the interviews, he took a swipe at big government -- as he did in his election-night victory speech that appeared crafted for a national audience -- while telling how he faced down the national union opposition.
"We took the power away from the big-government special interests in Washington and we put it in the hands of the taxpayers right here in our state," Walker said on "Squawk Box." "In the end, the taxpayers decided they wanted the power to stay with them and not be with these big government special interests."
Walker also sounded a conservative theme in restating his opposition to taking additional federal money, through the Obamacare health reforms, that would have made more people in Wisconsin eligible for Medicaid.
"I just ask the basic question: Why is more people on Medicaid a good thing?" Walker said on "Morning Joe."
"I’d rather find a way -- particularly for able-bodied adults without children -- I’d like to find a way to get them into the workforce, to transition them from government dependence to true independence. I think ideologically that’s a much better approach, not just as a conservative but as an American. You help more people live the American dream if they’re not dependent on the government."
But Walker’s suggestion that most people receiving food stamps are not working by choice — and his latest proposal to drug test people receiving food stamps and unemployment benefits — have drawn criticism from opponents. They question how it helps struggling, low-income people already down on their luck to deny them health care, unemployment or food stamps, and say drug testing in other states has proved to be a waste of taxpayer money.
Walker, of course, faces any number of other Republicans should he formally seek the GOP nomination. But he doesn’t seem daunted.
The host on "Fox & Friends" alluded to a Nov. 4, 2014 exit poll in which only 42 percent of Wisconsin voters said he would make a good president (46 percent said Ryan would).
Walker replied by saying "any poll right now is ridiculous. You look over the past four or five elections, people who poll high at the beginning are not the people who end up being the nominees."
(That's a claim we plan to fact check.)
A governor, Walker added, finishing his thought, "is your best prospect."