Even before Chris Christie’s traffic troubles took the shine off his presidential prospects, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was moving to position himself as an acceptable alternative for Republicans who might still be thinking that a governor would make a good 2016 nominee.
Walker has a long history of arguing choosing a state official with little experience in Washington—like, perhaps, Scott Walker—is the Republicans’ best option for retaking the White House. “An ideal candidate to me would be a current or former governor,” Walker said last fall. “Just because I think governors have executive experience and, more importantly, I think there’s a real sense across America that people want an outsider.”
But in January, as attention was turning toward him, Walker got more specific.
“There are similarities between a governor and a president,” he explained.
Asked how voters might judge governors who bid for the presidency, the Wisconsinite replied, “Governors should be defined not just by what they do and say, but who they surround themselves with, making sure to have the smartest person for a particular task or to head a specific agency. They should be judged on that basis and who they take advice from.”
Just as Christie did in January, Walker has responded to the release of controversial e-mails from an "inner circle" of top aides by suggesting that he did not know what was going on around him. But the people both men put in positions of authority and public trust certainly did know.
When he was bidding for the governorship of Wisconsin, Scott Walker selected aides who have since been convicted of engaging in illegal activities, disregarding the trust and the responsibilities that are supposed to go with public positions. At the same time, their communications included slurs on women, people of color, gays, Jews, immigrants and people with disabilities.
The release of 28,000 pages of e-mails and more than 400 legal documents associated with the John Doe investigation that led to the arrest and conviction of aides who served with Walker when, as the Milwaukee county executive, he was seeking the governorship.
In addition to doing campaign work on public time—a theft of taxpayer funds—Walker’s aides circulated e-mails that portrayed poor people and African-Americans as dogs. One top aide referred to the image as “hilarious” and “so true.” Another top aide used his e-mail account to circulate an e-mail that mocked racial and ethnic minorities, as well as gay men and people suffering from AIDS.
An unsettling disregard for the human beings they were supposed to be serving showed up on a frequent basis in the e-mails of the people closest to Scott Walker. And when an aide pondered attacking the use of respectful terms for immigrants, gubernatorial candidate Walker replied, “Don’t hold back!”
Walker’s aides rarely held back. Discussing an incident in which a woman died of complications related to starvation she experienced while committed to the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex, Walker and his aides communicated with one another about how to keep developments in the tragic story under wraps until after the 2010 gubernatorial election.
The callous conversations were summed up by an e-mail in which one of the aides, Kelly Rindfleisch, announced that “no one cares about crazy people.”
Hubert Humphrey once said, “The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.”
There is great truth in that statement, as there is in Scott Walker’s suggestion that “governors should be defined not just by what they do and say, but who they surround themselves with.”