REPUBLICAN BUNGLE ON THE WAY? Could 2016 Be the Next 2008? Or 1988?

Written by Chuck Gruenwald on March 28, 2015

If Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s as-yet undeclared presidential primary race implodes along the lines of the presidential races run by Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney, it won’t happen as a result of the typical “vote for me, because you owe it to me” attitude of modern Republican candidates. Instead, it will happen either in the form of advice from those who have contempt for his present perception of being a conservative politician – a politician who doesn’t fit the profile of a traditional Republican. Or, it will happen as a result of his consciously deciding to change what has made him popular with potential voters.

For the last half of the previous decade, then-Milwaukee County Executive Walker had made local headlines as a conservative who had won re-election to that office in leftist Milwaukee County. However, after becoming governor after the Wisconsin 2010 gubernatorial race, he had become a national figure after a series of events that would have made just about any other Republican politician apologize for acting on principle.

His refusal to capitulate before some public sector unions, even after a series of sometimes violent incidents – incidents that were rarely reported by the media – before and during a recall election campaign in 2012, was a huge contrast to what conservatives had become accustomed to with the herd of “rollover Republicans,” Republicans who will not take a stand for any number of self-serving reasons.

There was little to doubt about someone who was willing to fulfill conservative political commitments. Unfortunately, one photograph on Facebook in 2014 indicated that backbone and leadership were at the mercy of misplaced trust or political evolution.

The photograph in question showed Governor Walker and Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus. While this picture included a few nice words by the governor that were supposed to describe Mr. Priebus and his commitment to conservatism, the comments left by Facebook users were much more critical of an alliance between the two men, and the dangers of trusting someone who was the leader of an arrogant, disconnected-from-the-electorate political party.

As Governor Walker’s popularity as a possible presidential candidate has grown, it has done so at the expense of possible candidates whom the leaders and advisors of the Republican Party more closely identify with, such as Jeb Bush and Chris Christie.
Personally, if I wanted a job, I wouldn’t include as a reference someone whose child or children want the same job.

Fast-forward to this year: the Walker campaign is starting to take shape. Among the new hires are such folks as Kirsten Kukowski, an individual who has worked for such politicians as Arizona Senator John McCain and Illinois Senator Mark Kirk. Also hired – briefly – was Liz Mair. The circus that was her employment and firing happened so fast – and so early – that it may not register with primary voters next year.

While looking for more information on the firing of Ms. Mair, I had come across an editorial about Governor Walker’s variable political opinions; an editorial that raises questions about the similarities between him and the politicians who dominate the Republican party. Whether or not he willingly allows professional GOP handlers to shape him into something more “electable”, or if he is evolving into such a creature by choice, he should not enjoy the privilege of immunity from criticism and scrutiny.
Rubber-stamping a seal of approval on an un-scrutinized candidate is an act more closely associated with Democrat voters circa 2008 and 2012.

Anyone who has endured four years of harassment, intimidation, and fear for the safety of his or her family will become more cautious in their decisions; the first sign of Governor Walker second-guessing his positions was shortly after winning the 2012 recall election, when he said that he no longer believed that private sector right-to-work legislation was important.

Conservative voters have made it no secret that their support of the GOP is about over, and the leaders of the GOP have realized this. The party’s last successful presidential election occurred in 1988, when George H.W. Bush campaigned as the next Ronald Reagan. Yes, George W. Bush won in 2000 and 2004. However, he barely won against weak Democrat candidates Al Gore and John Kerry.

The party may try to duplicate that success in 1988 by promoting a candidate who appears as something that runs counter to every Republican candidate since then. Governors Jeb Bush and Chris Christie have been a little too open about their leanings, so those two have eliminated themselves from the possibility of receiving a conservative makeover.

As of right now, the only two options for covert party support are Senator Rand Paul and Governor Walker. Given Senator Paul’s support of Mitch McConnell in the 2014 senatorial primary race, and Scott Walker’s perceived trust in Republican leadership – plus his popularity — both are possibilities.

The emotionally-based election of President Barack Obama should serve as a warning as to the dangers of casting a vote that is based on emotions, not questions. This warning applies to both parties. After all, the election of George H.W. Bush was based on the hope that the Vice-President under Ronald Reagan would continue the policies of Ronald Reagan. Unlike the Democrats of 2012, conservatives learned from their mistake in 1992.

When analyzing political candidates, finding reasons to vote against people whom you disagree with, especially if he or she represents “the other party,” is almost second nature. 

As for those candidates who represent the party that one supports,  the dislike/hatred of that other person and/or party may override the need for an equal, logical analysis of every candidate in the field; the 2014 Illinois gubernatorial race is an example of people who hated the incumbent, Pat Quinn so much, that anybody with an (R) next to their name was going to receive their vote, despite the fact that the Republican challenger, Bruce Rauner, has closer ties with Democrats, including Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel. Also, there is a tendency to look for reasons to vindicate one’s support of a favored candidate by ignoring his or her weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

In the name of disclosure, I am impressed with what Scott Walker has done in Milwaukee County as county executive, and as governor of Wisconsin. However, the power and responsibility of occupying the Oval Office transcends any one person’s opinion about whom they want as President, thereby making equal scrutiny a necessity.

The presidential election of 2016 is definitely not the place to make a mistake circa 1988, 2008, or 2012. And if this means asking questions that may disqualify candidates whom we like, keep in mind that pre-election rejection is more palatable than voter’s remorse.

The presidential election of 2016 is definitely not the place to make a mistake circa 1988, 2008, or 2012. And if this means asking questions that may disqualify candidates whom we like, keep in mind that pre-election pain is more palatable than voter’s remorse.



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Born in Chicago and raised in northwest suburban Cook County, Chuck Gruenwald developed an unfavorable opinion of machine politics quite early in life. In addition to cars, electronics, law enforcement, and politics, Chuck enjoys writing, and is also a horse racing fan. He has recently written op-eds for