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As He Runs for President, Scott Walker Runs From His Record | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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As He Runs for President, Scott Walker Runs From His Record




Scott Walker

Sorry, US Senator Marco Rubio and US Senator Rand Paul and US Senator Ted Cruz.

Sorry, US Representative Paul Ryan, the former favorite son of Wisconsin Republicans.

But Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says the next Republican nominee for president “should either be a former or current governor.” After all that shutdown trouble, the party’s candidate is going to have to be “somebody who’s viewed as being exceptionally remote from Washington.”

And sorry, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Scott Walker may have a kind word for you, but he says the GOP’s 2016 candidate must be someone who has “taken on big reforms.”

Indeed, sorry, any Republican who is not named “Scott Walker,” but Scott Walker thinks the Republicans are going to need to turn to someone like, um, Scott Walker.

That was the takeaway from Walker’s interviews as he launched the book that is supposed to launch his presidential run, Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge.

Walker did not actually announce his candidacy on Sunday’s edition of ABC’s This Week. But as ABC’s Jonathan Karl explained: “When Walker talks about the kind of candidate Republicans should nominate in 2016, it sounds more than a little like he is talking about himself.”

The Wisconsin governor did nothing to stifle speculation.

Despite repeated prompting from ABC’s Karl, Walker refused to commit to serve out the second gubernatorial term that he is expected to seek in 2014—presumably on the bold assumption that said term could interfere with a move to the White House in 2017.

Even as he stumbled around inevitable questions, Walker was sounding like a presidential prospect.

Unfortunately for the most ambitious Republican in a very ambitious Republican field, Walker’s book does not exactly make him sound presidential.

It is not merely that the book—like the ABC interview—is absurdly self-promotional. After all, books issued by potential bidders for the presidency are campaign documents.

It is not that the book’s recounting of events in Wisconsin has been called into question by the people who were there. Or that the chronicling of discrepancies in the book has provided Wisconsin journalists with steady work.

What most undermines Unintimidated—and, with it, Walker’s presidential bid—is the governor’s failure to bring a seriousness to the task of addressing his most troubling, and potentially damaging, missteps. He admits to making mistakes. However, instead of dealing forthrightly with unsettling aspects of his record, Walker tries to write around them—often in the clumsiest of ways.

Take, for instance, the governor’s recollection on the February 2011 telephone conversation in which he was recorded casually discussing the idea of using agents provocateurs to stir up trouble at peaceful mass demonstrations to protest his assault on labor rights for public employees.

By most measures, it was a embarrassing episode.

But the governor makes the episode all the more embarrassing by writing in 2013 that he never considered what in 2011 he certainly seemed to say that he had considered.

In the book he hopes will make him a competitor for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Walker claims that “we never—never—considered putting ‘troublemakers’ in the crowd to discredit the protesters.”

That is what Walker must write if he wants to make a play on the national political stage. It is difficult to imagine that someone who toyed with the ideas employing deliberate provocations as a political tool— in order to create a false impression of citizens who are exercising First Amendment rights to assembly and petition for the redress of grievances— would be taken seriously as a potential commander in chief.

The problem, of course, is that what Walker is now saying conflicts with what he was saying in private and public two and a half years ago.

The issue first arose in February of 2011, several days after mass demonstrations began at the state Capitol. The demonstrations were nonviolent and well organized. Top law enforcement officers for the region—Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney and Madison Police Chief Noble Wray—praised the protesters for keeping things civil, despite the intensity of the issues that had been raised by Walker’s proposal to eliminate essential workplace protections and collective-bargaining rights for public employees and public school teachers.

The Madison Police Department even went so far as to issue a formal statement that concluded: “Crowd behavior has been exemplary, and thousands of Wisconsin citizens are to be commended for the peaceful ways in which they have expressed First Amendment rights.”

Yet, when Walker thought he was talking to billionaire conservative campaign donor David Koch, the caller (actually blogger Ian Murphy) said: “What we were thinking about the crowds was, uh, was planting some troublemakers.”

Walker replied: “We thought about that.”

The trouble with the strategy, the governor explained, was that it might not play well politically. “My only fear would be is if there was a ruckus caused is that that would scare the public into thinking maybe the governor has gotta settle to avoid all these problems,” he explained during the course of the call.

Former Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager was aghast.

“I think there’s a serious issue there,” she said back in 2011. “That’s a public safety issue. And I think that is really troublesome: a governor with an obligation to maintain public safety says he’s going to plant people to make trouble. That screams out to me. For a governor even to consider a strategy that could unnecessarily threaten the safety of peaceful demonstrators—which the governor acknowledged he did—is something that simply amazes me.”

Walker repeatedly acknowledged after the “Koch call” was made public that he considered employing agents provocateurs to stir up trouble and discredit the demonstrators. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a newspaper that backed Walker for governor in 2010 and refused to support his recall in 2012, pointed out after reviewing the book that “in a news conference held the day the prank call was released, Walker said the idea had been debated, adding, ‘We dismissed that and said that wasn’t a good idea.’”

The Journal Sentinel noted with regard to the governor’s current claim: “His book does not explain why he spoke about it that way with reporters if such a plan had never been entertained.”

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As it happens, the governor was even more explicit in discussing his political calculations when he went on Fox News on February 23, 2011, to discuss the prank call.

When Fox anchor Greta Van Susteren pressed Walker on the question of whether he and his aides had considered employing agent provocateurs to play “dirty tricks in the crowd,” he openly discussed the matter— going so far as to explain: “I even had lawmakers and others suggesting riling things up.”

The governor said that, ultimately, he rejected the idea. But instead of expressing moral outrage at the prospect that “riling things up” might create a dangerous circumstance for crowds that included children, elderly folks and people with disabilities, the governor again appeared to make a political calculation. Stirring up trouble, Walker told the Fox host, “adds no value.”

As some point, someone must have explained to Walker that his acknowledgment of the discussions about employing troublemakers, and of his political calculations regarding the strategy, would not play well nationally.

So now he’s claiming that he “never—never—considered” what in 2011 he said he and his aides “thought about.”

The governor’s apologists will surely continue to cut him slack on this one. But if and when Walker mounts his presidential run, this is an issue he will eventually find himself revisiting.

It is not just the matter of the conflicting claims and statements. There is also the question of what the governor really thinks about using agents provocateurs to “rile things up” at otherwise peaceful protests.

After the transcript of the prank call was made public in 2011, then Madison Police Chief Wray said: “I would like to hear more of an explanation from Governor Walker as to what exactly was being considered, and to what degree it was discussed by his Cabinet members. I find it very unsettling and troubling that anyone would consider creating safety risks for our citizens and law enforcement officers.”

Scott Walker may think he is the ideal candidate for president.

But ideal candidates don’t talk about “planting some troublemakers” to try and besmirch peaceful protests against their policies.

Ideal candidates simply say it is wrong to speak of such things—even when prodded to do so by someone they think is a billionaire campaign donor.

John Nichols makes the case for an Elizabeth Warren 2016 presidential run.

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