Even before the partial shutdown of the federal government, you could hear plenty of Republicans saying that the Party’s 2016 nominee should probably be a governor, rather than a member of Congress. The shutdown might end up reinforcing this sentiment unless, against the odds, it turns into a true victory for conservative Republicans.
One of the Republican governors frequently mentioned as a possible presidential nominee is Wisconsin’s Scott Walker. He will face a tough reelection campaign next year. If he prevails, Walker might well find himself at or near the top of the list of presidential contenders.
So what is Walker’s stance on the partial shutdown? From what I can tell, it consists of two prongs. First, he is using it to attack “Washington” — both Democrats and Republicans. According to this report from the Milwaukee Sentinel-Journal, he blames both Republicans and Democrats for the shutdown and says congressional leaders should run the nation more like Wisconsin.
The “run the nation like Wisconsin” line will strike some as ironic, given the bitter clashes between Republicans and Democrats in that state. But Walker sorted things out in Wisconsin, and if he’s reelected he’ll have bragging rights.
The “enough blame to go around” line (though not far off the mark, in my opinion) won’t endear Walker to conservative Republicans in the short run. But if the shutdown turns out badly for conservative Republicans — by which I mean significant political damage with very little to show for it — Walker could find himself well-positioned with the Party as a whole.
Second, Walker is using the shutdown to defy Washington — meaning, in this case, the Obama administration. Specifically, Walker has refused to follow a directive from the National Park Service to close a number host of popular state properties:
The Park Service ordered state officials to close the northern unit of the Kettle Moraine, Devil’s Lake, and Interstate state parks and the state-owned portion of the Horicon Marsh, but state authorities rebuffed the request because the lion’s share of the funding came from state, not federal coffers. Even though federal lands such as the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore have been shuttered, the DNR issued a statement saying all state parks, trails and other recreational properties were open and not affected by the federal government’s budget problems.
The agency also reopened a boat launch Wednesdayat Wyalusing State Park on the Mississippi River. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service closed the launch on Tuesday because it was on federal land. But in a sign of defiance, the DNR removed the barricades at the landing, saying it had the legal authority to operate the launch under a 1961 agreement with the federal government.
Walker’s defiance should stand him in good stead politically, and not exclusively among conservatives. It also has the virtue of being justified.
Walker, I imagine, is looking to occupy the space between moderate Chris Christie and hard line congressional conservatives like Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio (if you ignore his pro-amnesty position). His “blame and defy” response to the shutdown seems well-calculated to put him in that space.