THE BLOG

Scott Walker: Mobilizing Resentment

04/24/2015 03:33 pm ET | Updated Jun 23, 2015

It's early in the Republican presidential primary process, but at this point former Florida governor Jeb Bush is a slight favorite. However, the latest CNN/ORC poll indicates that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is closing in on Bush. In a large GOP field that features archconservatives and outright crazies, Walker is the most disturbing because his stock-in-trade is mobilizing the resentment of working-class white voters.

According to the CNN/ORC poll, the ranking of Republican presidential candidates is Jeb Bush (17 percent), Scott Walker (12 percent), Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (11 percent), Florida Senator Marco Rubio (11 percent), former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (9 percent), Texas Senator Ted Cruz (7 percent), followed by surgeon Ben Carson (4 percent) and New Jersey Chris Christie (4 percent). Pollster Nate Silver observed that most of these candidates have approval ratings that are "net-negative," unfavorability ratings greater than favorable. Scott Walker is an exception - his favorability ratings nearly match his unfavorable - perhaps because he has the lowest name recognition of the major candidates.

Who is Scott Walker? At this point in the competition for the Republican nomination, voters know about as much about Walker as they did about George W. Bush before he won in 2000.

Writing in Mother Jones magazine, political blogger Kevin Drum argued that Scott Walker would be the 2016 Republican nominee because he is the one candidate that could unify the various factions of the GOP: "Scott Walker... has a record of governance. His persona is generally adult. He doesn't say crazy stuff. Relatively speaking, he's attractive to moderates. But at the same time, the tea partiers love him too."

Barack Obama's presidential campaign took off after his famous 2007 Iowa speech at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner. Scott Walker's prospects have heightened after his January 24, 2015, speech at the Iowa Freedom summit.

In that address, Walker positioned himself as the champion of "commonsense conservative reform." He bragged of defeating "big government special interests" to be twice-elected governor in a traditionally Democratic state and attributed this to his willingness to "go big and bold."

In his Iowa speech, Walker worried about the future of the US; expressed concern that America won't be as great in the future as it was when he was growing up. His twisted explanation for this (alleged) decline was an expression of classic Reagan-era conservative logic: Washington is controlled by big government special interests, taxes are too high ("It's the people's money not the government's money"), and too many Americans are content to "be dependent upon the government." Walker said he wants to build an economy that works "everywhere not just in Washington" and be a leader "who stands with our allies against terrorism." Predictably he's pro-life and anti Obamacare. He's muddied his stance on global climate change but his Wisconsin record is virulently anti-environment. On immigration he's recently shifted his position to the far right.

As a result of his Iowa speech, Scott Walker is ahead in the early polling among Iowa Republicans. In New Hampshire Walker and Jeb Bush are in a virtual tie (Walker has 17.6 percent Republican support and Bush 18 percent).

Many observers believe that Walker is a puppet controlled by the notorious Koch brothers. Walker's core message is targeted to harness the resentment of working-class white voters. It's based on the typical conservative lies often promulgated in campaigns funded by the Koch brothers.

The substantial economic gains of the last seven years haven't been shared by all Americans; rather than blame the rich and powerful, Scott Walker blames Washington. And, by implication, he blames the least fortunate Americans, those who need government assistance. This is classic Reagan rhetoric but with a sharp edge that denigrates the poor and America's racial minorities.

Recently, The New York Times contrasted the campaign strategies of Jeb Bush and Scott Walker. Both are conservative, but Bush has an inclusive message: "He is telling Republicans, in effect, that they must accept a changing country: that the path to the presidency will be found through appealing to voters who may not look like them." On the other hand, Scott Walker has an adversarial message: "The Party's way forward... lies in demonstrating toughness in the face of intense opposition from the left and mobilizing those who are already inclined to support conservatism."

In the 2012 presidential contest, Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney with 51 percent of the vote. Obama carried women and racial minorities; Romney carried men and white voters. Most tellingly, Romney carried white women.

Scott Walker's 2016 strategy is simple: He will seek to defeat Hillary Clinton by mobilizing the resentment of working-class white voters, male and female. Walker will take his adversarial message to swing states such as Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin; and hope to mobilize a massive turnout by angry white voters. Walker is dangerous.