Yesterday in Waukesha’s sweltering heat, Gov. Scott Walker announced what many have known for months: he’s joining 14 other Republican hopefuls in the 2016 presidential race. Like restaurant and hotel openings, this event was not immune from our patented Just Desserts series.
Claire Hanan, associate editor: Had you ever been to the Waukesha Expo Center before yesterday?
Matt Hrodey, senior editor: Only for an event we had a few years ago where I ended up holding a sign in a nearby parking lot. It was for shuttle parking, not protesting.
CH: Ah. Thanks for the distinction.
MH: Technically, I still haven’t been there.
CH: Righto! We were technically on the outer grass, under a big fat white “overflow” tent. It was a beautiful tent, though. What did you think of the suburban scene as we were driving up to it?
MH: With all the heat, cheap tickets and multi-generational crowding, I was having Summerfest flashbacks. And just like Summerfest, there was no free food. I thought the organizers could have done a bit more to supply cool, life-saving water.
What did you think of the speeches leading up to Walker’s? It’s political reporting protocol to ignore them, but maybe there are insights worth having.
CH: You can be the judge of my insight, but I thought they hit the right marks. The Walker children, Alex and Matt, hammered home his relateable dad-ness (including that Scott is a huge Star Wars fan), Rachel Campos-Duffy brought the pump-up routine, and Republican state Sen. Leah Vukmir told the story of when she voted against Walker years ago, and how she would never overlook him again. Wife Tonette was my favorite, though. She pulled out the old Saz’s story, which has been retold quite a bit lately, and had a great one-liner about Walker wanting to run in what feels like his 80th election.
With the exception of his sons, the emcees; and his dad, who said a prayer, all of the opening speakers were women.
Capacity in the expo center is said to be 3,000, by the way, so kudos to the 3,000 early birds who made it in before they closed the Expo Center doors.
What did you think of the opening speeches?
MH: It was interesting that they included so many references to Walker’s religious grounding. His own speech only referred to doing “a whole lot of prayer” before deciding to announce. He did his usual thing of focusing on economic issues, but social issues slipped in at a higher rate than during his gubernatorial campaigns. He’s gradually upgrading to a national platform.
CH: Right. Which opening speech revealed the most about him? Any of them?
MH: Kleefisch’s had a great anecdote about texting Bible citations back and forth with Walker. It drew some big cheers. The program seemed eager to draw on the enthusiasm of the Christian right without requiring Walker to lay down any of the rhetoric himself.
What do you think the governor got right in his speech?
CH: Well, “Americans fight to win” seemed to be a big hit after he finished name-checking Russia, Iran and China as countries he would somehow deal with if elected. “Winning” in general seemed to be a vague theme, especially when it came to foreign policy. I’m paraphrasing slightly, but he also said the best way to honor American military troops is by “trying to win.” And again, this elicited many claps. In keeping with the religious message, he framed building the Keystone Pipeline as simply using “what God has given us.”
Here’s something I was scratching my sweaty little head over: What do you think he means when he says he wants to get rid of government programs that “make it harder for fathers to play an active role in the lives of their children”?
MH: I’m not the clearest on where he was going with this. He’s probably referring to the general legal environment that makes it easier for women to divorce out of marriages and hold on to custody of the children. I don’t think he’s referring to incarceration rates, which many on the left would point to as a major cause of fatherlessness.
CH: Yeah, that was a nebulous point to throw out there. Same with the mention of homeschooling when he was talking about prioritizing education by getting rid of Common Core.
Let’s talk about things he said he’ll do on Day One of his potential presidency. Repealing the Affordable Care Act, for one, is not something he would actually have the power to do.
MH: One last thing on education — this hasn’t been highlighted much, but he appeared to be driving at a nationwide expansion of School Choice. This is a perennial project for him, to widen Choice’s boundaries. Now he can talk about doing it from sea to shining sea.
And like you noted yesterday, that Day One is going to be mighty busy. He’s also going to “terminate the bad deal with Iran.” And he’s going to approve the Keystone Pipeline on Day One.
CH: Can you imagine what he’s going to do on Day Two?
MH: Start planning for his next campaign. SKW, as a survivor, always has his eye on the next ballot.
CH: I was going to say something about 30% discount Kohl’s coupons for the entire country, but your guess is probably closer.
How do you think his expansion of School Choice would actually play out?
MH: Seeing as state and local governments control the vast, vast majority of school funding, I think it would be an exceedingly difficult thing to pull off on a national scale. I don’t know about the constitutionality or feasibility of an act of Congress forcing states to offer voucher programs.
Is it going to look pretty silly if he’s still talking about Kohl’s during the debates? Is he ready for that kind of unscripted rhetorical combat?
CH: I think so, for Kohl’s at least. He’s defended their nearly $70 million in Wisconsin taxpayer subsidies before, but part of that defense included, well, ‘my predecessor did it, too’ with other companies.
Do you think the couple hundred overflow’ers like us got what they wanted from the big announcement?
MH: Lots of people were irked. Someone approached us and said, “You’re media, and they wouldn’t even let you in?” In fact, you had a sprained ankle and media credentials and still were relegated to the Sweat Tent. Although we got great parking. Overall, a wash, and probably our error for hoping we could squeeze in among the hoi polloi in general admission.
So, if this is Just Desserts, what’s the cherry on our sundae?
CH: As far as Wisconsin presidential campaign announcements go, I was satisfied. We’re not a Rolls Royce state. This is a guy who is very opposed to government “handouts,” so we should not have expected cooling mechanisms since we got there so late (2 hours early).
Was there enough fudge sauce for you, Matt?
MH: Not nearly enough, and I’m hoping the Walker camp will remedy the situation in time for future events. I bet Iowa gets all the fudge they want.