It was predicted before the 2014 election that if Scott Walker were re-elected by a single vote, the governor of Wisconsin would claim a mandate to run for president in 2016.
So it will not come as a surprise to anyone that—after winning his third statewide run by roughly 135,000 votes out of almost 2.5 million cast—Walker is claiming much more than a new term. His Reaganesque victory speech may have been cheered by his Wisconsin supporters Tuesday night, but it was written for national consumption and delivered with an eye toward jump-starting a bid to be his party’s next nominee.
Walker, who has already written the obligatory presidential campaign book, appeared in Iowa and New Hampshire, bid for the favor of billionaire Sheldon Adelson and built a national fundraising network, was not exactly subtle in his victory speech. Pre-election references to Wisconsin were suddenly replaced with post-election references to America.
But Republicans would be wise to consider the numbers before they presume that this rigidly conservative governor steps onto the national stage with a mandate from Wisconsinites to bid for the presidency. Polling shows that the vast majority of Wisconsinites—87 percent of Democrats, 68 percent of independents and 39 percent of Republicans—do not want Walker to seek national office in 2016.
If he does make the run, Walker will have to explain why he has not been able to expand his appeal in Wisconsin.
Usually when a governor seeks the presidency, that governor makes the case that he or she has a winning approach to governing—with a style and policies that can turn doubters into supporters. That’s what George W. Bush did when he sought the presidency in 2000, noting that he won his first term as governor of Texas with 53 percent of the vote and his second with 68 percent.
But Walker cannot claim that his is an expansive appeal.
In fact, the governor won a lower percentage of the vote this year than he received in the 2012 recall election, and he did no better in 2014 than in his 2010 run. This is not to deny Walker’s victory but rather to note that, after four years as governor and somewhere in the range of $100 million in spending by the governor’s campaign and its “independent” supporters and enthusiasts, he does not appear to have convinced anyone who wasn’t with him in the first place.