How Scott Walker Plans to Win Back Donald Trump Supporters

The Wisconsin governor is trying to tap into the grassroots anger by targeting Washington Republicans.

National Journal
Shane Goldmacher
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Shane Goldmacher
Aug. 18, 2015, 1:01 a.m.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Scott Walk­er ar­rived here in fa­mil­i­ar Iowa in an un­fa­mil­i­ar place: dis­lodged from first place for the first time in months by the sur­ging Don­ald Trump.

But the Wis­con­sin gov­ernor has a plan to close the gap: at­tack­ing his fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans, just not Trump or the 15 oth­ers run­ning for pres­id­ent. In­stead, Walk­er is tak­ing aim at Mitch Mc­Con­nell and the be­lea­guered con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship in an ef­fort to tap in­to the same anti-es­tab­lish­ment, anti-Wash­ing­ton and anti-politi­cian an­ger that has fueled the rise of Trump in Iowa and na­tion­wide.

Small jars of dried corn ker­nels meas­ur­ing the sup­port of the vari­ous pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates at the Iowa state fair tell the tale, not just of Trump’s rise and Walk­er’s wane but of the grow­ing frus­tra­tion among Re­pub­lic­ans with pro­fes­sion­al politi­cians. While the 2016 GOP field rep­res­ents one of the deep­est and most ex­per­i­enced in memory, the top three GOP vote-get­ters at the state fair — Trump, Ben Car­son and Carly Fior­ina — have a com­bined zero years of elec­ted ex­per­i­ence between them.

Walk­er, the erstwhile Iowa fron­trun­ner, wasn’t even on the corn-ker­nel lead­er­board.

“I think it’s a protest,” Walk­er said after a cam­paign stop Monday of re­cent polling and the corn-ker­nel vote. “I think what’s happened is people have so had it with Wash­ing­ton they’re send­ing a mes­sage and they’re pick­ing, at least right now in the polls, they’re pick­ing people who’ve nev­er held of­fice be­fore to send that kind of mes­sage.”

And so Walk­er has re­freshed his stump speech with a new and prom­in­ent broad­side against the Re­pub­lic­an-con­trolled Con­gress in hopes of bet­ter ap­peal­ing to those dis­gruntled voters. “I’ve talked about what I’m for. I think the people still want to hear that. But I think they want to know”¦.that we share their frus­tra­tion,” Walk­er said of the ad­di­tion.

Walk­er trot­ted out his new­est line minutes in­to his soap­box speech at the state fair.

“They told us dur­ing the last elec­tion that if we just elec­ted a Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate, the lead­er­ship out there would put a bill to re­peal Obama­care on the desk of the pres­id­ent,” Walk­er said. “It’s Au­gust — we’re still wait­ing for that meas­ure.”

He had said much the same earli­er on Monday on Glenn Beck’s pop­u­lar show. And he re­peated a ver­sion of it later in Web­ster City and again at a Pizza Ranch in Clari­on, us­ing it to open his re­marks. On Tues­day, Walk­er plans to re­peat it in a speech in Min­nesota as he presents his plan to re­peal the health care law.

Al­most every ma­jor 2016 can­did­ate is at least try­ing to po­s­i­tion them­selves as the stand­ard-bear­er of GOP act­iv­ists un­happy with Wash­ing­ton D.C. Ted Cruz talks con­stantly about dis­mant­ling the “Wash­ing­ton car­tel.” Rand Paul’s slo­gan is to “de­feat the Wash­ing­ton ma­chine.” Even Jeb Bush, whose broth­er and fath­er were the last Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­ents, gave a ma­jor speech re­cently prom­ising to take on the spe­cial in­terests resid­ing on “Mount Wash­ing­ton.”

Walk­er, who is known as be­ing his own top strategist, said he wants to be the can­did­ate for Trump sup­port­ers and oth­ers when they are done protest­ing and closer to vot­ing.

“In the end, I think what will help us ul­ti­mately is people tak­ing the next step — like the people you saw here today,” he said, point to the Maid-Rite crowd in Web­ster City, “in­stead of just be­ing angry and check­ing out, they’re en­gaged, they’re pay­ing at­ten­tion, they’re show­ing up for events.”

“I think what they’re hungry to find out is who amongst the 17 [GOP can­did­ates] is not just a protest can­did­ate, who ul­ti­mately can take the an­ger and the frus­tra­tion they have and do something about it,” Walk­er ad­ded.

That’s es­sen­tially the ad­vice that Iowa Rep. Steve King had for all the non-Trump can­did­ates. “It’s kind of like the racetrack, you want to be sit­ting in third, right be­hind the guy in pole po­s­i­tion,” King said. “If [Trump] has some kind of a flameout, then you’re in po­s­i­tion to step in­to the front. I think that’s where Walk­er needs to be.”

Trump wasn’t the only prob­lem con­front­ing Walk­er on Monday in Iowa.

The power gen­er­at­or on his cam­paign-em­blazoned Win­nebago broke down, leav­ing the gov­ernor and his en­tour­age without air con­di­tion­ing, light­ing or power. Walk­er said they’ve left the win­dows rolled down to stay cool. Luck­ily, a rain­storm Monday brought re­l­at­ively cool weath­er for an Au­gust Iowa day, with highs in the mid-70s.

Still, as Walk­er de­par­ted Iowa for Min­nesota, he climbed in the front cab­in, the one spot where the air con­di­tion­ing con­tin­ued to blow.

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