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Matt Pommer: Is this Walker’s last go-round?

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Matt Pommer
July 20, 2014

Win or lose, this likely is Scott Walker’s last gubernatorial election.

Incumbent governors who lose elections tend to end up in the political scrapheap. That’s understandable because lots of politicians in both parties covet the title of governor. It’s far different than legislative positions, where losers can bounce back. A role in a conservative think-thank surely would be available if he loses.

But what if Walker is re-elected in November? He already is on the list of possible candidates for the Republican national ticket in 2016. He made that list by touring the country talking to conservative audiences and the very wealthy, who are among the Republican movers and shakers.

Polls show most Wisconsin citizens doubt you can be governor and run for national office. The doubters overlook the likelihood that Republicans will again control the next Legislature, thanks to gerrymandering after the last federal census. Once the 2015-2017 state budget is signed next June, Walker would have a lot of time to play national Republican politics.

His successful efforts to maim public-employee unions increased his public image. The massive protests in the state Capitol drew media coverage across the nation. Walker can thank the union protesters for attracting that attention.

Walker could use another big issue to assure himself a national role within the Republican establishment. A key Republican issue has been the Affordable Health Care Act, better known as Obamacare. The 3.8 percent income tax on investment income for couples making more than $400,000 annually might be a large part of the GOP anger about Obamacare.

State government in Wisconsin is ready to study the possibility of self-insuring the health care for state employees. Some suggest the state might be able to save $200 million with a new approach. Currently state employees largely get their health insurance coverage through health maintenance organizations.

Walker could benefit politically if state employees complain about a new approach if it has large deductibles for medical services. Walker’s friends could tout him as the Republican who could undo the despised Obamacare and its required taxes.

That may not be enough to get Walker the vice presidential nomination in 2016, but it would put him into the sweepstakes for a cabinet slot. When your president-elect calls and offers a cabinet position, loyal politicians are supposed to answer in the affirmative.

What would be in Walker’s future if he wins re-election but Democrats win the national election in 2016? The Republican brokers will be looking for a candidate to oppose Democrat U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin in 2018.

 Some might remember that Tommy Thompson, who won four gubernatorial elections, lost to Baldwin in 2012. But that was more than a decade after Thompson had resigned as governor.

The odds for a cabinet post or Senate election for Walker are better than getting either the presidential or vice presidential nomination in 2016.  Walker’s name is not as well-known as that of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Janesville, who was the GOP’s vice presidential nominee in 2012.

It’s important to remember that surprises can turn politics on its head. In 1920, U.S. Sen. Irvine Lenroot, R-Wisconsin, was considered the front-runner for the GOP vice presidential nomination. But Warren Harding left the decision to the convention in Chicago, and it selected Massachusetts Gov. Calvin Coolidge, who had broken a Boston police strike.

Mel Laird, a Wisconsin congressman and later the defense secretary who played a large role in winding down the Vietnam War, seemed a potentially strong candidate for a Republican presidential nomination in 1976.  Then Watergate intervened.

Matt Pommer writes this Wisconsin Newspaper Association weekly state government newsletter. He is dean of the state Capitol correspondents, having covered government action in Madison for 36 years. Readers can contact Pommer at mpommer@sbcglobal.net.



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