Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker thinks he and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are “kindred spirits,” with their recent histories of being Republicans who have come out on top in fairly blue states. They’ve both “taken on unions,” as they like to say, and they both have reformed public pensions.
But Walker did make sure to say that his pension reforms were a little more significant than Christie’s.
“In general, I’ve been really impressed with Chris,” Walker said in an interview with Business Insider on Wednesday — one of dozens he has given in the last week while promoting his book, “Unintimidated.”
“Chris and I are kindred spirits. I often kid him that we say and do a lot of the same things. The only difference is that I have a bit more of a filter. He’s taken on the unions. He’s done pension reform, which to me was maybe not as big as what we did, but equally as impressive considering he did it with Democrats in charge of both Houses of his legislature.”
The “Chris Christie wing” of the Republican Party made noise earlier this month, as Christie swept the party — and the nation — by storm earlier this month, winning re-election by 20 points in a solidly blue state.
Walker, 46, is another rising star in the party who could be the candidate that out-Christies the New Jersey governor if they both decide to enter the presidential race in 2016.
Christie’s biggest argument to an establishment that loves him and a conservative base still very sceptical of him is that he knows how to win elections and enact reforms in a blue state. If Walker sticks a foot in the race, much of that argument goes out the window.
Walker is still in his first term in office, and he has won two elections in the swing state of Wisconsin. The second one was historic — last June, he became the first sitting governor to stave off a recall effort. His push to curb collective bargaining rights for Wisconsin’s public-sector unions — and the subsequent victory that came with it — has made him a hero of sorts to conservatives, and also someone the GOP looks to nationally.
“It’s a little surreal. I didn’t set out to do what I did for that purpose,” Walker said. “Really to me, if we were going to fix things in Wisconsin, I didn’t want to put things off to the future. I didn’t want to kick the can, all the cliches out there.”
The way he won, too, was impressive. In an interview, he repeatedly pointed to “the 20%.” That percentage represents the
nearly 20% of voterswho both voted for him in last year’s recall election while saying they planned to vote for President Barack Obama in November. That’s the kind of crossover appeal he could project, where Christie will
cite how he won 31% of the Democratic vote in New Jersey.
In a number of interviews on his book tour, Walker has carefully laid the seeds for a possible run in 2016. On Monday night, speaking to a group of high-profile conservatives at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan, Walker laid into former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, casting his campaign as divisive and one that didn’t focus enough on the economy.
“I don’t mean to speak sarcastically, but if Mitt Romney ran on an economic message, could’ve fooled me,” Walker said to applause.
“For whatever reason, his campaign allowed the focus to be on just saying, ‘We’re not Barack Obama.’ Instead, they defined him not as a Republican, but the ‘R’ next to his name stood for ‘Rich Guy.'”
Walker also made clear this week that his “ideal” GOP nominee in 2016 would be a governor — which fits his job description. He said that any of the nation’s 30 Republican governors could be the nominee, but he thinks that both nominees on the Republican ticket should be current or former governors.
Where Walker’s potential candidacy could run into some trouble, though, is with his own status as governor and a coming re-election fight in 2014. Even though he won re-election with a larger percentage than his original victory in 2010, it’s far from a certainty that he’ll be re-elected. A recent Marquette Law School poll found that Democratic candidate Mary Burke only trailed Walker by 2 points.
And if he does win an election for the third time in four years, Walker said, he might want to just govern for a while.
“There’s a part of me that would just like to have some time — you know, a full four year term to just get things done,” Walker told Business Insider. “Not only me, but that would be good for the people of the state.
“So that, as much as anything, is going to weigh on any decision I make for my future. That’s why I kind of chuckle when people presume things. It’s flattering. I appreciate it. To me, it’s nice to think that someone from Wisconsin can have some impact. But for me, my decision is always going to be about, first and foremost, what’s in the best interest for the people of Wisconsin.”
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